Quito

One of the high points of a city at almost 3000 meters altitude

It’s a sprawling valley city surrounded by steep hills and mountains and whose main feature is a very clean and well preserved old town. There are cops everywhere, somewhat like Colombia, which lends at least a false sense of security. This section is inclined, and the steepest cobblestone lanes are reminiscent of Bogota’s Candelaria hood. The massive Basilica is the most prominent cathedral of many, and the relaxing Plaza Grande offers a fine place to sit, gaze at the National Palace and get your shoes shined.

El Panecillo framed between the cathedral spires

kilometer to the South sits El Panecillo, a big hill topped with a giant angel statue. It’s a good walk or a cheap taxi to the top, with a terrific view and scores of vendors. From here it’s striking how mountainous this area is, but the highest peaks are often obscured by clouds.

 

A couple of nice parks and 15 blocks to the north sits the Mariscal neighborhood, home to most of the better chain hotels and heaps of hostels. The area surrounding Plaza Foch is ground zero for tourist nightlife in Quito, but my general impression was cheap beers, karaoke, and vomit. It does get packed and there are scores of bars and discos, but the theme remains the same. Miles of wandering and exploring yielded a tremendous Chinese restaurant, Casa China, but zero bars that were anything special. With the galaxy of extraordinary hiking and landscape so close by, the capitol is a fine place to start, but not too long. The Ecuador countryside is eye popping, but the cities and towns not so much. There’s also a gondola that climbs to the top of a hill that has to provide a smashing vista, but two days in Quito is plenty.

 

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