When you visit the Basilica del Voto Nacional in the Old Town, it's incredibly fun and rewarding to climb the towers and to see the spectacular views from here, but be careful with the steps and lack of railings and the makeshift ladders and planks that provide the access to these areas. They are safe enough if you exercise caution, but while I was there, I couldn't help thinking that there's no way that these facilities would be up to code in the US! ;-)
In the past three months, there has been a dramatic increase in assaults on people hiking from the Teleferico to the summit of Pichincha volcano. Women, men, people traveling alone, and people traveling in groups as large as eight, have been assaulted. The assaults are violent and are not limited to robbery. Currently, there is no security in place for people hiking from the Teleferico. It is not recommended to hike the summit at this time as there is complete lack of security.
The altitude in Quito is quite high, averaging 2800 m. (9200 feet). When I found out it was that high, I wrote into "Fox News Sunday House Call" and Dr. Isadore Rosenfeld read my submitted question on the air. Dr. Rosenfeld recommends a day to take it easy (certainly not bed rest) to acclimate yourself to the altitude. That means don't go higher into the mountains or do anything strenuous. The altitude didn't have any adverse effects on me until, well into the trip, I took the Teleferiqo up to 4100 m. (13448 feet). I managed to take all the photos I needed, but I was keen to get back to the base at 3165 m. (9680 feet). If you are older or have heart or respiratory problems, see your doctor before organising a trip to here or any other high altitude city.
Quito is surrounded by eight volcanoes: Cotopaxi (pictured at 5897 m. 19342 feet), Antisana, Sincholagua and Cayambe to the east; Illiniza, Atacazo, Pinchincha and Pululahua to the west. The most interesting of the lot is Cayambe, which is east-northeast of Quito. Although it hasn't erupted since 1786, it is the only mountain or volcano on earth that lies directly on the equator (the southern flank, at least) and has a permanent snow cap and glaciers.
Quito is the only capital in the world to be directly threatened by an active volcano. Guagua Pinchincha, only 21 km. (13 miles) west, has continuing activity and is under constant watch. The largest eruption occurred in 1660 when over 25 cm (10 inches) of ash covered the city. The latest eruption was recorded on 5-7 October 1999, when a large amount of ash was deposited on the city. Although not devastating, the eruption caused significant disruption of activities, including closing the international airport.
Activity in other nearby volcanoes also can affect the city. In November 2002, after an eruption in the volcano Reventador, the city was showered with ash for several days with greater accumulation than the previous closer eruption.
The region also is vulnerable to earthquakes. The worst known earthquake to have hit Quito occurred in 1797 and killed 40,000 people. The most recent major seismic event, with a magnitude of 7 on the Richter scale, occurred in 1987 with an epicentre about 80 km (50 miles) from the city. It killed an estimated 1,000 near the epicentre, but Quito itself suffered only minor damage. About a year before my first visit, the city felt a quake measuring 4.1 on the Richter scale, but no major damage was reported. While I was there, some said a small earthquake happened, but I sure enough didn't feel it.
Like all cities of any size at all, Quito also has its dodgy neighbourhoods. Most of the tourist areas are in the north. Many of the dodgy areas are on the south side and in the hills just above town. There is really nothing much to see south of the Basilica del Voto Nacional. The one area where tourists may clash with a bad neighbourhood is the San Roque neighbourhood on the Panecillo below the Virgen de Quito. Tourists have been robbed making the trek on foot. Taxis are cheap, so be safe and not sorry.
There are many different types of city buses in Quito. I found that out the hard way. I went into the city on a metro bus from the Ofelia station. Because it was one of those long buses, I thought it was a Trolé Bus. When I took the real Trolé Bus back, its northern end point was different from that of the metro bus. I ended up having to take a taxi from the Estación de la Y which is near the 10 de agosto and the Avda. de la Prensa through to the Ofelia station. Thank goodness taxis are cheap.
I have been to many states and countries with bad roads, but some of those around Quito have to be the worst. Potholes big enough to lose a small child in and road construction can appear with little warning, so mind your speed.
My first experience in Quito was the foggy drive from the airport along the winding roads through the hills through to Cumbayá. I want to make it clear that, while fog is common at night, it doesn't get foggy every night. Fog is even more rare at any time during the day. When fog does happen, keep a better distance than normal.
The worrywarts often say for people not used to Quito to wait a few days to eat local fruits, vegetables, and salads. I had salad an hour after landing and suffered no ill effects. The key is to make sure the produce has been thoroughly washed before you eat it. That is, any reputable-looking restaurant or the people in whose home you stay will be more likely to be mindful of that than a street vendor or at a lesser restaurant.
Save your hate mail on this one. It is my observation that many of the folks in Quito don't know how to drive. They take traffic lights as suggestions, they rarely signal, they never look where they're going, and they don't hesitate to cut folks off like the idiot in the picture did to us. (No, this isn't an isolated example. If I had a nickel for every time that happened down here when I was there, I could buy a round-trip ticket: first class.) As bad as the drivers are, the pedestrians are even worse! It's some wonder with the rain, fog, steep hills, bad roads, and a heaping helping of rotten drivers that there aren't more accidents on Quito's roads.
Quito is a city of hills and valleys. Be careful whether you walk or drive. The streets are very narrow and cars often drive too fast for safety. If you walk, make sure you are in shape to make the climb. The locals are used to the 2800 m. (9200 ft.) altitude, but many outsiders not be able to climb these hills.
The Lonely Planet heralded the climb to Basilica del Voto Nacional as the most deadly one in all of Quito. Though there were some parts best not attempted by those afraid of heights, most of it was not bad at all and just about everyone can make it to the final ascent ladder. This is the view from above and though it was steep and perhaps a bit exposed with regard to what you can see, it is very safe with plenty to grab a hold of as you try not to look down. Yes, it is well worth it. That extra climb affords quite a view of both the cathedral and the entire city.
On Sundays, many towns and cities in Latin America go to sleep and it does feel quite eerie to walk around in most of these towns and cities on Sundays. Frankly, of the few times I was robbed in Latin America, they happened on Sundays.
I totally could guess that colonial Quito will be like a ghost-town on Sundays. But I certainly did not expect the New City Mariscal Sucre to turn into a ghost-town as well as there are many many hostels and restaurants there.
Well, truly, the streets are nearly empty with quite a few dodgy-looking characters loitering around. I actually felt very very very spooked and uneasy during my brief walk around there to return a key which I had taken away by mistake back to a hostel. My friends also repeatedly warned me not to walk around alone here on Sundays.
As you get near the edge of the Old Town there's a bad (so I'm told) neighborhood between you and the Virgin on the hill. On the border street you will see some prostitutes, how will you know they're prostitutes? Because, without exception, they are (all and by far) the fattest Ecuadorians in Quito. I'm not a prostitute guy myself, but if you've got a fat fetish, this could be your place.
I really feel like this tip involves good manners, but it's also a safety issue. Ecuador is a poorer country, and it's South America. There exists an issue in many such places (Peru, Colombia, etc.) a problem with crime and kidnapping directed at individuals who may identified as influential or wealthy. So, in the interest of good manners and good sense, Quito is not a place where one should flaunt his or her earthly wealth. Leave the Rolex and Prada somewhere else, folks.
See the accompanying photo. This is the the top of a security fence around a KINDERGARTEN. There is barbed wire and broken glass glued into the cement at the top of the fence. The point here is to discourage those who may have interest in kidnapping the children of well-to-done citizens.