A city among volcanoes
Quito Travel Blog› entry 1 of 3 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!