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ECUADOR:

 

  
Copyright S. Kinsky

 

Ecuador is relatively small and compact, under 110,000 square miles, but diverse geographically, roughly the size of Nevada or Wyoming.  Due to its relative compactness, travel times are short.  Ecuador is bordered on the north by Columbia, on the south by Peru, and to the west by the Pacific Ocean.  It is on the northwest of South America, in the middle of the world, at zero latitude along the equator line.  Ecuador encompasses four distinct and diverse travel experiences within one nation: the Galapagos Islands, the Andes, the Pacific Ocean, and the Amazon. 

 

If you think that President Obama has gone absolutely bananas on environmental awareness, check out Ecuador, who has carried it to a new level described as “Conscious Tourism.”  There’s certainly nothing wrong with celebrating the nation’s natural and cultural treasures, certainly when one is blessed with the fragile likes of the treasures of Galapagos.  (Please see separate listing for the Galapagos.) 


Pair of Blue Footed Boobies on the Galapagos Islands

 

Ecuador is an ideal destination for ecotourism, adventure travelers and land-sports enthusiasts.  Ecuador is at the forefront of the sustainable tourism movement and environmental responsibility.

 

Ecuador is on the equator so the daylight and nighttime hours are evenly divided.  Sundown is typically 6:30 p.m.!  

 


Copyright S. Kinsky

 

Ecuador is a seven-hour non-stop flight from New York City, 4 hours from Miami, Houston, or Atlanta. 

 

Normally off the radar: Aside from periodic mention of the marvels of Galapagos, the recent worldwide publicity surrounding the Australian Wikileaks founder’s sanctuary in the Ecuador’s London embassy and the Ecuador President later granting of asylum to him, propelled Ecuador temporarily to the world’s attention. 

 

Ecuador is a beautiful, dramatic country with an exciting topography.  Twenty-five volcanos are located in Ecuador, many not far from the capital, Quito.  Tungurahua (translates to:  throat of fire) is 87 miles south of Quito. Tungurahua is 16,475 feet high.  Cotopaxi is 31 miles south of Quito and is 19,393 feet high.  Guagua Pichincha is located immediately west of the capital and is 15,695 feet high.  The condition of the volcano is termed "restless."  Reventador was quite active in the 20th century.  That volcano is 11,686 feet high.  Sangay (not as close to Quito) is 17,159 feet high and has been more or less continuously "active" from 1934-2016.  Lots of photo opportunities.  Should  you stumble as you walk, don't tarry, the crux of the problem might be an emerging volcano.     

 

Ecuador has a large Indian population.  The nation is home to 27 different ethnic groups with 13 indigenous groups distinct in language, custom, and dress. 

 

Oil is the main export of Ecuador.

 

Ecuador is an adventure traveler’s paradise: 

·         Mountain biking in the Andes and its 10,000-foot descents is challenging even for professional bikers.  The reward is breathtaking scenery.  The area from Banos in the Andes to Puyo in Amazonia is a favorite. 

 

·         Mountain climbing in the Andes provides 62 prominent and challenging summits for expert climbers: Chimborazo (20,700 feet), Cotopaxi (19,347 feet), Cayambe (18,996 feet), Antisana, Tungurahau, Pinchincha, Illizas and El Altar, all are challenging.  Twelve volcanoes are 16,000 feet and above.  They’re best tackled with a guide.  A few precautions: allow three days to acclimate - don’t over-do it.  Take it easy and drink lots of water.  Avoid alcohol and aspirin.  Indulge in a high-carbohydrate diet.  Bring preventative medications such as Diamox. 

 

·         Rafting, canoeing, and kayaking opportunities will not disappoint, as evidenced that Ecuador hosted the 2005 Rafting World Championship.  Guided expeditions are recommended. 

 

 

Copyright S. Kinsky

·         Rock climbing challenges await both expert and non-technical climbers.  The best sites are Sayausi, El Cajas, Cariamanga, and Cojitambo.  Even Guayaquil boasts of having one of the largest artificial climbing walls in South America. 

