Last Christmas, Joseph and I ventured into a part of the world we had never been to – South America. We booked an eight-day tour of Ecuador through G Adventures in order to help us navigate the country in a safe and more efficient manner. That tour started in the city of Quito. However, while it started in Quito, it didn’t include a tour of Quito, the country’s capital city. But we did have the option of opting into a day trip prior to the start of the tour, which we ended up taking advantage of.
The city itself is a UNESCO world heritage site, founded by the Spanish in the early 1500s. It is nestled in the Andes mountains with an altitude of over 9 thousand feet and is home to just under 2 million residents.
Our tour started early in the day with a pickup time of around 7am. This was especially brutal because we didn’t make it to our hotel until close to 2:30am after landing. Joseph is not an early bird, so he was not particularly pleased with the situation that morning, but we somehow managed to be awake and dressed by the time the tour bus picked us up.
So what did we see during our day touring Quito?
The first stop on our tour was Basillica del Voto Nacional with a neo-Gothic architecture style. Built in the 19th century, this church sits on a hill and can be viewed prominently from many spots in old town Quito. Along with gargoyle figures overlooking the grounds, it is also decorated with the different animals of Ecuador, such as monkeys, alligators, and turtles.
Towards the end of our time touring the grounds of the church, there emerged a parade of school children dressed as Mary (holding a baby doll version of Jesus), Joseph, and a whole host of other biblical figures.
As we walked around Old Town of Quito, I couldn’t help but admire the architecture of the buildings. They may be hundreds of years old, but they’re still looking quite attractive!
The right photo above is the Monument of Independence – the center of Plaza Grande, also known as the Plaza of Independence. It’s surrounded by four buildings – the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito, and the Archbishop’s Palace.
We then wandered around San Francisco Plaza, the courtyard that led towards the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco. The church itself is the oldest and most religious site of Ecuador, with construction beginning at 1537. I forgot to take a picture of the church itself! And I believe we weren’t allowed to take photos.
Just across from the church of San Francisco, overlooking the plaza, was where we attended a class on how to make chocolate.
But the best part was getting to do a taste-testing on all the different chocolate bits they had made, like orange chocolate and chili chocolate.
From the balcony of the chocolate class, we could see the Basilica of San Francisco across the plaza.
As we walked around Old Town Quito, we were warned several times by our guide to keep our belongings in front of us. This meant backpacks, phones, wallet, etc., as pickpocketing was rampant. However, Ecuador took this issue in protecting tourists’ possessions that our group was approached by a couple of police officers and gave the same warning of having our stuff on our fronts.
After exploring Old Town Quito, we hopped back on our tour bus and headed up the hills of the city towards the towering statue of the Virgin of Quito.
There were plenty of vendors selling little tchotchkes by the Virgin of Quito.
The Virgin of Quito itself! It was built in 1976, and is the large replica of a much smaller statue that was built in 1734 (currently homed at the church of San Francisco).
With this vantage point, we were able to get a great overlook towards the capital city of Ecuador on all sides. I couldn’t help but admire just how widespread the city sprawl is, especially as it crawls up onto the hillside.
For lunch, we went to Fiambre’s restaurant. According to our guide, this was the place to go if you wanted to try roasted guinea pig. Guinea pigs, also known as cuy in Ecuador, are one of the delicacies of Ecuador. So, of course, I had to try.
While the skin of the guinea pig was tough to take apart, when eaten, it had a nice crunch to it. The meat itself is also quite delicious! Honestly, looking at the photo above, I’m wishing I had a cuy dish coming my way now…
After stuffing ourselves on local cuisine, we crossed one of our bucket list items – to straddle between the equator!
In order to do so, we were led to Inti Ñan Museum. Along with a few environmental replicas of Amazonian and Andean huts, the main focus revolved around the equator line. There is a long red line that marks where the equator is, as well as several little sign posts and monuments for photo opportunities! The best part is when the museum guides come out and interact with the visitors while also doing little demonstrations, such as how water swirls down the sink one way in one hemisphere, but on the other side of the hemisphere, it swirls the other way!
And then, for the final stop on our day tour of Quito, we went to the “original” equator monument. Located close to Inti Ñan Museum is Mitad del Mundo, a monument that people originally thought was where the equator was… except they were wrong. Hence, Inti Ñan Museum.
For some reason, this monument is still standing, though. Perhaps to confuse people? Or perhaps it’s too costly to bring down. Either way, you can still visit the incorrect marker of the equator!
All in all, I think we were able to see a sufficient amount of the significant landmarks of Quito in a day. And I think G Adventures did a great job in touring us around.