the deadliest view
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.
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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. The city authorities have made huge efforts to reduce crime on the streets, especially in the colonial area, where you will see tourist police on almost every corner. Of course, you must be sensible. I continued to keep half an eye open for possible trouble, just as I would at home in London. I made sure to close my bag properly, not to carry all my money out with me, and not to wear ostentatious jewellery (not that I have a lot of this!) We didn’t go to any area that we had been warned to avoid (for instance, it isn’t recommended for tourists to walk through the area on the slope of El Panecillo ), and we avoided totally deserted streets on the whole. And as I said, we had no problems at all.
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. Whatever the reason, please don’t let such warnings deter you from visiting this lovely city!
Next tip: a look at the unpredictable weather in Quito
Volcanoes and earthquakes
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.
While you have to be careful where ever you are in Quito (even though, in general, the north is safer than the south). There is one rule that should never be broken: DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WALK UP TO THE PANECILLO. Take a taxi up there and ask them to wait for you while you check out the view. There have been plenty of misfortunate incidences with people who have tried to walk up.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
What not to do in Quito!
Don't walk up to Panecillo or Pinchincha. Everybody will warn you against that, especially the taxi drivers who of course want to make a profit. But it is true. There have been a lot of unhappy incidents. During my 2 week stay I heard of 7 tourists who were kidnapped.
Don't wear gold necklaces except if you have decided to part with it. Everybody I met who used to have a gold chain was robbed of it in plain daylight. They are very swift and well trained...
Don't leave anything of value in your hotel room. It will disappear into thin air even with the door double locked. They are ..magicians...
Don't trust your money with anyone and don't show your big bunch to anyone. It's better to use an ATM card to get small amounts at a time. Always keep your money in a hidden pouch close to your body. Keep a small pack of dollars out to pay bills and never admit you have more.
Don't keep your camera on your shoulder or around your neck except if you have been tired of it and need a new one... They stopped me in the street several times and instructed me to put it in my bag. A European living there told me she had already lost 3 of them.
Many times local people warned me in a confidentially whispering voice that an innocent looking passer by, even a woman, could be a potential skillful thief.
However none of this has happened to me, except that .. the airlines lost my whole suitcase....So watch yours in public transport.
What to do if you have a serious problem: Go to the Ministry of Tourism and make an official complaint! It's much better than trying to solve things out yourself. The address is Av. Roy Alfaro N32-300. Tel. 2 228303.
Good luck! Nevertheless Quito is a nice place.
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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.
In Quito, the weather can change before your eyes. The sun will be shining as rain pours down. You will be sitting at a streetside cafe, placing your order in summer heat, and by the time the order arrives you are sitting inside the restaurant to escape pounding hail.
It is best to always be prepared for precipitation in Quito - at least an umbrella - but a rain jacket in your bag definately helps.
Also remember that, even on the hottest days, as soon as the sun goes behind the clouds it gets COLD!!!
Don't worry, but use common sense
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.
Beware of DOGS!!!
Quito is well known for its stray dog problem - and this reputation is well founded.
Stray dogs are all over the place, and it seems like I'm always reading another article in the paper about someone dying of rabies in the city.
Once, the same dog tried to attack me three days in a row!!! It took a guard in front of a store to shake his shotgun at the dog to make it back down.
Dogs here seem to respond well to a threat with a stick or other stick-like item (umbrella for instance). I'm not suggesting you hit a dog, but if one looks like it is going to try to bite you, just make raise your 'stick' up in the air and it will probably back down.
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Fear of Flying
The landing of planes in Quito's airport is a regularly performed miracle. The airport was once out in the outskirts of the city, in the middle of a field, but the city grew out to meet it and eventually surrounded it. Now, there is no room for error on the single runway.
Additionally, the city is surrounded by mountains, necessitating a quick descent for the pilots - special certification is required to land/take off in Quito
Finally, the air is very thin, making takeoff difficult. For long flights, the plane will take off with very little fuel, drop down to Guayaquil, fill up, and go.
If you are afraid of flying - close your eyes as you descend.
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Know your buses
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.