On the afternoon of our visit to Otavalo we went, again with Jose Luiz, to visit El Mitad del Mundo – the Middle of the World. This is the name given to both a monument and the area immediately around it. The monument was erected to mark the line of the equator, but rather than cause confusion, as “Ecuador” means “Equator” in Spanish, it was given this more fanciful name. Today we know that in any case the monument stands not on the equator but very near it instead, but that is because we now have more sophisticated means of measuring such things than did those whose exploits are commemorated here.
The French Geodesic Mission arrived in what is today Ecuador in 1736. It was undertaken by a multi-national team – Spanish, French and Ecuadorean. The purpose was to scientifically verify the roundness of the Earth, and to establish whether its circumference were greater around its equator or around the poles. To do this it was of course necessary to ascertain where the equator fell. The team measured arcs of the Earth’s curvature from the plains near Quito to the southern city of Cuenca. These measurements enabled them to establish accurately for the first time the true size of the Earth, which eventual led to the development of the international metric system of measurement.
Near the monument is a line where you can stand, supposedly, straddling the equator. However, modern measuring techniques have now shown that the exact location of the equator is not here but a few hundred metres away. In any case, we didn’t do this here as we had already stood on the line at nearby Inti Nan, where they claim that theirs is the true line, though others dispute that too. So maybe we have stood on the equator, and maybe not! Whatever the true location, we had a lot of fun at Inti Nan and spent much longer there than at Mitad del Mundo. There we saw the somewhat odd mix of exhibits – shrunken heads, Amazonian snakes and spiders, a collection of totem poles. But the main attraction is that line, and a series of “scientific” experiments demonstrated to “prove” that it is genuine. Some say the experiments are fake, and some seemed likely to be so to me, while others (water changing direction as it swirls through a plug-hole) were more convincing. It was all good fun – and we even got our passports stamped to show that we had been right at the equator!
We came by car with Jose Luiz. You can easily book a similar tour, but if you prefer to come by public transport see MalenaN’s useful tip
For more about the Mitad del Mundo area please see my separate page.
Next tip: another excursion, to Papallacta
A visit to Otavalo market must be one of the most popular of day trips from Quito. It can be done on local buses, through a tour booked in the city, or with a private guide as we did. To be honest, when planning our Ecuador trip, a visit here wasn’t one of my top priorities and with relatively little time in Quito I had considered giving it a miss as we’d seen many colourful markets elsewhere, for example in Guatemala two years ago. But then I had second thoughts and when our tour company proposed including it I went along with the suggestion. On balance I think it was good decision as we enjoyed our visit and it is one of the sights of northern Ecuador.
We left Quito after an early breakfast, driving north with Jose Luiz, the very good guide provided by Surtrek. We stopped in the town of Cayumbe to take photos of the volcano of that name and to taste custard apple bought from one of the several fruit stalls along the roadside. We also stopped at a roadside gift-shop and café near Lago San Pablo, El Miralago, which is clearly strategically positioned to catch the tourist trade, with super views from its garden and local children posing with alpacas and llamas in return for a coin or two. But you can hardly blame them for cashing in like this, and since it gave us a chance to pause for refreshment as well as photos, and to help the local economy, I had no complaints!
We arrived in Otavalo mid-morning. There is a market here every day of the week, though Saturday, when we went, is one of the biggest and busiest days. Locals, mainly indigenous people, come from miles around to sell their various handicrafts – woven goods, musical instruments, paintings and much more. And tourists come from even further afield to buy them! Although not avid holiday shoppers, we did do our bit for the local economy, buying a small painting and a necklace for me – and at the last minute, a scarf too, when accosted by a woman selling them on the street near where we were waiting for our guide, Jose Luiz, to pick us up.
But the main attraction for us was in photographing the colourful market sellers in their traditional costumes. I have to confess to using the zoom lens to take quite a few candid shots, as only a couple were willing to pose. We also stopped for a refreshing fruit juice at a café, Buena Vista, on the south side of the market place, which has good views of all the action from its first floor windows.
For more about our visit to Otavalo please see my separate page.
After our visit to the market we went on to nearby Cotacachi for lunch, a town known throughout Ecuador for its leather work, on items such as clothing, footwear, bags, belts and wallets. We enjoyed seeing the striking church here, though had no time to go inside, and had a very good lunch albeit at a rather touristy restaurant.
If not on a tour you can catch a bus – MalenaN has a good tip on bus travel to Otavalo
After lunch we drove back towards Quito to visit El Mitad del Mundo, the Middle of the World, as described in my next tip.
