Days spent: hahaha plenty! Considering its central and very well connected position and how badly we fell for our hostel, we decided to use Quito as our basecamp to explore Ecuador.
Days recommended: 2-3 days are enough to explore the capital. If you’re planning day trips, up to a week.
Where we slept: El Hostelito, doubtlessly the best hostel we found in 4 months of travels. Social, relaxed, homely. It really felt like belonging to a caring big family, complete with a lovely pup, Frida. Cannot express how happy we felt every time we were getting back there, or how good it was to snuggle up on the couch to watch a movie with some hostel friends, or how sad it turned out to say goodbye. Plus, the whole concept of sleeping in a pod was brilliant. The sweetest dreams ever.
What we ate: you can actually find a bit of everything. We had a rip-off Asian hipster bowl @ Freshii, quite boring burgers at an all American pub, yummy Indian @ Chandani Tandori in Mariscal, the best Swiss cakes and bread @ Hay Pan (that’s where we had breakfast pretty much every morning, since it was a 1 min walk from El Hostelito) but mostly we went for grocery shopping and cooked our own meals at the hostel. Typical Ecuadorian meals in Quito’s downtown are based on soups, choclo (corn) and arroz con pollo or camarones (rice with chicken or shrimps).
What we drank: didn’t actually mention any specific drinks on my logbook. Just remember drinking a lot of Club beer.
How we travelled: We took a night bus from Mancora to Guayaquil and we crossed the Ecuadorian border. Then another bus from Guayaquil to Quito for a total of about 18 hours. The second part of the trip though, apart from offering some spectacular banana plantations and jungle views, was actually quite entertaining. In Ecuador everybody is allowed to jump on the bus to sell you (in a proper teleshopping moderators’ style), pretty much whatever you can think of: homemade yucca bread, a miraculous cream against every sort of skin issue, lottery tickets, candies and chocolate, holy cards…
Once in Quito we made good use of the public transports and taxis.
Km walked: 80.5
How Quito affected our wallets: well, Ecuador’s currency is American Dollars. Which reflects on generally more expensive prices (especially in restaurants). Chains like KFC or Domino’s have the same prices you would find in the States. Not that we were interested anyway.
Issues we encountered: Isa intentionally avoided to make me aware of Quito’s bad reputation since, she says, “I tend to worry too much”… Apparently, it is listed between South America’s most dangerous destinations. To be utterly honest, I felt safe the whole time. As usual, don’t play stupid, especially at night or when walking around the overcrowded downtown during weekends.
Would we recommend it? Yes, definitely. The world’s second highest official capital city, apart from offering one of the biggest and most well preserved historical centres of South America (an UNESCO world heritage site), is the perfect place to arrange a last minute Galapagos cruise or an easy getaway to the Amazons.
Analogue tips: I can actually tell you where NOT to go: Color Power. After paying more than 200 dollars just to have my films scanned, they first couldn’t deliver in time, and, when they eventually did, it turned out to be the s***tiest job a lab has ever done with my pictures. I had to pay my Italian lab to repeat the whole thing. Don’t waste your time (and money) here.
What to do:
- First thing to do in Quito (especially on a weekend): head straight to the historical centre and shamelessly tag along an Ecuadorian family, that was organised enough to make a reservation to visit the conference rooms of Palacio del Governo. Don’t forget to wave at the crowds in presidential style from its balcony. While at the city centre, enjoy some street artists’ performances and check out the monumental Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco.
Now you’ll be ready to move to El Panecillo, a scenic point on a hilltop, also famous for hosting a huge Madonna statue (which looks more like Maleficent). The guides highly recommend not to get to El Panecillo by foot, since it can get quite dodgy. We read this part only on our way back…
Mariscal is a European friendly area, which is perfect for those tourists that like to travel just to find a pub where to drink beer, watch soccer and speak with people of their own nationality. Not our thing. But it’s somehow the place where to get the biggest deals (or rip offs) for the Galapagos. We tried and miserably failed though…
Last but not least, TelefériQo, a cable car, that takes you from 3000 to 4000 metres above sea level and leaves you right at the beginning of a series of mountain trails. Gusts of frozen wind and my bleeding feet actually put us off.
- Otavalo’s Saturday market. Just a couple of hours bus journey from Quito, it is an awesome way to plunge into the Ecuadorian handicraft tradition.
We started with the animals market (was supposed to be cute, but actually saddened us a lot), to then aimlessly wander around for hours, stopping every now and then to try out some street food or unknown white summer drinks. We bumped into Jonathan, the creative mind and skilled hands behind JJLeathersmith, and, after listening to his story, we fell even more for his leather wallets and bags (I gave in to the former). We also paid a quick visit to the lumberjack styled Cosecha Coffee, where I tried my first bagel with fig butter. We also tried more street food (deep fried bananas with hot milk) and was pleasantly surprised by the locals smiles and friendly attitude.
