We’re back from a fantastic 2 week trip to South America! It was a few months in planning, as opposed to our usual last-minute efforts, and it was well worth it.
Our first stop was Quito, Ecuador, and it didn’t disappoint. We actually ended up flying back through Quito for a “double dip” after 5 days in the Galapagos on our way down to Bolivia. Quito is a vibrant, quirky city with good food, a few great sites, and beautiful scenery. It’s a good place to sort yourself for trips to the Andes, as it’s at 9,000 ft above sea level and definitely leaves you huffing and puffing.
Z Food Pescaderia (Seafood): Probably our favorite meal in Quito, a fresh seafood restaurant with a relaxed and casual atmosphere. I enjoyed their local spin on dishes, service was great, and although probably expensive for Quito, found the price on par with good restaurants in the U.S.
Crepes and Waffles (Not just dessert!): Every time we walked by the outpost by our hotel (it’s a chain) it was jam packed with people. Our original choice for lunch (La Purisima, below) was closed, so we landed at C&W for lunch and it was great! Both sweet and savory options and an enormous menu, with something fro everyone, including vegetarians. Crepes were crisp and the waffle desserts were on point. Not exactly “local” but it fit the bill for a quick and tasty lunch.
Achiote (Ecuadorean): Our first attempt at local and it was a success! Achiote was packed with tourist groups (sigh) but it made up for it with it’s food. It’s located on the outskirts of “Gringolandia” near Plaza Foch, a very touristy neighborhood. The restaurant had a great sampling of local foods, a relaxed atmosphere (there’s a tree growing in the restaurant) and some live music. We sampled many of the local dishes, and wound up loving something kind of bizarre—ceviche in Ecuador (and most of Andes region) comes with tostado, or nearly-popped large corn kernels, lightly toasted. Why we’re not eating these at movies, I don’t know, but they are amazing.
La Purisima (Ecuadorean): Our second attempt at local was a bust. We were in the main square and had planned on enjoying this place for lunch, but it wasn’t open. Although the website, other websites, heck, even the sign IN FRONT OF THE BUILDING said it should have been open. I don’t know what the deal was, but it wasn’t open. It looked fantastic.
Basilica del Voto Nacional: Located 6 blocks from the main square on a hill, La Basillica is no ordinary church. If it was, I’d likely walk past it quickly, maybe take a snapshot, and move on. No, this church is different. Yes, it’s a beautiful example of Neo-Gothic architecture, but with a South American spin—they’ve replaced the gargoyles with turtles and iguanas. Even better, they allow you to treat it like your own personal jungle gym and climb on precarious ladders to the top of the towers for a closer view and vast panoramas of the city. It’s a must-see.
Teleferiqo: Another opportunity to take in sweeping views of the city, the Teleferiqo, near La Comuna neighborhood, takes you in a gondola to about 13,000 feet. We did this on our first morning in Quito with a few altitude-related regrets (huffing and puffing). It’s an amazing view, and you can even hike the volcano behind the city, if you can catch your breath.
La Ronda: A quaint neighborhood of restaurants and shops on a cobblestone street, although much of it was closed when we walked through. Ecuador has a big push for local artisanal crafts and foods, which is nice to see—many of the shops highlighted local artists, versus some of the mass-produced souvenir stalls in the park and on the streets.
Plaza de la Independencia: If you need a break and a coffee, the Plaza is a great place for some afternoon people-watching. Lined with a church, the government buildings, museums, and theaters, the Plaza is a main tourist attraction. We tried getting into the church to see the thematic Last Supper (complete with “cuy” on the table to eat—guinea pig—and a llama overlooking the proceedings) but the church was closed.
Gringolandia/Plaza Foch: The standard set up for foreign visitors with restaurants and bars-a-plenty if you want a break from South American food (but why?). It gets noisy/rowdy at night. Better bet is to go over to the La Paz neighborhood, where there are much better food options and a quieter atmosphere.
Parque El Ejido: A great spot for a weekend afternoon, the huge park is filled with people doing their park thing. Relaxing, playing sports, eating, shopping from vendors. It’s a good slice of local life. Walking distance from Plaza Foch and there are some artisanal markets along the way.
Cotopaxi: If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see a glimpse of this amazing, still active, volcano from the city. Just south of Quito, you’ll see a snow-capped classic volcano rising (and still puffing smoke!) from the landscape. Some travelers we met mentioned the hiking is spectacular, but often socked in with clouds and wind. We saw it from the hotel.
JW Marriott: Our boring choice of hotel was in walking distance to a lot of restaurants and shops and had a great breakfast in the lounge (with good views of Cotopaxi). Standard Marriott. I’m sure there are funky and cool places to stay, but I might avoid the hotels too close to Plaza Foch if you want to get some sleep (if you can, altitude is a bitch sometimes and causes insomnia!).
Going to the Equator: Apparently, there’s a tourist thing to drive a few miles out of town to see the equator in Ecuador. As if there aren’t other places to see it? We skipped it, there are too many other cool things to do in Quito!