One day while wandering around the streets of Quito we found ourselves on the stretch if Cuenca that runs between the Plaza San Francisco and La Merced church. We came across a number of clothes shops along this street that to our European eyes were rather old-fashioned but all the more fascinating for that, and they presented us with some great photo opportunities. In particular the shops selling clothes for special occasions such as children’s First Communion celebrations, and dresses for brides, caught our eye. If you like to take quirky photos of street life in the destinations you visit, as we do, a walk along Cuenca will reward you for sure. And who knows? You may even pick up a bargain too!
From Plaza de la Independencia walk two blocks northeast on Chile, then turn left – or leave Plaza San Francisco from its northern corner
Next tip: a return to more conventional sightseeing, the church of La Merced
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 with them. We drove here in the morning, when the sky was still blue and the weather warm and sunny. We came out mainly to check out the views, which were great. In particular, we had a super view of the Basilica del Voto Nacional, which stands opposite and just below the park, and of the mountains and volcanoes of the range to the west of the city, including Pichincha.
Itchimbia is one of several city parks in Quito, all of which seemed to me to be well-maintained and well-loved by locals. It is located on the hill of the same name and has quite recently (2004) been renovated, with new facilities added. These include the cultural centre in my main photo, which was reconstructed from the old glass and steel structure of the Santa Clara Market which lay on the other side of the city and had been imported from Hamburg during the government of Eloy Alfaro in 1889. The building now hosts exhibitions and trade shows – when we were there a modern furniture show was being dismantled, so we couldn’t go inside unfortunately.
Elsewhere in the park are playgrounds for children, and a wetland area, but we didn’t explore that part. There are also a couple of cafés I believe.
We came by car and Marcello parked in the large car park (see Google map) but you could take a taxi or walk up from Trolebus stops near the Plaza San Blas
Next tip: lunch in La Mariscal, at Mama Clorinda
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 long cobbled street. At the bottom of the road we came to the impressive Santuria de El Guápulo, a striking church dating from the latter part of the 17th century (although restored in the 1930s) and one of Quito’s real treasures.
We were very fortunate to find it open, as the hours are apparently somewhat erratic. And we were so pleased that we were able to go inside, as it is truly beautiful I loved the ornate wooden pulpit (the work of Juan Bautista Manacho in 1716) and especially the sweet-looking little dog carved waiting at the bottom of the steps – such a nice touch! The altar-piece is also stunning, and there are some important paintings from the Quito school by Miguel de Santiago and Nicolás Javier de Goríbar.
There was a lone local woman praying near the front of the church so we walked around very quietly. Suddenly she broke into song – totally unselfconsciously and I am sure not for our benefit but for her own – or rather, for that of the one to whom she prayed. Ave Maria sung so beautifully in this otherwise empty church – how magical!
No photos are allowed inside, but I asked an attendant who was hovering in the porch if I could take some there of the interesting wall-paintings, and was told that I might. I haven’t been able to find any mention of these paintings, perhaps because the treasures inside are so noteworthy.
Outside the church on the other side of the plaza is a statue of the Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana, gazing out over the land he “discovered” (photo four). There is a story, possibly true, that the name of this part of the city is derived from Guadalupe – that here the Spanish planned their sanctuary and dedicated it to the Virgin of Guadalupe. But the local Indians weren´t able to pronounce the name and it became corrupted as Guápulo.
We were lucky to come here by car with our friends, but you can come on foot by walking down the steep staircase directly behind the Hotel Quito and return the same way – or take a taxi for about $4.
Next tip: a drive to Nayon
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. The fertile valleys around Quito are ideal for growing flowering plants, and Nayon is the place that locals go to buy them. The road is lined with small nurseries, each with a beautiful display of plants for sale. We parked about halfway along and had a good wander around one of them. My eye was especially drawn to the wide variety of hibiscus, one of my favourite flowers, and to the bougainvilleas. It surprised me that with such a temperate climate it was possible to grow what to us are exotic blooms – but of course the growers take good care to protect their plants from the chilly nights at these altitudes.
When we had finished looking around (we didn’t buy anything, naturally, as these are not the most transportable of souvenirs!) we went across the road to one of Betty and Marcello’s favourite halderias. I had been disappointed the previous day with my first taste of Helado de Paila, the traditional northern Ecuador version of ice cream, so I wasn’t sure about having it again here. But I have to say that it was much nicer than the one I’d eaten at the famed Heladeria San Agustin. I chose taxo flavour (a form of passionfruit) and really enjoyed its refreshing sharpness. It was also cheaper than the Heladeria San Agustin, at just $1.50 for a large cone.
Unfortunately, because Marcello drove and I looked more at the surrounding scenery and activity than at road signs, I have no idea what road we were on, but from squinting at Google Maps I believe it was either the Camino Antiguo de Nayon or a road off it!
