As I boarded the flight to Quito from Miami airport, I left my expectations unchecked (as I usually do with my carry-on luggage. I’ve learned to pack light). I arrived 4 hours later at my 21st international destination. Ecuador has always been high on my list of places to see so I figured I might as well add it to my goal of visiting 30 countries before 30. Mariscal Sucre International is on the smaller side, as far as international airports go, and is easy to navigate. Outside the customs and baggage area, there is a host of ground transportation options, such as taxis or buses, and I was able to nab a seat on one of the buses without difficulty. The Aeroservicios bus was both efficient and cost effective (approx $9 one way, air conditioned, and free WiFi). The new Quito airport is quite a hike from Centro, the downtown area, so you can expect at least an hour ride. Hailing a cab from the central station will get you to the city center in 15 minutes or less and should cost no more than $8. Some conversational Spanish is recommended to engage in conversation with cab drivers and with the locals in general.
Being new to solo travel, I tend to gravitate towards urban and expat areas when selecting accommodations. These areas typically have great access to public transportation and are, for the most part, safe. Hostels are an inexpensive accommodation and have become my go-to for short trips. While in Quito, I lodged at Hostal L’Auberge Inn, a quaint, locally run B&B near the downtown area. The homey atmosphere, friendly staff and awesome on-site restaurant made me fall in love with this place. The rooms are cleaned daily and the front desk staff are extremely knowledgeable about the sights and happenings in Quito. Location is paramount as well and I soon found that I was, in fact, very close to all the action.
Plaza Foch, also called “La Zona”, is a well-known block that is extremely friendly to foreigners – so much so that the locals endearingly refer to it as “Gringolandia.” Needless to say, this was the perfect place for me to start. On any given night the square is full of activity. Locals of Quito, known as Ticos, and foreigners alike hang out at bars and restaurants until all hours of the night. Nightlife is unpretentious and people are very approachable. Most bars are centered around the square. It’s definitely worth stumbling into a few. There’s something for everyone however karaoke, jazz and hip hop bars seemed among the most popular. I frequented Touch, an intimate, LGBTQ friendly bar/dance club. It’s impossible to be a wallflower around here; everyone loves to dance. I found myself unable to resist the blare of Latin dance music mixed with Top 40.
I recommend El Espanol for a casual cafe-style meal before a night out. I chose a sandwich with pechuga de pollo (chicken breast) and two glasses of wine which was more than satisfactory. The morning after I headed to the periphery of the plaza and found local eateries serving desayunos (breakfast) and almuerzos (lunch) complete with an appetizer and entree for as little as $3.
My daytime strolls through the city quickly acclimated me to the high elevation of the region. The winding streets and hilly terrain of Quito deem it a true Andean City. As the second highest capital in the world, it lies extremely elevated at 9,350’ (2,850 m) above sea level. The views from TelefériQo- the city’s cable car attraction- are absolutely breathtaking and allow one to take in the entirety of this sprawling metropolitan area. Truly a must see!
As its namesake suggests (República del Ecuador translates to Republic of the Equator) the true hallmark of Ecuador is Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World). Truly a once in a lifetime experience, here you can actually see where North, South, East and west converge and be at the center of it all. I literally straddled the northern and Southern Hemisphere. The tourist center features tons of local vendors and museums, an exhibition on cacao and even a brewery tour. Another highlight is the Egg challenge in which you can attempt to balance an egg on a nail-a tribute to the force that governs all things on earth, gravity.
My recent visit to Quito was both thrilling and centering. Standing on the equator was unbelievably sobering and solidified my wanderlust. Plaza Foch gave me a few unforgettable nights under the lights. Looking into the valley atop TelefériQo was perspective-shifting and reminded me of the reasons I choose to explore and discover myself and the big world around me. On a weeklong trip to Quito you can expect incredible food, exciting nightlife and sights and sounds you won’t experience elsewhere. Si te vas…
Next stop Tokyo!