 

·         Surfing conditions excel as evidenced by the number of international surfing games that Ecuador has hosted.  The main surfing locations are in Esmeraidas, Manabi, Huayana, and the Galapagos Islands. 

 

  

 

·         Scuba Diving: Ecuador’s diving locations are legendary, particularly Machalilla National Park on the Pacific Ocean side and Galapagos’ Wolf and Darwin Islands.   

 

 

·        Trekking appeals to day-trippers and nature lovers.  Ecuador’s compactness and biological diversity are perfect.  It offers easy accessibility and is relatively un-crowded.  

 

Ecuador is very popular with bird viewers (tropical and humming birds); the viewing is best accomplished with a local guide.  Is Ecuador literally going to the birds?  It boasts of harboring 1,600-plus bird species (more than the United States and Europe combined, and is the fourth most as a single nation in the world), 130 hummingbird species, and 4,500 species of butterflies (fifth in the world).  The Cloud Forest near Quito is considered prime bird watching territory, along with the lowlands near Choco, the southeast lowlands of the Tumbesian Region on the coast, and the Galapagos. 

 

The Antisana Nature Reserve is home to Ecuador’s National Bird, the Andean Condor.  The elusive Andean Condor is one of the largest flying birds in the world, averaging 20 - 26 pounds as adults. 

 

Older travelers should be cognizant of Ecuador’s altitude, with the world’s highest mountains, outside of Asia, and accompanying possible complications of shortness of breath and dehydration. 

 

Copyright S. Kinsky

 

 

Ecuador is also the jumping off locale for trips to the fabled Galapagos Islands.  (Please see separate listing for Galapagos Islands.)  Because of its proximity to the Galapagos Islands and next door’s Machu Picchu, more visitors arrive in Ecuador on pre-packaged tours.  Few tourists, unfortunately, other than visiting Quito, ever get to explore Ecuador’s countryside of tropical rain forests, Pan American Highway through a string of volcanoes, or the wild countryside with herds of cattle and horses and ranches ala the American West - hee haw - horseback riding! 


Darwin's Arch near Darwin Island, Galapagos

 

Culture fans will love the museums, historic architecture, cuisine, and fascinating indigenous groups (Ecuador is home to 27 different ethnic backgrounds, including 13 indigenous groups, in addition to its majority Mestizo population).  You can wander ancient archaeological sites, participate in agrotourism activities and study the Spanish language. 

 

Ecuador’s diverse peoples are among its most valuable resource.  Thirteen distinct indigenous groups live here, allowing visitors to get a glimpse of their unique customs and ancient traditions, as they view beautiful handicrafts and age-old celebrations accompanied by traditional music.

 

Copyright S. Kinsky

  

 

Ecuador is in the process of upgrading Tren Ecuador, what heretofore was a neglected rain system.  Tourist-appropriate itineraries are being added with new rail equipment and guided tour guide commentary, in both English and Spanish, provided on-board. 

 

Reinstated or newly added are lines at the famous and spectacular Devil’s Nose through the Andes, a 90-minute route from Ibarra to Salinas, and a 277-mile rail line from Quito and Duran (near the popular coastal city of Guayaquil). 

 

Several tour companies have begun offering Ecuadorian rail journeys. 

 

DOCUMENTATION: Valid, in force U.S. Passport with six months expiration date.  No visa is required of U.S. or Canadian citizens if visiting for fewer than ninety days. 

 

Copyright S. Kinsky

LANGUAGE: Spanish.  Quichua is spoken in some indigenous communities.  English is widely spoken.  German, French, and Italian guides are available for hire.

 

English is not universally spoken throughout Ecuador.  A guided tour is therefore highly recommended. 

 

CURRENCY: Can this be?  The U.S. Dollar! 

 

TIME: U.S. Eastern Standard Time

 

VOLTAGE: If you are traveling from the U.S., you are in luck.  Voltage is 110/120, same as the U.S. and Canada.  Plugs have two flat prongs as in the U.S.! 

 

ECUADORIAN CUISINE:

Pay heed - some items may be too much, even for brave stomachs of adventuresome eaters.

