After a couple of years of planning, much discussion, frantic preparation and a round of farewells, it felt surreal to be in Heide’s mom’s car headed to the airport to start our RTW adventure. The first major activity of our trip was two weeks in the Galapagos Islands, but on the way there we planned to spend a day in Quito, Ecuador’s capital.
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Due to the routing of our frequent flyer award tickets, we spent a night in Bogota, Colombia on the way to Quito. Initially, we thought we would have a few hours to have a look at the city while we were there, but a schedule change and some research into Bogota’s traffic (spoiler alert – it’s bad) made us realize that this wasn’t possible, so we changed our Hotel to an airport hotel to make the transfers easier.
The Aloft Bogota Airport was a great option for a one night stay, with a good breakfast included. We did have one minor incident when the shuttle driver was hit in the face by the van tailgate loading our luggage which opened up a cut above his eye. Fortunately, we were able to give him a band aid, for which he was very grateful. Lesson learned – being prepared travelers can benefit others, not just us.
Arrival in Quito
After a short flight from Bogota, we landed in Quito mid-afternoon. After a quick clearance through immigration and customs, we checked at the the taxi desk at the airport who gave us a voucher noting the fixed price (USD 26.00) to our hotel. We managed to get all our luggage and ourselves into the small taxi, then set off at a breakneck speed towards the city. At first, the road was new and very good. The airport in Quito is relatively new so works very well, but it’s a long way from town. As we had two nights and one full day in Quito, we decided to stay downtown, despite the long drive.
After a while, we turned off the good road and onto a narrow, windy and hilly road. From this road we could look up at buildings that cling improbably to the mountainside. At first we thought the driver was taking a tricky back road short-cut, but then we saw a bus coming the other way and some street signs that indicated that this was the main road to the part of town we were headed to. This was confirmed a couple of days later when the taxi from our hotel to the airport took us back along the same road in the opposite direction.
We eventually arrived at the Hilton Colon Quito, in the Marisal Sucre district. As with the previous night in Bogota, we had booked this hotel with reward points to have a nice place to stay to ease us into our trip. We had a room with access to the executive lounge, which provided drinks and enough food for dinner, so we decided to spend the evening in the hotel recovering from our travels.
A Day in Quito
After breakfast in the executive lounge, we headed out of the hotel to explore. With only one day in Quito, our plan was to focus on the old town area. The historic center is largely intact from early colonial times, and was one of the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO, in 1978.
Leaving the hotel, we crossed the street into the Parque El Ejido. It was still early, so only a few souvenir and art vendors were open for business. We stopped to watch some old men play some version of boules. After watching for a while, we still couldn’t figure out the rules, so we moved on.
Exiting the park we made our way along a main street towards the historic center. Along the way we saw interesting old buildings in various states of decay.
A little further along, we saw a statue in the distance. As we came closer it looked familiar, yet out of place. Coming closer still, we realized it was Mahatma Ghandi. It was located in front of a university, and surrounded by political graffiti.
Eventually we made it to the Plaza Grande, the focal point for our day in Quito. We rested up here for a while after our walk from the hotel. Some musicians were playing who were pretty good, so it was a relaxing atmosphere sitting and people-watching. As we sat in the square it really sank in that we had finally made it to South America for the first time.
At the center of the square is a statue of the Heroes of the Independence.
The square is surrounded by some important buildings, including the Presidential Palace and the Cathedral of Quito.
Old Town Streets
Surrounding the Plaza Grande are some very quaint historic streets. They are also very touristy, filled with street artists and performers, along with vendors selling souvenirs and snacks.
At the end of one street we had a great view of the Virgen de El Panecillo. This is the tallest aluminum statue in the world, completed in 1975 and modeled after a much-loved 1734 sculpture depicting the Virgin of Quito.
With only one day in Quito for sightseeing, we decided against taking the taxi ride up the hill to see it up close.
After pretty good lunch in fast food chicken restaurant, we visited the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside, so you’ll have to click on the link to see the lavish golden interior decoration. This was the highlight of our day in Quito, and is a must-see if you are there.
Basílica del Voto Nacional
The last stop of our day in Quito was at another church, the The Basílica del Voto Nacional. This is not nearly as old as the churches closer to the Plaza Grande, with construction beginning in 1892 and taking more than 30 years before the bells were first rung in 1924. However, it is a very impressive building built in a gothic style. With its location on top of a hill it is a major landmark of Quito.
Many visitors to this church climb to the top of the towers for a great view of Quito. We were feeling the effects of Quito’s altitude (2,850 m or 9,350 ft), so we passed. We did go inside the church, just in time to see a lovely light show from the sun projecting colors from the stained glass windows onto the interior pillars.
After the Basilica, we called it a day and headed back to the hotel to take advantage of the executive lounge again for dinner and an early night to rest up for the next day’s travel to the Galapagos Islands.
There are a lot of other things to do if you have more than a day in Quito. A couple of competing landmarks mark the equator. You can take a cable car for views of the city and the Pichincha Volcano that overlooks it. There are also craft markets near the city that are worth a visit. With our travel in Ecuador focusing on the Galapagos Islands, these other Quito sights and the rest of Ecuador will have to wait for a future visit.
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