Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
This blog is a little in and out of order in the timeline due to being in Quito a number of different times.
Ipiales to Quito
We got an early start with a collectivo taxi to the border for 3,000COP / $1.50. The exit stamp for Colombia and entry for Ecuador were relatively quick and at no cost. Departing the border into Ecuador we took a taxi for $3 directly to an awaiting bus for Quito. We had some confusion on cost but in the end the bus was only $5ea for the 5-6 hour ride into Quito, much cheaper than transport in Colombia and for a relatively similar level of comfort.
Quito is the capital of Ecuador with 1.6 million people and the highest official capital city in the world at 2800m (9,350ft) above sea level. Some people find it problematic due to the high altitude. This is usually things like feeling tired or shortness of breath. We’d already spent a good part of our time in Colombia at altitude and with our good health at the moment; we didn’t have any real noticeable side effects.
We travelled directly to Quito as it’s one of the major destinations to book last minute Galapagos trips which was the next thing on our to do list. We chose to stay at Hostel L’Auberge ($20), as we had friends we met in Nicaragua staying there. They had been through Peru and were off to Colombia, so we swapped stories and some money (as we will be heading to Peru next). The hostel is nice and provides plenty of information on how to do activities on your own.
Booking a last minute Galapagos Cruise
We spent the first couple of days organizing a last minute Galapagos cruise. This took a while to organize due to having to deal with travel agents. It is really frustrating as each travel agent seemed to be trying to con you into paying obscene amounts of money. We felt like we were dealing with recruitment agents all over again. Perhaps it’s our style of travel in that we are very independent and don’t enjoy the idea that a travel agent has the control. One of the travel agents tried to sell us a day trip to the equator at $40 per person (which can easily be done for about $5 pp). We’re not sure what he was thinking as we walked in asking for the cheapest cruise they had and clearly stated we were budget travellers.
After visiting what seemed like an endless amount of agents (luckily the agencies are all located near each other in the Mariscol district) we finally decided on the Darwin Yacht for 7 nights / 8 days (June 5-12, 2014) followed by an extra week or so island hopping independently. The main reason was because of the itinerary it offered. We wanted to visit islands that we couldn’t easily visit on our own on a day trip as we planned to stay for an extra week. The weird thing is that we booked the boat first and then had to go on a waiting list for a flight. This seems to be because most of the boats reserve seats on planes for their clients. We then decided for this reason it was best to book our flights with the travel agent as well (as they were quoting a fair price). That way if there were any plane delays, there would be other people on the plane with us and the boat would not leave without us.
We chose to use Zenith Travel because the price was similar to what others were charging and Marcos (the agent) was able to offer some useful advice. We also liked the payment option of a 4% paypal fee. Most other agents charges started at 7% for credit card payments and as this cruise is a big expense the fee paid adds up to quite a large amount extra. The flights were paid separately by credit card with no added fees.
Old town exploration
We were now finally free to explore Quito and relax a little as our admin work had been done. We decided to try for a free walking tour offered by the Secret Garden Hostel weekdays at 10.30am but unfortunately was not running on the day we tried to go. The lady working there was really helpful and gave us all the information we needed to do it on our own.
The highlight of old town was the Basillica del Voto national. This is one of the best churches we have seen on our trip. The original design is based loosely on the Notre Dame church in Paris. What makes this Basillica unique are the gargoyles representing Ecuadors native animals placed around the outside.
We climbed to the top of the tower to check out the views of the city from the tower ($2pp) and were not disappointed. It’s not a climb for those suffering fear of heights. First we walked up a short set of stairs reaching a room with beautiful mosaic window and a view of the main cathedral area from above.
We then walked across what was effectively a narrow wooden bridge (which wobbles a little as you move) that actually walks above the main cathedral area that led us to the outside ladder staircases.
Next there were multiple ladder stair cases to climb which is definitely not for someone that is afraid of heights.
We then made it to the top with amazing views of the clock tower and panoramic views of the city
Lunch for champions
Many places in Quito offer “Lunch of the day”. Around $1.50-$2.50 consisting of soup (chicken or beef and vegetable), a main dish (chicken, beef and rice etc) and a juice. Below are a few of our menu of the day meals which put us both into food comas. There was one place we were stupid enough to buy one each instead of two, as you never know what portion size you are going to get, and we ended up having to take it away and eat if for dinner.
Visiting Mitad del Mundo – Middle of the World – The Equator
For the budget conscious travellers out there, avoid the tour and try out Quito’s bus system for a cheap alternative and to see the real Quito in action. Always be extremely careful of your valuables when using public transit, anywhere in the world. We took a metrobus to Ofelia station in the north of the city for 25 cents each. You then connect directly to a bus labelled “Mitad del Mundo” which costs another 15 cents each. This drops you a 1 minute walk from the entrance for less than a price of a Coca Cola. Admittedly, the downside is this trip can take the best part of 90 minutes each way depending on where you’re staying in Quito.
The entrance to this “tourist attraction” cost $3 per person including free entry to a number of small museums located on the same property. The main attraction is the huge monument and the painted yellow line to signify the split between the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
This isn’t the real middle of the world
If you look at the photo below taken of a postcard, you can see that the real equatorial line is some 240 metres North of where the monument currently stands. This is due to the advent of GPS technology which later and more accurately determined where the line actually exists.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/