First impressions of Quito, Ecuador

by Kim on August 19, 2012 · 37 comments

Finding ourselves in the back of a cop car in Quito

On our first full day in Quito Brian and I decided to explore the city on foot, walking from our hostel in the Mariscal District down to Old Town.

Quito is a big city. I’m not sure quite what I expected, but in a country the size of Nevada I guess I just assumed that the cities, even the capital city, would be quaint.

Our walk took us through the Parque la Alameda, past the Presidential Palace, and around the old churches and regal buildings that have stood for over 500 years. From afar we could spot the Virgen de El Panecillo, a 40 meter (141 foot) tall replica of the Virgin of Quito, which overlooks all of the city, and I was captivated. “Let’s walk there,” I said to Brian, pointing high into the hills.

A view of Virgin de El Panecillo from Old Town Quito

At some point I had read or heard that the walk up the stairs that lead to the statue can be dangerous. As we neared the stairs I stopped a policewoman and in broken Spanish asked if it was okay to walk up. She nodded yes and we were on our way.

Three minutes later we turned to see the cop I’d spoken with and another policia flagging us down. When they caught up to us the woman said, with limited English, that the stairs were not safe. “Danger!” she said, gesturing with her hands. “Robbers!” She pointed to the man with her and I discerned through our choppy communication that her el jefe (boss) would help us reach the statue safely.

I assumed the man would flag a taxi for us but before long Brian and I found ourselves in the back of a cop car with three Ecuadorian policia. As the car turned left when I knew it should have turned right, I quickly scanned my brain for warnings of corrupt police in Quito.

But my gut told me that we were okay and indeed we were. As the kind officers drove us up the hill they peppered us with questions- where were we from? what had we seen of their country and, oh, wasn’t it beautiful? We told them it absolutely was. The man in the front seat handed us a tourist booklet and the woman in the back flipped through it, pointing to destinations we should not miss.

When we reached the base of the Virgen de El Panecillo the policia made us promise we would take a taxi back down. We swore we would. “Enjoy Quito,” they said as they pulled away. All we could say in response was “Gracias, gracias, gracias.”

The view of Quito from El Panecillo

Quito has a bad reputation, but aside from dodging the robbers on the steps up to the Virgen de El Panecillo, I have not felt unsafe or threatened in any way. There are policia everywhere and the city seems intent on cleaning up it’s image so that tourism can continue to thrive. That said, Brian and I take precautions. We don’t stay out very late, we don’t wear anything flashy, and we don’t carry any more money than we need.

A day trip to the Otavalo Market

Yesterday Brian and I boarded a bus and rode two hours on the Pan-American highway to the town of Otavalo, located high in the Andes, which has hosted a daily market since pre-Incan times. At the market, vendors sell food, clothing, paintings, weavings and all variety of crafts. The indigenous people wear traditional clothing and take great pride in the beautiful art they are selling.

Women sit in Otavalo’s town plaza. The woman on the left is wearing traditional clothing.

Brian and I excitedly roamed the market, trying our best to take in the sights and sounds. I’m a sucker for colorful clothing and jewelry and found myself completely enchanted by the experience. In the end we walked away with colorful bracelets, a ring, a necklace, an alpaca scarf and an alpaca blanket woven with all the colors of the rainbow. 

An example of the colorful things for sale at the Otavalo Market

Showing off my new bracelet

Visiting the Galapagos?

Since we’ve arrived in Ecuador everyone asks if we are going to visit the Galapagos. We’d not planned to visit because it is very expensive. I’m not sure if it’s just the thrill of finally! being! here! but we have changed our minds and spent this morning searching for a last minute deal. We think we’ve found one which will have us in the Galapagos this Tuesday for eight days. However, our tour agency cannot confirm the availability of flights until tomorrow and, even so, the chance of landing a flight at such a late hour is only 50/50. We’ve got our fingers crossed that the flight will come through. If not, it’s off to Mindo.

Quito’s Sunday Ciclopaseo

On Sunday’s here in Quito an organization called ciclopaseo shuts down 30 km (18 miles) of a major road that runs north to south through the middle of the city. Ciclopaseo’s mission is to promote urban cycling, sustainable transportation and community. 