 

  

 

Soup is a staple of the Ecuadorian diet.  Ecuador is also known for its fresh exotic fruits, seafood, and variety of potatoes.

 

Roast pork is a traditional dish, as are humitas (steamed corn cakes), and liapingachos (potato tortillas filled with cheese).

 

Rice, potatoes, and meat (beef, chicken, or pork) is served with a chili pepper hot sauce WITH A DEFINITE BITE.  Fortunately for you, the Aji (sauce) is normally on your table as a side to administer as you wish - OR NOT! 

 

Soups, typically the first course of a meal, include Biche de Pescado, Locro de Papa Ecuadoriana locro (hearty potato, cheese, corn, and avocado), Cazuela de Camaron (shrimp in plantain and peanut sauce), Chupe de Mani, and Fanesca –Ecuadorian Easter Stew.

 

AVOID: caldo de pata – broth with clumps of boiled cow hooves!!  Not to be outdone by the bull penis soup (triple yuk)!!! 

 

Typical appetizers include ceviche (shellfish cooked in citric juices), shrimp ceviche with tomato sauce), white fish, crab, calamari, clams, empanadas de verde, and fried green plantains.

 

Interestingly, Ecuadorian ceviche is typically served and accompanied by popcorn!

 

Ecuadorians are not big on salads. 

 

  

 

Breads: pan de yuca - soft bread made from the yuca root, cheese, butter and eggs.  It is served warm. 

 

Entrees include Ecuadorian potato cakes, humitas saladas (fresh corn tamales), as well as arroz con pollo rice with chicken, arroz con carmarones (rice with shrimp), and ceviche (marinated seafood - prawns, lobster, mussels, etc.).

 

Cuy (guinea pig) is the nation’s best known dish.  Recommend avoiding as it is greasy, boney, mostly skin and gristle, and has little meat.  It’s certainly no threat to chicken in popularity!

 

Langostinos in garlic butter sauce are delicious.

 

Librillo is the chopped stomach lining of a cow (yuk!!!).  It is popular in the Ecuadorian mountain ranges.  It is usually served with rice.

 

Liapingachos are potato patties made with cheese and cooked on a griddle until brown - yummy!

 

Trucha are local trout served in the Sierra Mountain region. 

 

Desserts: Dulce de leche (milk caramel), tres leches cake, and caramel custard flan. 

 

Snacks: Choclo, dry-roasted barbecued Andean corn on the cob - sold from street vendors.

 

 

 

Melcocha is delicious super-sweet taffy sold in the candy shops of Banos. 

 

Beverages: Fresh fruit juices, such as banana drinks, naranja (orange), mora (raspberry), maracuya, and guanabana.

 

Canelazo is the national drink of choice.  It is an alcoholic shooter made of a clear Anise-flavored liquor with cinnamon, lemon, sugar, and water. 

 

Alas, international cuisine is readily available at the finer hotels and restaurants in the major cities.  Even the American fast-food chains are present.

 

A word of caution: eat well-cooked hot food.  Avoid tap water, non-pasteurized milk, and salads.  Be leery of street food carts. 

 

REFUND OF TAXATION ON TOURIST PURCHASES: 

Ecuador offers refunds on purchases of items costing in excess of $50.00 at participating stores.  Visitors are eligible for up to 50% back on the sales taxes that they paid during their stay by presenting their receipts, purchases, and a copy of their passport at tax refund desks at Quito and Guayaquil international airports after checking in for their international flight. 

 

MAJOR HOLIDAYS IN ECUADOR: 

August 10: Independence Day

 


Copyright S. Kinsky

 

BEST TIME TO VACATION IN ECUADOR:

The best time to visit Ecuador varies by region:

Dry Season: Pacific Region: June through November.  Whale watching takes place June through September.

Andes Region: May through October

Amazon Region: October through December

 

  

 

AVOID: Rainy Season: Pacific Region: December though May - typically in the evening.

Andes Region: November through April

Amazon Region: January through September

 

TO TIP OR NOT TO TIP:

Most dining bills include a 10% gratuity.  Most diners leave an additional 5%.

