A city among volcanoes

Quito Travel Blog

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View of the city from El Panecillo

Quito for me will forever be defined by its dramatic location. Squeezed between two volcanic Andean ranges, its streets continually wind up and dip down, leaving you giddy at times. Or maybe that giddiness is due to the altitude - at 2,800 metres above sea level, Quito can claim to be the highest capital city in the world.

We started and finished our Ecuador trip here, and I grew to really like the city. Perhaps the main thing that made Quito seem special to me is its unusual situation in a cleft between the Andean volcanoes. This has resulted in the city developing in an unusually thin and long shape – only 5 km at its widest east-west point, but about 40 km from north to south.

View from our hotel roof terrace, with Santo Domingo in the foreground
It is also unusually high – at 2,800 metres above sea level, the highest capital city in the world (La Paz in Bolivia is often cited as such, and is certainly higher, but is not the official capital of that country – Sucre is the legal capital despite most government functions being in La Paz). Anyway, whether highest or second highest, Quito is certainly high, and if you arrive from sea level you will notice it perhaps in some shortness of breath when climbing one of its many hills.

The shape also poses some interesting challenges for residents and the city authorities, especially as car ownership has grown so quickly in recent years. The north-south routes through the city easily become bottle-necks as almost everyone has to travel in those directions to reach their destination.

El Panecillo from below
The solution has been to impose a one day driving ban on all residents apart from taxi drivers, based on their car’s registration number. For instance, our friend Marcello cannot drive in the city during peak times on a Monday, and our guide Jose Luiz cannot do so on a Wednesday – not even for work purposes. [When we returned from Quilotoa on a Wednesday evening he had to get his dad, also a tour guide, to help out by meeting us just outside the boundary, on the ring road, so that we could transfer to his car to drive into the city centre.] Of course, for the rich there is always a solution to such inconveniences, and many have simply bought a second car with a different number! Nevertheless, Marcello did tell us that he believes the regulation has had some positive impact on pollution levels.
Iglesia San Francisco

The old colonial quarter is near Quito’s centre, at the foot of the small hill known as El Panecillo, from where the Virgin of Quito watches over the city. The modern city stretches both north and south from here, with the northern part being more affluent and containing the museums, shops, hotels, bars and restaurants most likely to attract visitors. Most choose to stay here, but we opted for a hotel in the colonial old town, which, though lacking the vibrant nightlife of the Mariscal district to its north, had a charm that appealed to us much more.

We spent most of our time here in the city’s colonial heart, which was one of the first two places in the world to be listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site (the other was Krakow in Poland). We visited many of its churches, people-watched in its attractive plazas, wandered its streets and ate in its restaurants at night.

Scarf seller in the Plaza San Francisco
Favourite spots for me included the Plaza San Francisco, with a lovely café serving excellent coffee and offering great people-watching opportunities; the stunning interior of the Iglesia de la Compañia; the museum attached to the Santo Domingo church; and the lovely buildings around the Plaza de la Independencia.

But we did venture further afield at times. We were lucky enough to have friends in the city, or rather, the parents of a London friend, who had offered to spend time with us and introduce us to some parts of the city that they especially thought we would like. So with Betty and Marcello we enjoyed the views from El Panecillo, visited the Basilica and the Fundacion Guayasamin, shopped in the market and toured some of the outlying districts.

We also had some tours outside the city including a day tip to Otavalo, famous for its market and to the Mitad del Mundo monument which marks the line of the Equator; an overnight tour to Cotapaxi and Quilotoa, and another overnight stay at the lovely Termes de Papallacta.

Santo Domingo

But each time when we returned to our base in Quito, we felt as if we were coming home, and that for me is a sign of the city’s warm personality and rather special character. A place I am very glad to have visited.

How safe is Quito? 

Before we came to Quito I had read plenty of warnings about crime levels in the city, the need to be vigilant and guard your belongings, and so on. On our first day here I was super-careful – looking round each time I stopped to take a photo and eyeing passers-by with suspicion. After a while, though, I started to relax. We had not (and never did) encounter any problems, had never felt threatened or unsafe. I came to realise that these days Quito is probably no less safe, nor safer, than many other large cities.

