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dannygoesdiving This is a blog & photo journal of the trips that I (Danny) and Jo (wifey) have taken over the past few years.

Ecuador - Quito

ECUADOR | Saturday, 19 September 2009 | Views [1178]

Quito - Basilica del voto Nacional - views from the bell tower

Quito - Basilica del voto Nacional - views from the bell tower

The Galapagos and the Amazon were the focus of the trip to Ecuador, however, I had another 10 days in Ecuador and planned to visit a couple of places that caught my attention.

These were Quito (capital city), Otavalo (indigenous market town), Cotopaxi National Park (2nd most popular national park in Ecuador after the Galapagos) & the Quilotoa loop. I also visited Banos (famous for its thermal baths).

Quito

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, was founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Inca city and stands at an altitude of 2,850 m. Despite the 1917 earthquake, the city has the best-preserved, least altered historic centre in Latin America. It is the second highest adminstrative capital city in the world (after La Paz in Bolivia). The city is for all intents and purposes (for a tourist) divided into 2 neighbourhoods - the old town (the historical colonial quarter and a UNESCO World heritage site) and the Mariscal (also known as the 'new town' or 'gringolandia'.

I chose to stay in the Mariscal area as it is the focal point for tourists in terms of booking excursions, and places to eat and drink.   

Both Quito and my hostel (http://jhomana.minisite.dk/) became my base whilst in Ecuador, the city was the departure point for all my excursions, a place to store things that I did not want to carry around (mainly dive gear)and towards the end of my stay a place of familiarity. I spent a total of 2 full days, 4 half days and 6 nights in the city and so had the opportunity to really explore in and around the city.

Mariscal (New Town; Gringolandia):

The Marisal is made up of a series of sidestreets covering maybe 1km sq. The area is a mix of hostels, bars, restaurants & tour operators.  All the hostels warn you not to walk around at night or early morning due to tourist crime and I encountered several people who had been assaulted and robbed.  That said the city is striving to deal with the problem, at night there is a high police presence and I never felt in any danger day or night (I always walked everywhere).  Looking at it as an outsider, I saw many tourists who had obviously left their brains at home - wandering around the streets displaying their watches, jewelery, cameras and bags for the world to see! At the weekends the place is a thriving party zone with an equal mix of young locals and tourists.  However, Sunday nights and Mondays the area is pretty deserted at night and I felt you had to be more wary.

I basically used the area to sleep; eat in the evenings (every type of food is available); book tours (Amazon & Cotopaxi) and relax in the bars.  I enjoyed a street festival with Ecuadorian rock bands and street performing arts, drank in a bar whilst watching Ecuador play Colombia in the world cup and generally viewed the general madness of the world around me.

The Old Town:

Old-town Quito recounts the history of Quito in its colonial feel and charm. The Spanish patterned old-town Quito in traditional fashion. The Cathedral, the Archbishop's, Presidential and Municipal Palaces encircle the Plaza de Independencia (the main square). Radiating from this core are assorted whitewashed buildings bordering the narrow cobblestone streets. It's a bustling area, full of yelling street vendors, ambling pedestrians, tooting taxis, belching buses and whistle-blowing policemen trying to direct traffic in the narrow, congested one-way streets. 

There is so much to do and see in the old town, the highlights for me were as follows.

Plaza de Independencia (Grande Plaza)

The center of old-town, the Plaza de Independencia is a great place to just people watch. The Cathedral boarders one side of the plaza. Next to the Cathedral is the Presidential Palace, guarded by officers in traditional 19th century red, blue and gold costume. Just off from the Plaza is the Centro Cultural.  It is worth a climb to the roof patios as you get a great view of both the Plaza and surrounding streets.

San Francisco Plaza & Church

Walking from the old town's narrow colonial streets into the open Plaza San Francisco reveals one of the finest sights in all of Ecuador - a sweeping cobblestone plaza backed by the long whitewashed walls and twin bell towers of Ecuador's oldest church, the Monastery of San Francisco. With its giant plaza and its mountainous backdrop of Volcán Pichincha it is certainly one of Quito's highlights.

Constructed between 1535-1605 the San Francisco Church and Monastery with its 104 Doric columns is the largest structure in colonial Quito. Built on an Incan holy site this complex took 59 years to construct, it is the oldest church in South America and considered a great masterpiece of baroque art.

La Compania de Jesus

This is Ecuador's most ornate church, La Compañía de Jesús, which is capped by green-and-gold domes visible from Plaza San Francisco one block away. This ornate 18th century Jesuit church took 163 years to finish. A blend of Baroque and Quiteño art nearly every inch is covered with gold leaf. More than 1 ton of gold was used in its construction. The ceilings is frequently referred to as the Sistine Chapel of Quito. Some say it is the most splendid church in Latin America and all I can say is that it is the most beautiful church I have ever seen and its probably the longest I have spent in a church since being forced to go to Sunday School as a child.