Baggage handlers: $.50 per bag

Hotel doormen: They expect $1.00 - $2.00 for summoning a taxi. 

Tour guides: $10.00 per person daily

Hotel maids: $1.00 per person daily

Andes treks: Cook: $5.00 per person daily; cleaning lady: $1.00 per person daily. 

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN ECUADOR: 

 

 

 

Tren Crucero, a new luxury 54-passenger (four-coach) train service debuts in June of 2013, traveling from the Andes south to the Pacific Coast over the course of a 4-day/3-night journey. 

 

 

 

AMBATO:

 

  

 

Ambato is nicknamed the “Garden of Ecuador” and the “City of Fruits and Vegetables.”

 

MAJOR EVENTS AND FESTIVALS IN AMBATO: 

Last two weeks of February: Festival of Fruits and Flowers - colorful parades and festivities, regional music and dance performances.  It displays a huge mural built of flowers. 

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN AMBATO:

The area’s recreational opportunities attract tourists and locals alike. 

 

Weather permitting, visit Tungurahau and Chimborazo volcanoes. 

 

WINDOW SHOPPING IN AMBATO: 

The Monday Market takes place year-round with area fresh food products.  Beware when visiting as crime has been a problem recently. 

 

Check out the local crafts. 

 

The ECUADORIAN AMAZON: Unless having visited or a student of geography, few travelers are aware that the Amazon represents one third, a major chunk, of the nation’s land mass.  The Amazon is spread over nine South American nations.  Ecuador is arguably the easiest place from which to access the Amazon.

 

  

 

Sumaco National Park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.  Altitudes reach 12,795 feet. 

 

El Coca and Tena are good jumping off locales to visit the Amazon.  Any snakes in the grass?  You bet: like 345 reptile species! 

 

The Amazon satisfies several travel interests, such as canoeing, kayaking, and viewing wildlife: monkeys, the colorful toucans, parrots, jaguars, ocelots, capybaras, tapirs, turtles, lizards, anacondas, armadillos, boa constrictors, piranhas, giant rodents - you name it, and all cage-less! 

 

 

 

BANOS:

 

  

 

Banos is an adventure-seeker tourism hub.

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN BANOS: 

The area is blessed with several thermal baths, the most popular being the Piscina de la Virgen.

 

Hiking and trekking area volcanoes is extremely popular. 

 

 

 

CHOCO RAINFOREST:

 

  

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN THE CHOCO RAINFOREST: 

The 3,000-acre Mashpi Biodiversity Reserve provides prime wildlife viewing of howler monkeys, sloths, butterflies, and hundreds of bird species.  Resident biologists conduct tram tours of the wildlife. 

 

IN SEARCH OF A GOOD NIGHT’S REST IN THE CHOCO RAINFOREST: 

Expensive, but worth it, is a stay at the contemporary deluxe 22-room all-glass Mashpi Lodge ($650.00 per person per night).  It was built by a millionaire entrepreneur/former Mayor of Quito.  Expect a rich biosphere of wildlife, butterflies, exotic birds, and hummingbirds.  44 guests enjoy superb accommodations, fine dining, and nature intensive excursions with topnotch guides.

 

  

 

The Mashpi Lodge is located three hours northwest of Quito. 

 

 

 

CUENCA:

 

  

 

Cuenca is Ecuador’s third largest city and is Ecuador’s cultural capital.  It is located in the southern Andes, the second largest Inca city after Cusco in Peru. 

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN CUENCA: 

This colonial city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site rivals Quito’s beauty with charming cobblestone streets, white-washed, red-tiled buildings, stately plazas and grand old churches - very much reminiscent of a European city.  It is said to be the largest and best-preserved colonial center and one of the most beautiful in Latin America.  There are 52 lovely churches lining the streets. 

 

Check out the spectacular ornate gold altar of Las Conceptas Church. 

 

Cuenca offers excellent local art museums. 

 

Prominent sights include the Plaza de San Francisco, the central square Parque Calderon, the blue-domed Cathedral Nueva, the church of the El Carmen de la Asuncion, the Santuario Mariano and the flower market. 