Monument in the Plaza de la Independencia
The city authorities have made huge efforts to reduce crime on the streets, especially in the colonial area, where you will see tourist police on almost every corner. Of course, you must be sensible. I continued to keep half an eye open for possible trouble, just as I would at home in London. I made sure to close my bag properly, not to carry all my money out with me, and not to wear ostentatious jewellery (not that I have a lot of this!) We didn’t go to any area that we had been warned to avoid (for instance, it isn’t recommended for tourists to walk through the area on the slope of El Panecillo), and we avoided totally deserted streets on the whole. And as I said, we had no problems at all.

Maybe we were just lucky, maybe we are more streetwise than some other travellers who have run into difficulties here (as we do live in a large city) or maybe Quito isn’t as unsafe as it is sometimes said to be.

Cathedral
Whatever the reason, please don’t let such warnings deter you from visiting this lovely city!

The weather in Quito

Quito’s location in the middle of a mountain range has a big impact on its climate. For one thing, you may be almost on the Equator, but at this altitude you can’t expect tropical heat. Instead, temperatures are pretty comfortable for city sightseeing, ranging from an average high of 19 degrees to lows around 9 degrees. These temperatures are consistent throughout the year. But rainfall is more uneven and defines the seasons, with a dry season from June to September, referred to as summer, and a wet season from October to May referred to as winter. Being there in late October / early November, we experienced the wet season.

La Merced
But that doesn’t mean constant rain. On our first three days, in fact, we had blue skies and sunshine all day – very unusual for that time of year. But then the more usual pattern emerged. We would wake to more of these blue skies and sunshine, which would last throughout the morning. About midday the first clouds appeared above the surrounding mountains, and by 1.00 or 2.00 pm they would be rolling in to cover the sun. Typically it would start to rain between 3.00 and 4.00 pm, and do so for several hours, before drying up around 7.00 pm, just in time for us to go out to dinner in the dry!

As we came and went from Quito at different points on our trip I have chosen to add all my reviews to this blog entry – please don’t think we ate all these dinners on a single day!!