Otavalo market is very generously listed by the Lonely Planet as one of the top 20 attractions in South America, alongside the Amazons and Machu Picchu. Don’t get me wrong, it is indeed pretty, and definitely quite unique, since it feels like the whole town takes part and pride in it. However, I guess, its glorious reputation might also eventually become its downfall. The wool textiles, the leather products and the wood carved tools that made it popular, are still sold, but most of the market’s stalls actually opted for mass-produced tourist goods.
- A day trip to Mindo, a watershed surrounded by cloud forest-covered mountains and a perfect hippie gateway, less bustling than the backpackers favourite Baños and mostly famous for its river tubing and zip-lining activities. If you want to make the most of its laid back vibes, maybe consider to spend one night there.
Since we missed our morning bus, due to an incredible slow hostel checkout, we were on a pretty tight schedule and had to come up with several extemporary decisions. The first was taking a bus to Mitad del Mundo, a landmark said to lay precisely in between the world’s two hemispheres. Even if I didn’t have any kind of expectation, it was still a huge disappointment. Quite annoyed, we checked the buses from there to Mindo, just to find out that the timetables were against us. In that precise moment, a car pulled over, and a guy in suit and tie, asked us if we needed help. He told us he was driving in the direction of Mindo and offered us a lift. My first reaction, following the very simple motherly advice not to trust strangers, was to say “hell no, man!”. However, I was also very determined not to waste the day any further, so, after realising that he owned more valuables in his car than the ones we carried on us, I answered “yeah, sure, why not!”. And, of course it turned out the guy, an Ecuadorian businessman, was super nice and had a soft spot for vets since, in his words, “we are all good people”. I avoided mentioning all the twats I actually know and just went on nodding. After about one hour, when our guard was finally off, the guy took a book from his bag, a bible to be precise. He handed it over and told us to open it. And guess what was hidden in between the carved pages? A gun, of course. Because “you never know with these crazy Colombians”. We both went on nervously smiling while looking at each other in a proper “WTF is happening?” way. As much as the guy was totally inoffensive, I have to admit, we both felt very relieved when we finally left his car! Once in Mindo we enjoyed a lovely lunch by the river @ Beehive, in company of a huge Great Dane and a charm of buzzing hummingbirds. Then we walked in the cloud forest for about one hour, flanked by some random stray dogs, until we reached the zip lining structures. We obviously had a blast, such a different way and angle to observe the landscape. My testicles can’t say the same though.
- The Quilotoa Loop or a 1 day trip directly to its highlight: a 3 km wide pristine lake at the bottom of a volcanic crater. Once again we were on a very tight schedule (we booked a flight to the Galapagos from one day to the other, after I hopelessly checked for the umpteenth time and realised that the price was the lowest I’ve ever found). Originally we had planned to do the famous/infamous, according to weather, three days mountain trek. We heard the most bizarre stories about it, such as people getting lost in the mist, or collapsing for the altitude sickness at the base of a steep climb and having to rely on a donkey to make it through the day. However, everybody agrees with how great they felt when they eventually reached the final destination. Call us lazy or whatever, but I was somehow glad to have an official excuse to skip this. Not a big fan of hiking soaking wet and exhausted for days, especially in my brand new hyper uncomfortable All Stars (my only pair of shoes). We actually travelled to Lacatunga first and spent the night there (Hostal Tiana), in order to be able to catch an early morning bus (with horrendous Ecuadorian Cumbia music) to the volcano. Once we got there, after marvelling for a while at the spectacular view, we walked down a steep mule track to get to the lake shore, at the bottom of the caldera, where Isa made the most of a scenic swing-set. The 300 m bottom to top difference in altitude, and being at almost 4000 m above sea level, made our walk back up a proper challenge.
Things we missed: Cotopaxi, the loop to get to Quilotoa, the hikes on top of TelefériQo
Who deserves a big thank you: Cristina and the lovely staff of El Hostelito. You made us feel like home, helped us planning our time in Ecuador and supported me when I thought all my money was gone (I actually moved it somewhere else without remembering about it…). Also the amazing people we met at the hostel.
Olympus OM-1, Kodak Pro Image 100 (35) / Fuji Pro 200 (35)
Canon EOS 300, Fuji Pro 200 (35)
3-7 + 12-13/02/2017, Quito, Otavalo, Quillotoa, Ecuador