 

 

 

Sixty miles northeast of Cuenca is Ingapirca, the most northern and most significant of the remaining Inca fortress-like temple ruins.  It is here that you’ll encounter the Temple of the Sun, an elliptical platform for ceremonial and religious purposes.  Be forewarned that the altitude is 10,595 feet.  Admission cost includes entry to a small museum.  Museum hours are 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.  The Inti Raymi celebration takes place during the third week of June, bringing ancient customs and traditions to life.

 

WINDOW SHOPPING IN CUENCA: 

Mercado 10 de Agusto is Cuenca’s multi-floored indoor market with fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, household items, flowers, herbs, medicines, and crafts. 

 

The nearby villages of Chordeleg and Gualaceo are known for their handicrafts: pottery, weaving, and miscellaneous crafts. 

 

  

 

On Wednesdays, visit the Feria Libre market.  The market is located along Avenue Las Carlos Arizaga, a 15-minute bus ride from the town center. 

 

Ecuador has always been the source for providing the iconic “Panama Hats” - they are manufactured here. 

 

Visit Homero Ortga when shopping for hats.  Cuenca is known for its sun sombrero de paja toquillas - “the panama hat.”  Homero Ortga is located at 10-41 Calle Larga. 

 

 

 

GUAYAQUIL:

 

 

 

This modern metropolis is Ecuador’s bustling port city, commercial center, and Ecuador’s largest city population.  It has two international airports plus the new Cotopaxi International Airport, a 1.5-hour drive from Quito.  There are non-stop flights from New York and direct flights from Miami.  Most vacationers to Ecuador begin their itinerary in Guayaquil. 

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN GUAYAQUIL: 

While thirty miles inland, tropical Guayaquil is blessed with several very nice Pacific Ocean beaches including Salinas, Montanita, Playas, and Punta Arenas. 

 

Begin your visit by exploring the lovely refurbished waterfront Malecion Simon Bolivar promenade on the Guayas River with its many cultural attractions and restaurants.

 

Nearby is Iguana Park with its large colony of iguanas - a great photograph opportunity. 

 

The Bellavista District is home to the 60,000-seat Barcelona Monumental Stadium, Ecuador’s largest, and home of the much beloved local soccer team. 

 

 

 

The Municipal Museum displays an impressive ceramic collection. 

 

Modern art and archaeological treasures are displayed at the aptly named Museum of Anthropology and Modern Art. 

 

Santa Elena, located west of Guayaquil, is the destination of choice for beach lovers.  There are multiple resorts and long stretches of pristine beaches, including Punta Camero for surfing, Salinas for humpback whale viewing, Ayangue for scuba diving, and Olon Beach for sun worshippers. 

 

A day trip outside of Guyaquil is the Manglares El Salado Fauna Productio Reserve, providing mangrove and crocodile-infested swamps and spectacular flora.  Forty-minute boat rides tour the sights. 

 

TASTY DINING IN GUAYAQUIL:

 

  
 

High quality ceviche is a specialty of the better restaurants in Guayaquil.

 

 

 

LATACUNGA:

 

  

 

Latacunga is the valley of volcanoes. 

 

See COTOPAXI: Ecuador’s tallest active volcano, the second highest Ecuadorian mountain, has been dormant since 1904.  Scaling the summit poses a serious challenge for qualified climbers. 

 

WINDOW SHOPPING IN LATACUNGA:

The Thursday Market takes place in the town of Saquisilli. 

 

 

 

OTAVALO:

 

  

 

Otavalo is a 90-minute drive from Quito. 

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN OTAVALO: 

 

IN SEARCH OF A GOODNIGHT’S REST IN OTAVALO:

The Hacienda Cusin, a seventeenth century Andean estate in the nearby village of San Pablo, is one of the most famous and luxurious country inns in all of South America. 

 

WINDOW SHOPPING IN OTAVALO:

Otavalo is best known for its Saturday craft markets, each with a specialty: livestock, food, textiles, local arts, and crafts (toys, jewelry, native costumes, scarves, and alpaca blankets).  Artisans from around the country bring their wares to the local market.  While Saturday is larger, merchants are present on other days. 

