So I wound up in Ecuador. It was in the plan originally – it is on my itinerary page – but it had been cut for time once I decided to spend 5 weeks in Brazil instead of 3.
But nothing is final in a RTW trip, so it got put back in. I’ve gone through some of the logic behind this already, so I’ll just summarize: it’s hard to get from Colombia to Bolivia without spending an inordinate amount of money on an international flight, so I decided to travel slower and see more of South America on my way. This will cut down my time in Argentina but after spending 2 weeks in Rio I realized that 2 weeks is plenty of time to recharge, so instead of 4 weeks in Buenos Aires I think I only need 2. This gave me more time to play with.
So I started with Quito.
I was surprised by Quito in the best way. It’s beautiful. The architecture of the Old Town has been well preserved and/or restored, but its public bus system adds a modernity that brings it into this century. It is surrounded by rolling green mountains that rise up above the streets and, when seen from a viewpoint, continue on as far as you can see. Add in the most beautiful churches I’ve seen in South American and it honestly felt like I was in Europe.
Quito was the first time in a long time that I felt like I was a tourist in a traditional way, but again in a good way. We started by going to the main square, Plaza Grande, which is surrounded by Palacio del Gobierno (Presidential Palace), the Cathedral, and Palacio Arzobispal (Archbishop’s Palace, now some shops and restaurants). We did the free tour of the Palacio del Gobierno and, even though it was in Spanish, we were very impressed.
For starters the palace is so pretty: whitewashed walls and a tiled roof, two courtyards with palm trees and fountains, and stately rooms decorated to look just like stately rooms in a presidential palace should look. The President initiated opening the doors of the palace to the people, and he put gifts from other nations on display for the tours. We had a newfound appreciation for the President after hearing this. I definitely recommend doing this tour to anyone visiting Quito.
After a lunch of traditional Ecuadorian food – absolutely delicious seco de chiva (which, combined with our calzones from the night before, gave us the impression that Ecuadorian food was so much better than Colombian or Brazilian; an impression we later realized was a bit too quick to judge) – we went to Centro Cultural Metropolitano. This free art center has rotating exhibits, and we were lucky to see an Ecuadorian artist Viteri. I wasn’t familiar with him but liked the exhibit. Plus it was great wandering the galleries with another art history major; Jasmin and I were able to discuss these pieces in a way we hadn’t in a long time.
Then we commenced the church portion of our tour of Quito. First with the Cathedral and then the Monasterio de San Francisco. I haven’t seen churches this ornately decorated since Europe. The monastery is the oldest church in Quito and it was definitely the highlight. We capped off this religious tour the next morning with the Basilica del Voto Nacional, which had the impression of being designed by exactly following the “how to build a Gothic basilica” guidebook. Which for me is fine, since I realized that I will always be wowed by the soaring heights of basilica interiors.
We wandered La Ronda, a narrow lane that has been revived as a home for restaurants, shops and galleries. It clearly comes alive at night, not in the middle of the afternoon, but the shops we did venture into were still tempting (especially the chocolate shop). We capped off our Quito tour with a trip up El Panecillo to La Virgen de Quito statue. The view overlooking Quito was on par with Monserrate in Bogota. Quito from above looked like a mixture between Bogota and Medellin – Bogota because it spread out below us larger than expected, and Medellin because it is in a valley surrounded by green mountains – but a more manageable scale than both. Well worth the trip up.
And of course we hit up the shopping kiosks. After purchasing a bracelet to add to my growing collection and my new favorite pair of fingerless alpaca gloves ($2!), we returned to the hostel to recharge before the night.
Since it was our only real night in Quito we went to La Mariscal for dinner. Nicknamed “gringolandia” by Lonely Planet, this is the Parque Lleras of Quito. Surrounded by neon signs for BBQ and burgers, we were instantly hounded by 2 for 1 happy hour deals. Our night out was shortlived, we were still recovering from our 30 hours of travel and knew we had Banos to look forward to, but even this short trip to La Mariscal felt like we got what it was about. I would stay in the Old Town again for sure.
We left Quito quickly to continue our move south through Ecuador, but we left with a great impression. I am definitely happy I added this stop back into my trip.