When our plane touched down in Ecuador just about midnight on October 1, I’ll confess that I knew absolutely nothing about the capital city. That would change dramatically in 24-hours! Our Classic Journeys guide and Quito resident, Rafael Arevalo, had designed a day that allowed Judie and I to get a real feel for the city and its inhabitants.
Here’s a few standouts:
Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world) is located approximately twenty minutes away from Quito. It’s pretty cool to get a photo of yourself with one foot on the Northern Hemisphere and the other on the Southern Hemisphere!
But what I liked best was going inside the monument where there was an interesting Ethnic Museum. Some of the exhibits had a brief description of the region they were highlighting along with photos of “typical” people that lived there. This gave me a better feel for the various communities that make up the country. There were also interpretive signs about industry, social and cultural events and celebrations, and other snippets of information.
What I didn’t like best was coming across two guinea pigs roasting on a spit outside one of the numerous restaurants and shops in the plaza. I had conveniently forgotten that the cavies are considered a delicacy and Rafael explained that they’re quite expensive (up to $25) so people often share them for a special occasion. Though the pigs are usually eaten hot with sauce, for the adventurous, there’s even a “guinea pig ice cream” available in Quito.
Once you’re done here, the Museo de Sitio Intinan is a short walk or drive away. The Museum uses its own guides for the tour groups so Rafael got a short break! Nicolas clearly enjoys his job and it was a lively, interactive experience for the six of us-especially during the equator-related scientific (Corolis force) experiments and his explanation of how to shrink a human head in five easy steps. Not that I’m planning to do that any time in the near future!
The other thing I liked about this inexpensive, sixty-minute tour was the murals of the different parts of Ecuador; the plethora of colors, variety of landscapes (rainforest, coastal, and mountainous), and the wildlife images were compelling and made me want to take in the entire country, not just the city.
I wouldn’t either of these attractions as stand-alone’s but together, they make a nice combination of fact and fun. Be forewarned, if your sensibilities are offended by the stretching of scientific fact or gift items that are presented as homemade but most likely aren’t than Museo de Sitio Intinan probably isn’t the outing for you.
After several more stops, we ate lunch at Hasta la Vuelta, Senor, a fantastic family-owned restaurant in Old Town Quito. This historic district was the first city named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of note are its narrow, meandering streets (wear good walking shoes!) and Spanish colonial architecture.
The restaurant is located on the third floor overlooking a picturesque courtyard (lots of stairs!) Judie and I don’t eat fish (they’re known for their seafood) but we tried empanadas and an Ecuadorian specialty, cheesy potato soup with a slice of avocado-tasty! The food, service, and conversation were all excellent. Rafael’s knowledge of Ecuadorian history, politics, economy, and culture was impressive. There was no question he couldn’t answer and, believe me, we had plenty!
Fun fact: “Hasta la vuelta” means “see you when you come back”, something I will definitely be doing when I’m in Quito again!
Whether you’re religious or not, don’t pass up the chance to visit these two Quito churches, only a short walk from each other.
Iglesia de Convento de San Francisco, the first church built in Quito. was established in 1536 by Franciscan monks. This architectural masterpiece is located on San Francisco Square, a popular gathering place where citizens often assembled for social, religious, political, or military meetings. There’s a museum inside with art from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as well as a landscaped courtyard, which we didn’t get to spend time in because it started to rain.
I’ll end my post with this church, La Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Merced, because the simple, white façade gives no indication of what you’ll see when you step inside. I was blown away by the interior! Everything, and I do mean everything, in the main worship area is bright gold. The amount of time involved in creating it and the attention to detail is stunning. The church remains active, still holding regular services and my biggest regret was not being able to attend one. However, that meant that I could take photos freely and sit in a pew to absorb the character of the building at my own pace. So, I did!
Next stop-The Galapagos Islands!