 

  

 

Shops in the nearby small mountain village of Peguche and its village square are known for their textiles: woven rugs, blankets, tapestries, and crafts. 

 

The Otavo Indians enjoy the highest literacy rate in the nation.  The Quechua tribe women typically wear strands of traditional gold necklaces. 

 

PARQUE NATIONAL PARK: 

Cotopaxi is the nation’s most visited park.  It should be considered a must visit.

 

 

 

PUYO:

 

   

 

This small city is a jumping off place for jungle excursions. 

 

 QUITO: 

 

  

 

Quito is Ecuador’s capital and second largest city (population: 2.5 million) and is ringed by snow-capped volcanoes.  Quito holds the distinction of being the highest altitude capital in the world at 9,350 feet.  The city’s skyline is a mixture of church towers, belfries, and spires.  Quito is located 16 miles south of the equator.  It has two international airports, including one just recently opened Mariscal Sucre International Airport 15 miles outside the city in 2012. 

 

The city is ringed by active volcanoes. 

 

Weather is a pleasant spring-like average high of 65.7 Fahrenheit and a low of 48.7 Fahrenheit.  The “dry season” is June through September, the “wet season” is October through May.  Quito is a year-round destination.  

 

 

 

A new international airport, Mariscal Sucre International Airport, is scheduled to open in 2013, with non-stop flights from New York, Miami, Buenos Aires, and Sao Paulo.  The old downtown airport of the same name will be converted into a convention center and luxury hotel complex. 

 

MAJOR EVENTS AND FESTIVALS IN QUITO: 

Easter time: the week following Easter: Sacred Music Festival – 300-plus musicians perform in various churches and venues. 

December 6: Fiestas De Quito - fireworks, shows, and dancing to celebrate the Spanish arrival in 1534. 

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN QUITO: 

Most Ecuadorian visits begin in Quito. 

 

SAVVY TRAVEL TIP: A few ground rules: try avoiding visiting Quito on Mondays - virtually everything from a tourist standpoint is closed.  The one plus on Mondays is the Changing of the Presidential Guard at 11:00 a.m.  Most museums and even restaurants are shuttered. 

 

Strangely, Sundays are the best day to visit.  Sundays are perfect for exploring Quitos Old Town section as traffic is banned.  

 

Pace yourself and do not lose sight of the altitude. 

 

Quito is perfect as a starting point on your quest to visit the rest of Ecuador.

 

Like most large cities, be careful and exercise caution after dark, as certain areas of the city have experienced a high incidence of crime. 

 

  

 

Metered air-conditioned taxis are plentiful, inexpensive, and are a great way to explore the city.  There’s also a bus and trolley system. 

 

SAVVY TRAVEL TIP: The Quito Tour Bus and its double-decker buses provide hop-on hop-off service at 12 major tourist stops in the north end of the city.  Roundtrip is a 3-hour ride.  Daily service departs from Avenue Naciones Unidas every hour from 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.  It is an inexpensive means of seeing the city: adult tickets are $12.00; tickets for seniors, disabled, and children under age 5 are $6.00.

 

Independence Square is the core of Quito.

 

Quito is blessed with a wonderful cobblestone street-lined Historic Center (a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978 - it holds the distinction of being the world’s first such designee) of 100 square blocks of 500 year-old plus whitewashed, wrought iron balconied colonial buildings that are typically ornately detailed, unaltered and well-preserved.  It is the largest in the Americas.  The streets are narrow and hilly.  Old Town’s central plaza is ringed by seventeenth and eighteenth century historic Spanish structures, plazas, and adobe Colonial homes, including the Palacio de Gobierno - the oldest Catholic cathedral in South America, the monasteries of San Francisco and Santo Domingo, and the Church and Jesuit College of La Compania.

