The three must-sees are the telefériQo, Mitad del Mundo, and Basilica del Voto Nacional. The telefériQo is a relatively new attraction that takes you to the top of Cruz Loma at 4100 meters. The views are nice but somewhat obstructed for taking a panoramic city picture, though you have the option to take a tough three hour hike up even further where the view is clearer.
Mitad del Mundo is the “Middle of the World” tourist attraction where you can stand over both the North and South hemispheres at the same time. Actually the equator is a couple hundred meters away, but you can still take a picture next to the official sign. Once you leave the complex, make a left on the road to visit Museo Solar, the purported home of the real equator with a lot of fun science and history demonstrations.
Basilica del Voto Nacional is a gothic chuch that looks like it was made in Europe and exported to Ecuador. The inside will impress church buffs but the fun is going up either of the two towers. It gets dangerous up top when you have to climb steel ladders and walk across metal netting that has surely swallowed many little feet. If you are not sure whether you are at the top yet, just follow the graffiti.
Lunch in old town is $1.50 for a basic almeurzo, which is usually soup and a main dish that includes a carb filler like rice. Many of these restaurants do not look very sanitary and you are rolling the dice when you eat somewhere without a recommendation. (If you forget to get your typhoid vaccine, you can get at Old Town’s health center for $16.50.) Visit El Cafeto in Old Town next to Plaza Grande for excellent espresso drinks and snacks.
New Town food highlights include: Red Hot Chili Peppers (lawsuit pending) with $6 main dish fajitas that are excellent and filling; the originally named Great Indian Restaurant with a huge selection of Indian meals under $5; and Hassan’s Cafe, serving Lebanese food with delicious sweets. Brush up on your Spanish by taking private lessons for $5 a lesson at Baraca, also in New Town. They will be able to start you almost immediately.
There are plenty of activities and tours you can sign on from Quito, such as rafting and hiking, but adventure tours will almost always be more intense in the outlying cities such as Tena, Baños, or Riobamba.
Get around in Quito by taking cabs or any of three north-south bus lines (25 cents for a one way trip). When getting into a cab, point to the meter and say “metro” to get the best rate. At nighttime the driver will charge you at least $2.
Old Town has nothing in the way of bars. New Town has several, including a club features a three hour free open bar for ladies on Wednesday (ask around). Talk to other travelers to find the latest hot-spots, but you may have to wait until the weekend to do it up.
Hostal Chicago (Los Ríos 1730 in neighborhood San Blas, Old Town)
$6/night for dorm bed. Clean room, filling breakfast, and a common area with bar that closes at 10pm. Within walking distance to Old Town’s sights. Excellent value, though the hostal safe is really a file cabinet. Comes with daily towel and mini-bar of soap. Book exchange.
El Cafecito (Cordero E6-43 off Reina Victorfia in New Town)
$7/night for dorm bed. Only three shared bathrooms that get dirty fast. Excellent restaurant / cafe downstairs with bar. Neighborhood is sketchy at night. Free wireless internet (a rarity at hostels), filtered water, and colorful liquid soap. Towel is $5 deposit. Has a real safe.
Quito On The Blog
August 10 is Quito’s Independence day, where all of the squares of Old Town are set up with concert stages and the roads close to rev up for a party that peaks at midnight. There are huge crowds so be extra aware of pick-pocketers who mark you when you take pictures with your expensive digital camera. I wrote about getting pick-pocketed during the celebration:
I was observing a staged reenactment in Plaza Grande until I got bored and decided to walk back to my hostel. One particular street crossing was very crowded and there was a lot of unnecessary pushing and shoving by teenagers. Two thoughts went through my head… Continue Reading
There is a bar in New Town that features an open bar for ladies on Wednesday.
On Wednesdays from 7-10PM at a club in New Town, ladies get in free and drink for free. Yeah, a three hour open bar. Men are not allowed in the bar until 10PM after paying a $3 cover. The line of dudes by 10PM goes around the block… Continue Reading
Other Cities In Ecuador
If you're only going to visit only Ecuador then I recommend you get this guide, which is far more detailed than the continental guide above, with options that cater to a range of budgets instead of only the shoestring backpacking crowd. Also it gives more respectable treatment to small cities and towns that the larger guide breezes over with a paragraph or two.
South America On A Shoestring Guidebook
This is the guidebook that I used in my six month trip in South America. The maps are excellent, the information is complete and thorough, and the reviews are accurate, which is why it's often called "the bible" by many travelers. The only problem is that everyone else has this book so if you are the type of person that wants to hit the isolated small towns you will be disappointed. My advice is to use this book for its maps and information on getting from city to city, but talk to the locals and other travelers for those isolated gems that Lonely Planet for some reason didn't find worthy to include.
Spanish For Beginners
My copy of this book is so beat up and weathered it's disintegrating before my eyes. I took it with me to South America because I loved how it was organized in a logical way that kept me motivated to keep studying. Lessons start short and easy and increase in complexity as you tackle frustrating readings that help take you to the next level. The only downside of this book is that it was originally published in 1957 so some of the vocabulary is very dated. Still, you'll be hard-pressed to find a modern equivalent of this book whose teachings approach the same quality. Last time I checked you can grab a used copy from Amazon for less than a dollar.
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