At a lofty altitude of 2850m, Quito is one of the highest capital cities in the world, heart of the Ecuadorian Andes and the next destination on our South American Adventure. It was the first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, due to it having one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centers in all of Latin America.
On our first night in Quito we joined up with a Food Walking Tour organised by the hostel where we were staying. Our friendly ‘Rasta’ guide, Obi, took us through the Old Town to visit numerous street stalls and restaurants and introduced us to some traditional local dishes including such specialties as cow stomach, intestine and placenta (ewww!).
Feeling adventurous we tried the ‘Guatita’ (cubes of cow stomach served in a curry with potatoes and a peanut sauce), which was surprisingly tasty and similar to a Massaman curry - just a bit chewier! We also discovered what was to be one of our favourite dishes in Ecuador, Fritada – fried pieces of spiced pork with fava beans, toasted corn, fried plantains, pickled onions and tomato … yum!
The next day we joined a free walking tour also led by Obi, which focused on all the major historical sites, monuments, churches and plazas of the Old Town. He summarised the history of Ecuador, from the Peruvian Inca invasion in the 1400's, to the Spanish take over of the 1500's through to Ecuador’s eventual independence from Gran Colombia in the 1800's.
After the tour we paid a visit to the neo-Gothic monster that is the Basílica del Voto Nacional. Perched on top of a hill in the Old Town, this church is unmissable no matter where you are and is well worth a visit.
For $2 you can climb the bell towers, along a suspended gangplank in the roof and up an external ladder to the transept tower - which at 74m high is an unnerving experience and will test your fear of heights!
Once at the top of the tower you are treated to spectacular 360˚views of Quito and the surrounding mountains.
Having had a taste of such awesome views, the following day we took a taxi and cable car to the El Teleferico lookout. The city panoramas were literally breathtaking, as with the sudden ascent to 4050m every step was labored, but well worth the effort.
Quito certainly has a lot to offer tourists, in terms of well-preserved architecture, grandiose churches and interesting museums, but more recently it has also earned a reputation for opportunistic crime and robbing. We read many stories from travellers of pickpockets, bag slashing, mugging and taxi hijacking – one person three times in their stay!
So with all this in mind we were very wary and took extra precautions while we were visiting Quito, taking only the bare essentials out with us and always using ‘seguro’ taxi’s, with video surveillance and panic buttons installed.
While we enjoyed our time sightseeing in Quito, we didn’t like how dirty, dusty and dangerous it felt and were happy to head to the lush cloud forests of Mindo a bit earlier than planned.
Where we stayed
There are two distinct areas to stay in Quito, the Old Town (El Centro Historico) or the New Town (La Mariscal). We chose to stay in the quieter Old Town for its proximity to the things we wanted to see and because we’d read that New Town ‘looks like the 21st century vomited on concrete’ with its gaudy neon lights and noisy karaoke bars. After some research we decided to stay at Community Hostel in a private room with shared bathroom and had amazing views of the Basilica.
The hostel was located behind the central food market in the Old Town, which was convenient for cheap eats and busy during the day but was totally dead at night. Luckily the hostel also offered meals and had a great chilled vibe, so we took the opportunity to eat in and meet others travellers.
The Community crew were always friendly and super helpful throughout our stay. The hostel offered free and paid organised group tours (both within the city and to nearby destinations), an airport transfer service and prepared meals.
In the end it really made a difference to our Quito experience and we would highly recommend staying there especially if you are travelling alone or would like a secure friendly place in the heart of the historic Old Town.