 

Animals common to Galapagos are carved in the Basilica’s stone façade of the Baroque seventeenth century El Sagrario.  Unless you suffer from acrophobia, it’s “possible” to climb the Basilica’s towers.  Be forewarned that steep ladders are the passage with no safety features.  What goes up must come down!  Aside from the views, unless you are the daring, no-fear type, this is not recommended. 

 

  

 

The Moorish architecturally-influenced San Francisco Church, established in 1534, is home to the iconic Virgin of Quito aluminum sculpture.  It stands high above the city and is viewable at great distances. 

 

Even if you’re not overly enthusiastic over visiting churches, the spectacular baroque-style La Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, also known as La Compania (1605), should be considered as the one must cathedral visit of your Quito stay.  Its exterior is literally dripping in seven layers (110 pounds) of gold leaf.  Melted at today’s value of gold, it would eradicate considerable human suffering and poverty. 

 

The Presidential Palace, the Archbishop’s Place and City Hall are also in the Historic Center. 

 

SAVVY TRAVEL TIP: Ecuador’s president makes an appearance on the presidential balcony on Mondays accompanied by considerable pageantry by marching soldiers waving flags and playing patriotic music as the crowd vies to get a glimpse of their president.  The Changing of the Guard takes place on Mondays at the Plaza de la Independencia at 11:00 a.m.  It is a great photo opportunity. 

 

Refreshingly, there is minimal hawking of goods and an absence of beggars in the Historic Center.

 

 

 

Another obligatory stop is the Casa del Alabado, the city’s most attractive museum - a seventeenth century mansion.  It houses one of Latin America’s most extensive collections of pre-Columbian art. 

 

The Guayasamin Museum is dedicated to the works of contemporary artist Oswaldo Guayasamin. 

 

The Ethnographic Museums provides an introduction into the indigenous cultures of Ecuador. 

 

The Museo de la Ciudad, opposite the Carmen Alto Monastery, is an interactive history museum tracing Quito’s past from 10,000 B.C. to modern day. 

 

The Museo de Arte y Historia and the National Museum of Colonial Art (Museo de Arte Colonial) both display Ecuadorian baroque art. 

 

The eclectic La Ronda neighborhood in downtown Quito is also worth visiting.  Its narrow pathways lead to many a modern art gallery, restaurants, and interesting shops. 

 

  

 

Most visitors sooner or later venture out some eleven miles to the nearby Pichincha Volcano (9,350 feet).  The Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) is a colonial-style living history town that sits squarely on the equator.  There’s nothing like being able to brag that you have stepped one foot in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres!

 

Middle of the World is complete with a town square, shops, and restaurants.  It includes a three-dimensional rendition of Old Quito and lighting that depicts sunrise and sunset.  The site is busy on weekends with locals.  There’s a small onsite museum, a planetarium, and an insectarium.  It is best to visit mid-week. 

 

Modern Quito is located north of the Old Town (Historic Center).

 

The Casa de Cultura Ecuatoriana, in Modern Quito, encompasses several museums. 

 

Be sure to see the Golden Mask and other gold archaeological discoveries (paintings, utensils, and artifacts - some dating back to 11,000 B.C.) at the Museo del Banco Central, Quito’s most popular museum.  Unusual are the clay bottles shaped as animals - when blown, they make the sound of the animal.  The exhibits are nicely displayed with both Spanish and English explanations. 

 

Art connoisseurs will want to visit three-story La Capilla del Hombre that displays works of one of Ecuador’s finest artists, Oswaldo Guayasamin.

 

 

 

The Centre for Contemporary Arts is relatively new providing an outlet for modern artwork. 

 

You can garner great views of Quito by ascending via a ten-minute teleferico (cable car) to the top of El Panecillo Hill (13,300-foot summit) with its Mirador of Panecillo statue.  The Virgin of the Americas, the continent’s only winged Virgin Mary, stands guard over the city. 

 

SAVVY TRAVEL TIP: Visit in a group - never alone, and visit during daylight. 

 

Another possibility is taking the ten-minute teleferico aerial tram, the highest in the world (each gondola holds six passengers) up 8,200 feet to the summit of Cruz Loma viewpoint, with an altitude of 13,000 feet.  Pace yourself against air sickness as you are literally at in excess of two miles high!  The tram is open daily: 9:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.  Embarkation is at the intersection of Calle Armulfo Araujo and Avenida Occidental. 

