Cuenca or to give it its full name Santa Ana de los Cuatro Rios de Cuenca is located in the highlands of Ecuador and sits at 2560mtrs above sea level. It’s centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is visited by many tourists.
Quito | Discovering Ecuadors busy colonial capital
We had been looking forward to discovering Ecuador’s colonial capital Quito since we entered the country almost a week ago. It is one of the first twelve places to be given the status of a unesco world heritage site. But first some down time, we have been travelling on the continent for close on three months and it was beginning to show, so our first five days in the city was chill time. Time to catch up with family and just enjoy not having to move.
We were soon raring to go after our short break and eager to get out and about. Quito is built on the ruins of an Inca city and named after the Quitus people who lived here before the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. Quito still retains much of it’s colonial charm in the narrow streets of the old town with many of the buildings surviving to this day.
How we got to Quito
If you want to arrange your own transport there are taxi’s waiting outside the terminal. Don’t be fooled into taking an unregistered Taxi. There will be people milling about trying to get you to take a car and if they start taking you down to the carpark just politely refuse. The yellow cabs should be safe, but make sure they have the correct registration they should have numbers on the doors and a sticker in the windscreen and a working meter.
The cost of an airport transfer, at the time of writing, was anything between $25 to $30, if you speak Spanish and are good at negotiation then you may get it cheaper. Always get a price before you get in the taxi or make sure the meter will be running. There are buses running into the city but we found it better to get to know somewhere before using the buses especially after dark.
If you are coming from another town into Quito there are buses into Quito from right across Ecuador. We were in Otavalo before Galapagos and had no problem getting a bus into the city.
To get around Quito we used the yellow cabs just hailing them from the street. The owner of our accommodation recommended this as the safest way to move around the city. They are quite cheap the most we paid to get across the city was $4. They also cut out the stress of finding the correct bus stop and correct bus and having to sit with your bag on your knee.
Where to stay in Quito
Being a big city there are no shortage of places to stay, Both Booking.com and Hostelworld have a good selection at various prices. We stayed just outside the Historic Centre which worked out really well for us. Other popular and safe areas to stay are La Floresta, La Mariscal, and Parque La Carolina. We would recommend staying quite close to the Historic Centre of Quito as this is where most of the attractions are.
Climb the Tower of Basilica del Voto Nacional
El Panecillo is a small volcanic hill in the centre of Quito which was once used by the incas to worship the sun. The main reason to visit nowadays is the statue of the Virgin of Quito. Its a forty one metre high winged representation of the Virgin Mary. It’s visible from all over the city.
You can climb the stone tower to the base of the statue for views of the city and on clear days the surrounding volcanoes. It cost $2 per person to enter. The walk up to the statue is said to be a little unsafe as it passes through slightly dodgy areas so its best to take a taxi. It cost us $4 to get up and $2 to get back down. As usual at these places there are souvenir selling stalls and a small group of restaurants selling local snacks.
Inside the whole church is plastered with gold It is quite spectacular you can go up into the dome for a different perspective but that’s at an extra cost. We were still in shock at the entry price so didn’t go up. Is it worth it? I’d say no but it’s not far off.
Plaza San Francisco
Plaza San Francisco is a large open space named after the church and covent at the top. It’s home to street food vendors and sellers and is well worth a few minutes stroll taking in the atmosphere. The church is quite ornate and free to enter, so if you think $10.00 is too expensive this is a good second best. You can visit the Museum that’s housed in the convent but again you’ll need to get out your wallet.
The teleferico Cruz Loma is a cable car that will take you up from Quito at 3117m up the side of the Pinchincha volcano to an altitude of around 4000m. It costs $8.50 and takes about eighteen minutes although it felt a lot quicker to us. Once at the top you can visit various view points or swing out over the edge on two giant swings. There a couple of Cafes and a souvenir shop. The main attraction to us was the access to the volcano hike.
To get to the cable car you will need to take a taxi. From the historic centre it will cost between $6 and $8 depending on how long you are stuck in traffic and then the same to get back.
Climb a volcano
From the top of the cable car you can hike to the peak of Rucu Pinchincha. This is an active volcano although the active part is Wawa Pinchincha which is a different peak. The top is at 4784m so you will need to make sure you are well acclimatise before you consider taking it on. You will also need good boots, warm clothes and waterproofs.
It starts off a quite gentle hike through grassland then starts to steepen and become more rocky. There are a few scrambles to overcome before you reach the sand. To get to the rocky top you have to scale a steep slope of very loose sand or go to the edge and try and skirt round it. Then it’s a scramble to the top across rocky outcrops.
It took us just six hours to complete the hike in poor weather, we had snow sleet rain and fog. Unfortunately very little in the way of spectacular views. It’s hard to predict the weather up there but if possible try and pick a dry clear day. They cable car opens at 9.30am and you have the best chance of clear weather if you are there early.
Ciudad Mitad del Mundo
We visited the Mitad del Mundo or the centre of the world city which is the most visited tourist attraction in Ecuador. Even though the equator runs through several cities around the world, Quito has become quite famous for it. The site consists of a large central monument and smaller statues and monuments that lead up to it and a small village that has been constructed around the equator site. There is a large yellow line showing where the equator lies leading from the central monument. Its a great place for getting a cheesy picture of straddling the yellow line and standing in both hemispheres at the same time.
How did we get there?
The public transport system in Quito is quite easy to navigate which is why we decided to go by bus instead of by taxi. The taxi would have cost us approx $20.00 dollars each way and that would be depending on traffic which is quite notorious in Quito. The bus was so much easier and cheaper at less than one dollar each way for 2 people. Perfect. We caught the bus a few blocks away from where we were staying in the Centro Historico district and changed at the terminus Ofelia and hopped on the Mitad del Mundo bus there. The journey took just over an hour and the bus dropped us off just outside the entrance to Mitad del Mundo.
What does it cost to get in?
It cost $5.00 per person to get in and the exhibits and facilities inside were absolutely worth the money.
What facilities and attractions do they have?
As well as the central monument which sits bang right on the equator the monument also houses a large museum on each floor telling the story of Quito and Ecuador through the ages from the culture to the people. It was really interesting. There are also loads of souvenir shops selling all sorts of wares from large stuffed guinea pigs to fridge magnets. There are loads of coffee shops and restaurants at reasonable prices and there are interactive exhibitions and a coffee museum. They also have a live indigenous village set up so you can see how the ancient Ecuadorian people lived. You can easily spend the best part of a day here seeing all the exhibits and well worth a visit.
Booking resources for your trip to Quito
Tours & Tickets
You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site. Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.
For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.
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