Next tip: an excursion to Otavalo
Papallacta is a small Andean town 67 kilometres east of Quito, known for its hot springs. We decided to splurge on a night at its most upmarket hotel, the Termas de Papallacta, and were not disappointed. We had a great time here, although the weather was mostly rather dull and even at times drizzly.
Our room was a lovely wooden cabin with a small hot pool right outside. Guests here also have free use of an area with larger pools on the hotel’s grounds, but as this is open to the general public and busy at weekends (we were here on a Sunday) we were advised that we might want to consider paying a small extra fee to use the spa’s more secluded pools, which we did. We had a wonderful soak here, and I also visited the spa for an Andean mud wrap! In the evening we enjoyed a very good dinner (local trout) in the hotel’s restaurant. The next morning there was time for a short walk – there is an extensive network of trails, some of which you can walk alone while for others you are required to take a guide.
If you’re on a budget you can still visit Papallacta as buses from Quito serve the town (though the hot springs are some distance from the road down a mud track) and there are much cheaper accommodation options. But we enjoyed our splurge and I highly recommend a stay at the Termas if you can manage it. Just bring a warm jumper as it gets very chilly here at night, being considerably higher even than Quito, at 3,225 metres.
I will write a little more about Papallacta in a forthcoming separate page.
This is my final tip on Quito. Please click here to return to my intro page and leave me a comment!
On my last day in Ecuador in 2011 I read about the new Seven wonders of Quito. One of them was Santuario de la Virgen de El Quinche, situated about 60 km away from Quito. So, I thought this could be an interesting place to visit when I came back to Ecuador in 2012.
The present church in El Quinche, Santuario de la Virgen de El Quinche, was constructed in 1927 and it has a capacity for 966 seated persons and 3556 standing persons. One of the walls outside the church in El Quinche is full of plaques. These plaques are put up by people who have come here to thank the Virgin for her blessings and miracles.
Many pilgrims come to El Quinche throughout the year to get blessings from La Virgen de El Quinche and to thank her for miracles. Many miracles have been assigned to her and she is said to have saved people from serious accidents and illnesses. She is very popular among taxi and truck drivers. In November, and especially for the procession on November 21, big crowds of pilgrims come here. For this day many pilgrims walk all the way from Quito (about 60 km away).
The sculpture of La Virgen de El Quinche is a small wooden statue, only 62 cm high, and it is standing above the main altar in the sanctuary. It was made by the artist Diego de Robles in 1588 and in 1604 it was brought from Oyacachi to El Quinche.
It is said that whoever ordered the sculpture didn’t pay for it so Diego de Robles traded it for cedar wood with the Oyacachi people. They put it in a cave and sang songs to the virgin. It is said the virgin protected their children from being eaten by bears and she did miracles, like bringing a dead child back to life and harvesting a field of grains without any help of humans.
Another story says that the artist himself was saved from falling down into a deep ravine when his clothes got caught by a thorn. And since then many more miracles have been attributed to the virgin.
I have got more photos on my El Qinche page.
La Mitad del Mundo means the middle of the world. This is the place where an European expedition made measurements in 1736 and stated that this is where the equator is. The expedition was lead by the Frenchman Charles-Marie de La Condamine and during his expedition it was also proved that the world bulges near the equator.
At La Mitad del Mundo the equator is painted as a yellow line and you can take photos were you stand with one foot in each hemisphere (you could at least think that). However, modern measurements have proven that the exact location of the equator is not here but a few hundred metres away. At Museo de Sitio Intiñan they say that this is where the equator is (and it also says so in some guidebooks), but I have read that the equator is not here either. So where is it? Maybe at Catequilla, an ancient indigenous site on a nearby hill.
Anyway, the equator is near to La Mitad del Mundo. At the centre of La Mitad del Mundo there is a 30m high stone monument with a brass globe on top. Inside the monument there is an ethnographic museum and a viewing platform from where you will have nice views of the surroundings. Inside the complex there are several museums and exhibition halls, restaurants and souvenir shops. At weekends it can be quite crowded and live music is sometimes performed on Sunday afternoons.
La Mitad del Mundo is open between 9 - 18 on Monday - Friday, and between 9 - 20 on Saturday - Sunday. There is an admission to enter the complex, $2 (August 2011) and for some museums there is an extra admission.
Inside the 30m-high monument at La Mitad del Mundo there is an Ethnographic Museum. There are several floors with exhibitions of Ecuador’s different indigenous cultures. There are clothes, artefacts and photographs. It is well displayed and there are information posters in both Spanish and English.
To visit the museum, and the viewing platform in the monument, cost $3 extra (August 2011), besides the $2 you pay when entering the complex.
Is the real equator here?