 

Journey out to Mitad de Mundo to see the Equator Monument to commemorate “the middle of the world.”  This is accessible by bus. 

 

For a day trip, visit the small town of Otavalo (see separate alphabetical listing), a two-hour drive, for its Saturday markets displaying the dress, weavings, textiles, and jewelry of the Otavalan Indians.  The markets are scattered around three plazas.  Be sure to haggle on prices: offer half and proceed accordingly. 

 

  

 

Two hours outside Quito is Cayambe-Coca Ecological Park.  The huge one million-acre park offers a multitude of recreational possibilities: hiking, biking, horseback riding, swimming, and thermal hot springs bathing. 

 

Equal distance, two hours away, is the Bellavista Cloud Forest, also known as Mindo - Nambillo Cloud Forest, a world-class bird reserve with over 1,600 bird species including rare hummingbirds, toucans, and colorful parrots. 

 

The charming village of Cotacachi is a two-hour drive north of Quito.  The village merchants sell high quality and colorful textiles and leather goods (boots, bags, wallets, and jackets). 

 

Also nearby (45 minutes north of Quito) is the town of Cochasqui with 15 pyramids, a llama reserve, and a botanical garden specializing in medicinal plants.

 

A high-end tourism train links Quito with the Pacific Coast.  Stops are made at authentic craft markets and a Shiar (a remote ethnic tribe) en route. 

 

A bit further, 90 miles from Quito, is the town of Cayambe. 

 

TASTY TREAT IN CAYAMBE: 

Fabrica de Bizcochos San Pedro is renowned for their handmade buttery and flaky ladyfinger-sized biscuits, which are usually eaten with cheese that resembles mozzarella. 

 

  

 

The Guango Lodge in Papallacta is home to hundreds of hummingbirds - a great photo stop. 

 

Travel by train to visit Cotopaxi National Park, with its incredible landscapes with snow-capped Cotopaxi Volcano and the unique Andean fauna.  Be sure to attend a local dance exhibition. 

 

IN SEARCH OF A GOOD NIGHT’S REST IN QUITO: 

Casa Gangotena, with its stately colonial architecture, is the most palatial lodging in Quito.  It overlooks the historic Plaza San Francisco. 

 

Many of the major chain hotels and restaurants are located in the newer sections of Quito. 

 

SAVVY TRAVEL TIP: Unless you are staying in a better class hotel, don’t expect toiletries to be furnished: shampoo, conditioner, facial tissues, etc.  If you are traveling on the cheap, best bring your own.

 

TASTY DINING IN QUITO: 

 

 

 

Pim’s El Panecillo sits atop a hill offering a spectacular view of the Old City and Quito.  It tends to be on the expensive side, but is well worth it for a memorable meal. 

 

WINDOW SHOPPING IN QUITO: 

The best shopping areas are along Amazonas Avenue, 6th of December, and the Shyris.  When shopping at Artisan street markets, always negotiate price.  There are several large shopping malls - prices are fixed and non-negotiable.

 

Cobblestoned LaRonda, also known as Calle Morales, offers smart boutiques, artisans, confectioners, and art galleries. 

 

Avenida Amazonas is lined with Ecuadorian craft shops.  Folkmore, in particular, is a craft shop that stands alone, with exceptional quality. 

 

  

 

Olga Fisch Folklore is a combo retail shop/museum with high quality one-of-a-kind folklore souvenirs, paintings, tapestries, and pottery.  Olga Fisch Folklore is located at Avenue Colon E10-53.  For more information, please call 2-254-1315. 

 

Located north of Quito, Qutaalo is considered to be one of the best Indian markets. 

 

A NIGHT ON THE TOWN IN QUITO: 

Nightlife in Quito is surprisingly vibrant, particularly in the fashionable La Mariscal district: home to some of the city’s finest restaurants, cafes, and lounges. 

 

Other lively areas are La Zona and the Plaza Foch.