San Francisco de Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, is the very first World Heritage site declared by UNESCO (1978). For this reason, and the fact that it’s one of the most beautiful city in the world, I got myself up the highlands (2,850 m) once more prepared to be wrapped in layers. I know it’s gonna be more than worth it. Quito is basically made up of 2 parts, the old town and the new town. Here are the distinctions and what you can do when you’re in Quito.
The Colonial Quito
The charm of Quito lies in the historical center where it has some of the best preserved colonial buildings in South America. Get yourself into the Plaza de la Independencia, admire it and walk the towards any direction. If you’re into churches, you’re in the right place because they have a million of them in the center. But I have to pick a couple nearby to visit because while they may all be concentrated in the center, they’re not so near to walk to. In fact, my theory is that it’s why they have to build so many in the old days, so people will not miss service.
Along with being impressed, I’m always a little saddened whenever I’m inside an old town with well preserved colonial architecture, which is a lot of times. I always always imagine Intramuros (Manila) must be like that if we were not bombed during the WWII or if our government were more into cultural heritage preservation.
Walking along narrow cobbled streets always transports me back in time. I especially love the street of La Ronda where within the 2 block stretch, you find lots of artisan shops, small museums, quaint cafes and bars. It is known for being the home of artists, musicians, and many historical figures of Quito in the past. I found some really nice inexpensive spondylus jewelries. Junin Street is charming main street with colorful houses and decorated balconies. It also has many museums and restaurants. Cerro Panecillo, 183m above the city where you have the famous modern Virgen de Quito. From the top of the natural hill, a fine view of the city below and the encircling cones of volanoes and other mountains.
The Modern Quito
North of the center is modern Quito with big avenues line with contemporary buildings, all types of accommodation, parks, embassies, and residencial villas. La Mariscal is the entertainment center of modern Quito where you find restaurants, bars and cafes, Spanish schools, tour agencies. Plaza El Quinde is the popular tourist meeting point.
Around Quito and Safety
Both Modern and Historial can be explored on foot, but getting between the 2 requires public transport. Using taxi is not so expensive (starts at $1) and convenient but city buses and 3 parallel transit lines (Trole, Ecovia, Metrobus) are cheaper ($0.25).
As for safety, well, I heard it used to be really unsafe but authorities are working on improving public safety. Based on my experience staying in a hotel just off La Mariscal in modern Quito, I didn’t encounter any problem commuting in buses, walking to La Mariscal and even stayed out late. But of course, like any big cities, you should always exercise plenty of caution and a healthy doze of paranoia.
La Mitad del Mundo
Ecuador got its name because it is situated in the equator. Of course there are other countries in the world that are located in the equator for it is after all a line and not a point. The difference is that it is only in Ecuador (Quito) that the equator crossed a highland/city and not ocean or a jungle.
Approximately 20 minutes from Quito by bus, you’ll find the monument of the equator known as La Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world) in San Antonio de Pichincha. It was established in 1743 by a group of French scientists. It is found to be a little off the actual center line based on modern GPS but I find it quite impressive how they determine it in those days. It is definitely a tourist trap with so many souvenir shops and restaurants scattered inside but it’s a trap I willingly walked into. Why not?
Inti-ñan Solar Museum
Beside the La Mitad monument, you find the eclectic Museum of Inti-ñan that claims the “actual” equator line is within its property. It is fun to visit for the activities and experiments they perform as evidence. Some of the experiments are the balancing of the egg on a nail (to which you get a certificate if you succeeded), the coriolis effect of water only a couple of meters apart (watch the 50 second video below), and the loss of balance while standing in the latitude zero. They even have a stamp of Latitue 0-0-0 if you like it in your passport.
* This is a backblog – I was in Quito, Ecuador on June, 2012.