Around 200-300 metres from the La Mitad del Mundo complex is the outdoor museum Museo de Sitio Intiñan. Here you will once again be able to stand with one feet in each hemisphere, but it is said that this is the site of the real equator, measured with modern GPS.
A guided tour, in Spanish or English, around the site is included in the admission of $3 (August 2011). There are exhibitions of some indigenous cultures and Ecuadorian plants and animals. Among other things there is a real shrunken head on display. At the painted line indicating the equator you will be shown some experiments, like seeing the Koriolis centrifuged forces in a sink on each side of the equator and on the equator. You can also try to balance an egg on the head of a nail, which I succeeded doing. Well, some guidebooks say that the experiments done are only fake, but it is quite interesting anyway.
The museum is open daily between 9.30 - 17.
Within the La Mitad Del Mundo tourist complex there are several restaurants, and they seem to be quite expensive. As I was hungry, but not yet ready to leave the complex to look for cheaper alternatives in the village, I decided to eat at one of the restaurants serving trout. I went to a restaurant where I could sit outside on the porch and watch people go by.
While waiting for the food I got a basket of popcorn, which is quite common in Ecuador. The trout was served with some vegetables and patacones. To drink I had ordered a lemon juice. The popcorn, the meal and the juice all tasted good and filled my stomach. I paid $10.50 (August 2011) for the food and juice.
About 4km northwest of La Mitad del Mundo is the crater of the extinct volcano Pululahua. It is 2400 years since it last had an eruption. The crater is 5km across and about 400m deep. The soil in the crater is fertile and from the viewpoint you can see a patchwork of cultivated fields, and some farmhouses scattered about.
When you visit Mitad del Mundo you will probably be approached by someone selling tours to Pululahua. There are longer hiking tours, tours to the viewpoint including a stop at the nearby replica of a Inca Sun Temple, and tours only to the viewpoint. I decided to go to the viewpoint, Mirador de cráter Pululahua with Calimatours. It is a tour that takes around one hour only, and that suited me well as I wanted to visit Museo Solar Inti Ñan as well before going back to Quito. The bus ride to Pululahua didn’t take long and there we visited the viewpoint. There was a guide on the tour who told us about the crater and life there today. Before going back to La Mitad del Mundo the others in the group bought some souvenirs. The tour was $3 per person (August 2011).
“Mitad del Mundo” is administratively speaking inclined to be part of the greater Quito area despite the fact that there is a town nearby called San Antonio. The complex has shall we say a complex story to tell. It is not the first attempt to mark the Equator in close proximity to the capital. The monument in Calacali is a testament to this fact. But time passes, ambitions grow and the facilities to accommodate them become bulkier and bulkier. “Mitad del Mundo” complex consists of the major monument itself plus a myriad of accompanying facilities from washrooms and stores to alternative celestial approaches and of course, a church. The church is also a peculiar species modeled by its environment. It has the Equatorial Line, brightly painted in yellow dissect it in two halves on the way to the altar where it finishes in the feet of Jesus Christ, literally. On top of that, the hallo crowning our Saviour is nothing else but a representation of the sun, potent symbol of the indigenous beliefs and closely related to the equator as planetary accessory. There are many reactions to what is going on at this complex complex including the truth about water spinning in different ways north and south of the equator and other miracles that can be observed ONLY here, hence the huge monument and hubbub about it. A modern-day controversy involving GPS system adds to the mix. Many believers in hi-tech gadgets bring them on site and make the waters murky by pointing their GPS displays to the “professionals” proving that the equator is not where the yellow line says it is. Fortunately, GPS is a man-made product following particular mathematical method which by default makes it prone to mistakes just as any other methods. So, GPS totting cool punks be aware that your gadget is as unreliable as the yellow line of the previous generations and on top of that it is rather virtual one, which makes it way inferior to the palpable infinity of the yellow ribbon.
This is not, strictly speaking, off the beaten path. But since the theme of my Quito page is the Centro Historico, this classification will do.
The Teleferiqo is a recent contraption, identical to those encountered at ski resorts, which zips you to a mountaintop way above Quito. The ride is magnificent, and eerily silent. The views from "up there" are spectacular - even on a partially cloudy day. If you have the luxury of being able to choose a clear day, you can allegedly identify several of the surrounding volcanoes.
$7 will get you to the express lane, and $4 to the regular lane. On the evening I went, the place was deserted, and quite cold with an icy wind. There is a forlorn little amusement park on the premises, and sad craft shops.
I got to the Teleferiqo by taxi ($5), and I came back with a shuttle which left me at a trole stop in the "new" town. In 2010, I noticed that the Teleferiqo's web site was abandoned. You may want to check that the Teleferiqo itself is still open...