When the weather is clear you can see several snow capped volcanoes from different places in Quito. It can be a very impressive sight.
In the first photo it is Volcán Cayambe that is seen from the towers of Basilica del Voto Nacional. Also Volcán Cotopaxi can often be seen. When I first saw Cotopaxi I had already been in Quito for six days and was on my way to the airport (the old airport) in a taxi. The taxi drove along Avenida Occidental above the city and it was a clear morning. When I looked back and saw Cotopaxi it took my breath away.
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. 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. 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. So 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.
Next tip: How safe is 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. 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!
If travelling at this time of year, be prepared. Take clothes you can layer, a waterproof jacket and/or umbrella, and suitable footwear to deal with the inevitable puddles.
Next tip: Flying to Quito
I have taken Spanish classes at Two places in Quito that both have different approaches and could be good depending on what you are looking for and since there are a bunch of different schools out there I thought I´d throw in my two cents about the ones I know.
The place where I have studied recently is The Secret Garden Spanish School which is connected to The Secret Garden Hostal. It has a variety of options that concern the amount of hours, homestays, etc and have a staff of teachers who cater pretty much to travellers. They are good at taking you through the basics of what you would need to travel and then building on what you use towards expanding your conversational spanish. Classes are held on the fifth story terrace of The Hostal and it is a relaxed learning atmosphere.
Last fall I took four hours of spanish a day at The Yanapuma Foundation which also offers volunteer projects. The School has a highly thought out method and is great if you have the time and the will to wrestle with the language. The lessons tend to move quickly and build on each other so that you are constantly grasping at things you thought would take you days to learn in a few hours. Since things are one to one you tend to pick up a lot and spend a ton of time trying to sort things out after each class.
I have been reccomending trying The Secret Garden Spanish School for a week to get a feel for what you would like to learn and get a grasp for basic travel spanish and if you feel like you would like to make more progress than what you are learning then give Yanapuma a shot.. Both are worth it in their own way!
Since I am in Quito and still volunteer at The Secret Garden and am friends with the folks at Yanapuma please feel free to Email me at Yesterdayschild@gmail.com for more info and help with arrangements!
Hope this helps!.. Jon
Fondest memory: Nighttime in Old Town
Favorite thing: Traveling with my buddy Jonathan was fun. First of all, he's bigger than just about everyone we ran into down in Ecuador so we got lots of looks from locals surprised to see such a big guy. It was also fun to watch Jonathan interact with locals despite not speaking the language. He's definitely not shy and his good nature was fun to be around. He's also one of the few people I know who's been to more countries than I have, so traveling to new places wasn't a concern for him, instead it's something he always looks forward to and he's able to relax and enjoy the journey.
Quito's Old Town is great for walking. Whether you're just slowly taking in the sights, people watching or walking off a big meal, the streets are easy to navigate (although they get a little hilly on the northern side) and there is plenty of great architecture to hold your attention. If you have a decent map (most guidebook maps are good enough), you'll be able to give yourself a self-guided tour in a matter of a few hours.
However, walking up to El Panecillo is not a great idea as muggings are fairly common.
Favorite thing: On the northern side of La Mariscal on Reina Victoria, you'll find this post office, which is a convenient place from which to mail off postcards back home to friends and family. I believe it was something like a dollar a postcard to the US and it took a week or so to arrive.
It's not hard to get online in Quito, particularly in La Mariscal or in the Old Town. There are internet cafes all over the place, although the connection speeds can be pretty slow at some places. My hotel had two free computers, but the speeds were slow, so I went to a place nearby if I wanted to do anything more than just a quick check of my email. Most of the time, the prices were very cheap anyways, so it's no big deal to spend a couple bucks for the faster speeds.
Some of the places also have telephones that you can use to make relatively cheap international calls as well.
Favorite thing: So, I knew Nat (VTer, b1bob) would be in Ecuador at the same time that I was there, but it was still a big surprise to literally just run into him at the handicrafts market in La Mariscal. I was strolling around just checking out the merchandise, when I hear this Spanish being spoken with a heavy Southern USA drawl. Immediately, I knew that it could be no one else in the world, but my good friend Nat! He was with his friend Sergio and we were able to chat for awhile before we parted ways. Unfortunately, we didn't get to hang out during the rest of the trip, but this was one moment that really proved the world really isn't as big as it sometimes seems.
If you're looking to book a tour of the one of the many great destinations in Ecuador, you'll have plenty of choices when it comes to tour operators. A quick stroll around La Mariscal will reveal window after window advertising packages to the Galapagos, Cotopaxi, Mindo, Cuenca and more. I decided to just walk into one and have a conversation and it turned out to be a great stroke of luck. Travel SA is located at the corner of Reina Victoria and Pinto and they'll take their time mapping out a customized trip of whatever it is you're interested in seeing.
We had a good guide who basically just drove us around and did everything at our pace (no annoyingly early wake up calls). He was very flexible with changing plans at our whims and just going with the flow (which is what a vacation should be all about!). The vehicle was safe and relatively comfortable and was capable of navigating the sometimes awful roads in the Andes and get us where we needed to go. They even let us drive when we felt like it.
Favorite thing: Because Ecuador is an oil-producing nation, it sells its petrol at about half the price of the United States as of November, 2007. This is $1.48 per U.S. gallon, not per litre. Sergio can fill the tank of his Chevrolet Grand Vitara for round about $16.
Favorite thing: For Americans and most Europeans, immigration and customs aren't a big problem here. It's the usual customs and immigration forms they pass out an hour before landing. Ecuador does require visas of a few countries. However, this could change for American travelers. The United States imposes rather stringent visa requirements on Ecuadorian tourists, like many other Latin American countries. Also, in November, 2007, President Correa was outraged at not being "treated like a head of state" at a Miami International Airport security checkpoint (even though his people gave the State Department little or no advance notice). According to news reports, President Correa will avoid passing through the U.S. It is also quite possible the Ecuadorian government could take this perceived snub out on American tourists.
Favorite thing: If you find yourself in the historical centre of Quito, there is a tourist centre called Centro de Información Turística y la Tienda de la Ciudad, "El Quinde" right in the city hall building. Here, you can find all sorts of information on the city and buy a whole bunch of things that are handmade locally. They also have a small café where you can take coffee or fresh juices from a wide range of local fruits. They will help you plan your own trip, and the police even give guided tours in English and Spanish. The police who run this place are a helpful lot. They gave me enough literature on the city to choke a mule which I needed to become familiar with this part of town. I want to single out my tour guide, Fernanda Vargas. She helped me understand the historical centre of Quito well enough for me to give the next tour.
Favorite thing: In general, things are cheaper in Quito than they are in the United States. One exception is blue jeans. Before I left, Sergio asked me to find out how much Levi's blue jeans in his size were. They were cheap enough that he asked me to get him two pair (for what he would have paid for one). Quito is a bargain by American standards, but go to the outlying areas like Otavalo and Atuntaquí for even bigger bargains.
Favorite thing: I was treated very well by the strangers I met in Ecuador. It helps that I speak Spanish fluently, but I don't think you need to be fluent. Just know basic words or phrases on how to ask for directions, order in a restaurant, call for help in an emergency, and shop in a store or market. Besides that, be willing to try everything local. The local people will respect your efforts and you will get more out of your trip.