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View of the city from El Panecillo
View of the city from El Panecillo
View from our hotel roof terrace, …
View from our hotel roof terrace,…
El Panecillo from below
El Panecillo from below
Iglesia San Francisco
Iglesia San Francisco
Scarf seller in the Plaza San Fran…
Scarf seller in the Plaza San Fra…
Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo
Monument in the Plaza de la Indepe…
Monument in the Plaza de la Indep…
Cathedral
Cathedral
La Merced
La Merced
La Compania
La Compania
Cloisters of the Museo Fray Pedro …
Cloisters of the Museo Fray Pedro…
Virgin on El Panecillo
Virgin on El Panecillo
In the Basilica del Voto Nacional
In the Basilica del Voto Nacional
El TelegrafiQo
El TelegrafiQo
Quito Sights & Attractions review
High-end craft shopping
Our friend Betty suggested that they show us one of their favourite shops for traditional crafts. We weren’t particularly planning to shop, having a… read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
Craft market in La Mariscal
This was one of the places in Quito that we visited with our friends here, Betty and Marcello. We had already done most of our souvenir shopping by th… read entire review
Quito General Tips & Advice review
Taxis in Quito
While there is certainly public transport available in Quito, in the shape of the three north-south bus routes operated by Metrobus, Ecovía and Trole… read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
A little out of the city
After our visit to Guápulo, Marcello was keen to show us more of Quito’s outskirts, so we drove to Nayon on a winding road in the northeast suburbs… read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
Iglesia Santo Domingo
The church of Santo Domingo was our “next-door neighbour” while we were in Quito, but somehow we never got round to going inside until our last mo… read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
Santuria de El Guápulo
Over the hill from La Mariscal lies the historic neighbourhood of Guápulo. We visited with Betty and Marcello, driving down the winding valley on a l… read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
"Chapel of Man"
The Fundacion Guayasamin currently operate two “museums” (for want of a better word) dedicated to the work of the great Ecuadorean artist, Oswaldo… read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
Parque Itchimbia
The Parque Itchimbia is another of the interesting places in Quito that we visited with our friends Betty and Marcello, on the second of our days out … read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
Views of the city - sometimes!
This was one of the things I was most keen to do while in Quito. I love the experience of travelling in cable cars, chair lifts etc. and I love to get… read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
Basilica del Voto Nacional
When we stood on El Panecillo, looking north, Marcello pointed out to us the Basilica del Voto Nacional, unusual in being of neo-Gothic design in pred… read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
Watching over the city
It is impossible to miss the hill known as El Panecillo , topped by its statue of the Virgen de Quito who watches over and protects the city. Although… read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
La Ronda
La Ronda (also known as Calle Morales) is a narrow street on the south side of the old town, and has become known for its relatively lively nightlife … read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
In the monastery of Santo Domingo
The Museo Domenicano de Arte in the monastery of Santo Domingo may be smaller than the Museo Fray Pedro Gocial attached to Iglesia San Francisco, but … read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
Iglesia San Agustin
The church of San Agustin is one of the oldest in Quito, having been constructed during the first half of the 17th century, but much of it has been re… read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
Iglesia La Merced
I had not read as much about this church as many of the others in Quito before our arrival, but as our walk took us past it one day we decided to pop … read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
Museo Fray Pedro Gocial
This museum of colonial religious art is located in the convent attached to the church of San Francisco, and even if you think you aren’t interested… read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
My favourite spot in the city
Although it lacks the greenery of the Plaza de la Independencia, and the relative grandeur of its surrounding buildings too, I found myself developing… read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús
The Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús, often abbreviated to just La Compañia, is a must-see in Quito, even if you are not normally keen to visit lots… read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
The Archbishop's Palace
On the northeast side of the Plaza de la Independencia is another attractive building, the Palacio Arzobispal or Archbishop's Palace. This is a two-st… read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
The Presidential Palace
The Palacio de Carondelet or Palacio del Gobierno (Presidential Palace) is an attractive arcaded building on the northwest side of the Plaza de la Ind… read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
Visiting the cathedral
Quito’s cathedral was the first such building to be erected in South America, between 1550 and 1562, although it has been since restored several tim… read entire review
Quito Sights & Attractions review
The heart of the city
As in all Spanish colonial cities, at Quito’s heart lies its main square, the Plaza de la Independencia. Also known as the Plaza Grande, it is an at… read entire review
Quito Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
A simple breakfast
The breakfasts at the Hotel San Francesco were, as I have said, rather disappointing, so on about our third morning we gave up on them and decided to … read entire review
Quito Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Traditional treats
This is a long-established café in the old town with a somewhat European air. Its speciality, alongside a fairly regular food menu, is Helado de Pail… read entire review
Quito Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Great location
This small café on the Plaza San Francisco was my favourite spot in Quito – not for the food, which we never got to try, but for the excellent coff… read entire review
Quito Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Smart uptown choice
On our second day out with Betty and Marcello we again planned to have lunch together. Last time we had treated them; this time they wanted to return … read entire review
Quito Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
A traditional lunch with friends
Betty and Marcello brought us to this great little restaurant in La Mariscal district, which they said was one of their favourites for Ecuadorean dish… read entire review
Quito Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Excellent dinner and a super view!
A couple of days after our disappointing meal at La Primera Casa we decided to return to La Ronda to try dinner elsewhere – partly because it was a … read entire review
Quito Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Cold room, cool service
We had dinner in La Primera Casa on a Saturday evening, when La Ronda was at its busiest and the restaurant pretty busy too, although not completely f… read entire review
Quito Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Wonderful view, fun atmosphere
The Vista Hermosa is located just a stone’s throw from the Plaza de la Independencia and was recommended to us by our guide on our visits to Otavalo… read entire review
Quito Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Rather disappointing
On the evening of our return to Quito from the Galápagos Islands we decided to go back to the Archbishop’s Palace to sample another of its restaura… read entire review
Quito Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Nice choice in the Archbishop’s Palace
Having seen the range of restaurants inside the Archbishop’s Palace when we were there in the morning of our first day in Quito, we returned in the … read entire review
Quito Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Good for a light lunch
On our first day in Quito we were in search of a light lunch, and I had read on VT that one of the courtyards of the Archbishop's Palace had a number … read entire review
Quito Hotels & Accommodations review
Comfortable and in a great location
We used the Hotel San Francisco as our base for all of our time in Quito –the longer stay of four nights at the start of our trip, a couple of one n… read entire review
Quito
photo by: Bluetraveler