We spent the day getting to know Quito a little bit. With its vast expanse and density we experienced but a smattering of highlights.
We decided to take the hop on, hop off double decker Quito Tour Bus. This is one of the most touristy things to do in Quito, yet we loved it! The cost was $60 – $15 for each adult, 1/2 price for Anna and Rachel (They are getting used to being nine and 10 years of age). It was a challenging start with finding the Parada (stop), but with our excellent Spanish (lol) and the girls running ahead, we caught the bus.
In total there are 11 stops in a 12 km loop. We got off the bus in four locations: Mercado Artesanal, Basilica del Votto Nacional, Centro Histórico, and El Panicello.
Mercado Artesanal sold similar items to those sold in the tourist section in Otavalo, although this market is very small in comparison. It seemed as if the prices were similar as well. All three girls were looking for light pants. When the vendor realized that they were not interested with the pants displayed, she got a bag of pants from another stall. All girls bought a pair at $7.00 US each.
Our next stop was the Basílica del Voto Nacional, a huge neo-gothic church (the biggest in Ecuador) with two 115 meter towers. Mass was in progress when we arrived, but we did get inside to see the stained glass and towering arches. Alex, Rachel, and Graham decided to make the hike (part elevator, part stairs, part wooden plank, and part metal ladder!) up to the top of one of the towers. We were all a little terrified, but the views were incredible! We could see for miles and miles, and we also saw Tina and Anna having an ice cream down in the courtyard.
Centro Histórico, also known as Old Town, is Quito’s main attraction. The last Inca leader had burned it to the ground prior to the Spanish capturing it in 1534. Within 30 years, the Spanish had colonized the city and built more than forty churches and three cobbled plazas. It is a UNESCO World heritage Site that has some of the most beautiful Spanish colonial architecture in all of South America. It also has many museums.
They say you can see/walk most of Centro Histórico in a day; we focused on Plaza Grande. Plaza Grande is the largest of the three plazas and dates back to 1534. This plaza is and always has been the focal point of the city. It is surrounded by the city’s most important civic and religious buildings – the cathedral, Government Palace, Archbishop’s Palace, and City Hall. It was a great place for us to grab a bite in one of the cafes and people watch. We went on a Sunday which meant the surrounding streets of Plaza Grande were closed to traffic, and boy were they packed with vendors, buskers, and pedestrians. With all the crowds, we were warned a few times that pickpocketing could be a problem. In fact, the waitress at the café kicked out a “customer” who tried to sit at the table next to us. We obviously should not have had our camera, GoPro, and phones on display.
The next stop was El Panecillo, a “hill” with a 30m high statue of a winged Virgin Mary. Although the views are supposed to be spectacular, we didn’t catch much of the views. It was rainy and cold, but even more of a presence was Tina’s, and to a much lesser extent Anna’s, fear. Tina was truly terrified (the narrow, windy, sheer drop off road – again) and stayed on the bus. Anna was distracted by Rachel and the fear quickly subsided. The writing is clearly on the wall for Tina – heights, especially scary roads, are no longer on the agenda.
The great thing about the bus tour is that it allows you to explore a few highlights and gives you an idea of what other areas you would like to explore. Revisiting Centro Histórico and seeing the artwork that lines Parque El Ejido are in the plans before we leave (in 6 days).