Santa Dominica Plaza & Church

Plaza Santo Domingo is a regular haunt for street performers, and crowds of neighborhood quiteños fill the plaza to watch pouting clowns and half-cocked magicians do their stuff. The plaza is especially attractive in the evening when the domes of the 17th-century Church of Santo Domingo, on the southeast side of the plaza, are floodlit.

In front of the church stands a statue of Mariscal Sucre, depicting the marshal pointing toward La Cima de la Libertad, where he won the decisive battle for independence on May 24, 1822.

Basilica

High on a hill in the northeastern part of the old town stands the Gothic Basílica del Voto Nacional, built over several decades beginning in 1926. Rather than gargoyles, however, turtles and iguanas protrude from the church's side. The highlight is the basilica's towers, which you can climb to the top of if you have the nerve; the ascent requires crossing a rickety wooden plank inside the main roof and climbing steep stairs and ladders to the top.

You can also climb the spiral staircase and three sets of ladders into and above the clock tower. Liability?  The views of the city are well worth the knee shaking climb (don't look down !).

Museo de Banco Central

one of the country's most important museums, the Museo del Banco Central. The museum showcases the country's largest collection of Ecuadorian art

The tour begins in the Sala de Arqueología, where there is an impressive display of more than 1000 ceramic pieces dating from 12,000 BC to AD 1534. The exhibit begins with arrowheads from Ecuador's first nomadic hunter-gatherers, continues with the Valdivia culture (Ecuador's first settled agriculturalists) and ends with the Inca. En route are magnificent pieces including 'whistle-bottles' from the Chorrea culture, figures showing skull-deformation practiced by the Machalilla culture, wild Asian-looking serpent bowls from the Jama-Coaque, ceramic representations of tzantzas (shrunken heads), 'coin axes' from the Milagro-Quevedo culture and the famous ceremonial stone chairs of the Manteños.

The second room is the Sala de Oro (Gold Room) which, among other magnificent pre-Hispanic gold pieces, displays the radiating golden sun-mask that is the symbol of the Banco Central. Upstairs, the Sala de Arte Colonial (Colonial Art Room) showcases masterful works from the Quito School of Art including several pieces by Ecuador's most famous indigenous sculptor, Manuel Chili (Caspicara).

Finally, the Sala de Arte Contemporáneo (Contemporary Art Room) boasts a large collection of contemporary, modern and 19th-century Ecuadorian art. The exhibits include canvases by Ecuador's most famous artists, including Oswaldo Guayasamín, Eduardo Kingman and Camilo Egas.

Panecillo Hill

Visible from many locations in and around Quito, looming over the old city is the Panecillo Hill topped with a statue of Quito's Winged Virgin. From the top you have great views of both the old and the new city as well as a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains.

Around Quito:

Teleferico

Quito's newest attraction is the telefériQo, a multimillion dollar sky tram that takes passengers on a 2.5km ride up the flanks of Volcán Pichincha to the top of Cruz Loma. Once you're at the top (a mere 4100m), you can hike to the summit of Rucu Pichincha (4680m).

The teleférico complex itself is an eyesore of restaurants, video arcades, a go-kart track, souvenir shops, a dance club and even a theme park.  The amusement park is all thats left open other than the cable car itself, everything has shut down and gone to rack and ruin...some really poor planning and ideas here!  

The views down over Quito were pretty spectaular and I kept walking to the next view point for 'another picture'.  Pretty soon I realised I was getting close to the sumit so kept on walking. I was not as well prepared as the proper walkers who had warm clothes, walking sticks, backpacks of food and water etc.  In contrast I was in shorts and a tshirt and had one small bottle of water.  Still I finally made it to the sunit at 4680m, cold, thirsty and struggling for breath - looked down and realised I still had to get back down - bugger.

Mitad Del Mundo

Mitad del Mundo, or Middle of the World is one of Quito’s premiere attractions and is located approximately 20km north of the capital. In reality, Mitad del Mundo and its focal point, a pyramidal 40ft monument to the Equator doesn’t lie on the Equator at all. It lies a good 250 metres away, which was recently proven via GPS. While I felt let down that this attraction doesn’t lie on the Equator at all, located next door is Museo Inti-Nan, which does lie on the Equator. With a range of equator related experiments Museo Inti-Nan should be the first port of call for anyone venturing towards Mitad del Mundo and who would like to stand on the real equator. The whole place was way too touristy and only worth a visit if you either have the extra time or you just fancy the novelty photo of you standing on the equator line !!

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