Quito – the capital city of Ecuador – is known for many things. At an altitude of 2850m, it’s the highest capital city in the world (thanks to Bolivia’s slightly confusing set up). It’s known to have the largest and best-preserved historical centre in the Americas, and because of this it was the first place ever to be declared a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Sadly in the backpacking community it’s also known to be one of the least safe cities in South America with many horror stories of people being pickpocketed or even worse, robbed at gun or knife point. Thefts on buses are common and taxis in the city don’t have the greatest reputation for safety either. Many travellers now choose to avoid the city entirely because of this or use it solely as a base to fly to & from the Galapagos. But we decided to give it a shot anyway, to experience it for ourselves rather than being scared off by hearsay.
What we found was an extremely beautiful city with a rich colonial history. Ridiculously picturesque views across hills & valleys. Hectic markets selling fresh fruits, cut flowers and fish soup. Grand squares with locals of all ages enjoying the afternoon sunshine.
Like most cities, we found the best way to explore was by joining the free walking tour. We went with this company and although it wasn’t the best tour we’ve ever taken, it gave us a good overview of the main sights in the centre along with a commentary on recent history.
After the tour we returned to the central market so that Martin could try some ceviche and also the national dish of Ecuador – Encebollada. A hot fish stew that is bizarrely served with a side of salted popcorn!
Another remarkable thing about Quito is that it practically sits on the equator (fun fact: the word Ecuador in Spanish literally means equator), so obviously a trip to the Middle of the World is a “must-do” activity. There are museums, a monument and a big yellow line painted on the ground for the perfect photo opportunity…
There’s one little detail that takes the shine off the whole experience – technically it’s not actually on the equator. But no one in Quito likes to talk about that! Since the invention of GPS, we now know that the real equator (as in latitude 0°00’00”) is around 300 metres north of where they built the monument back in the 1970’s. Ooops!
The rest of our Quito weekend was made up of eating delicious veggie food in Mile Time restaurant, sipping coffee & planning at Juan Valdez café, and drinking rum with a fun group of Americans & Canadians that we met at our hostel. All of this took place in the trendy tourist area of Plaza Foch which we grew to love over our stay.
Although all of this was great, our time in Quito wasn’t without flaws. The two hostels we stayed in were some the worst of this whole trip, with owners that did not care at all about customer service or maintaining any standard of cleanliness. Locals in general seemed to be quite rude and not interested in tourism or welcoming guests – a real shock after the overt friendliness of Colombians! I was more on edge than usual while walking around, and on a few occasions spotted people watching us a little too closely for comfort. And to top it off, two young Austrian guys from our hostel were held up at knifepoint while out exploring the city and had their camera taken from them.
So yes, the city is far from perfect. And there are still legitimate reasons to be extra vigilant with regards to your personal safety. But as always, I’m still glad we made the decision to experience it for ourselves and can take away some good along with the bad.