Brian and I put on our running clothes and hit the street with what seemed like every other person in Quito. We ran past Carolina Park where dozens of soccer games were in progress and a gigantic group of people danced theatrically under a pavilion to YMCA.

Ciclopaseo passing through the Mariscal District

We ran past supermarkets and movie theaters and banks and thousands of families out enjoying the equatorial sun. You wouldn’t have been able to wipe the grins off of our faces if you’d tried.

The beginning

Last night at dinner Brian and I were talking about how the beginning of anything- a new job, a move to a new neighborhood- is always filled with mistakes and the awkward reality of figuring things out. Months later you look back at yourself in that new period and think: I didn’t know shit!

We know that that is exactly where we are now, but we are honestly enjoying the process of learning. Each time we make a mistake, like boarding the wrong bus or forgetting to settle the cab fair before getting in the cab, we just shrug our shoulders and say to each other “well, now we know.” It is not necessarily comfortable not knowing what we’re doing the majority of the time, but this is how we learn in the world, no? 



{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Caroline @ Traveling 9 to 5 August 19, 2012 at 2:49 pm

We are planning on visiting the Galapagos closer to November, we heard the deals were better if you show up and book with an agent there…Let me know what you find!


Kim August 19, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Caroline, from what we found today I think that that is DEFINITELY the case. We were quoted some prices then went back to the hostel to research and they were WAY LOWER than traditional prices found through tour agencies on the internet. I think that if you have the time and flexibility this is the way to go. I’m glad we did it this way.


Patti August 19, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Some of life’s best lessons are learned through mistakes. I always tell myself, “Lesson learned.” And thanks for sharing those lessons so we can learn through your experience. I “love” the colors of the market goods, so pretty and festive!


Kim August 19, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Patti, the colors in the market were stunning.

I agree with you, how else to learn a lesson than to make a mistake? It’s better than to fear the mistake and not try at all!


Anne August 19, 2012 at 3:46 pm

I am so impressed that you have already landed your first ride in a cop car! And I love the closing paragraphs. I agree- flying be the seat of your pants- and learning as you go- is a huge part of the excitement of any journey!


Kim August 19, 2012 at 5:44 pm

No kidding. Day 1= cop car! We are definitely learning a lot!


Gillian @OneGiantStep August 19, 2012 at 3:58 pm

The Galapagos!! On Tuesday?! I love how travel just makes things open and that you can just decide. I hope you get to go!


Kim August 19, 2012 at 5:44 pm

I LOVE IT! Honestly, it is so fun to be like: “Galapagos? Day after tomorrow? Why not!”


Jamie Lentz August 19, 2012 at 4:36 pm

glad you weren’t in that cop car for other reasons 🙂


Kim August 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Haha, me too!


Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) August 19, 2012 at 5:17 pm

I absolutely agree that beginnings are always rocky, but this is to be expected and the sooner you embrace that, the better. Tony and I have acknowledged that our month here in Japan is just going to be time to figure out how we want the rest of the trip to go, as we figure out what works for us in terms of travel styles and what doesn’t. If we hate staying in dorms, we’ll take that info on board and adjust our future plans. If we have a meltdown (ok, just me) because I hate not being able to read anything on menus (including prices!), then I’ll have my moment and then try to learn and grow so that the next time I’m confronted with that situation, I hopefully handle it better. Traveling this way definitely teaches you the be ok with being uncomfortable and with making mistakes!

Also, I’m so glad your trip has started so well and that you have had so many great experiences in Quito already! How nice of those people to make sure you and Brian made it to the statue safely!


Kim August 19, 2012 at 5:48 pm

I wonder if we would be singing a different tune if we’d gone to Japan first. Ecuador is easy. We can get by with our bad Spanish and many people speak English. Ecuador uses the dollar so we don’t even have to mentally convert money in our heads yet. We’ve had an easy introduction into the rest of the world.

I love that we are experiencing many of the same things though we are in different parts of the world.


Dustin August 19, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Good luck on not buying much more, EmSue has done well by me reminding her that she has to carry it 🙂

For last minute flight arrangements especially if you are not sure where your next destination is or what date we have found this site to be VERY helpful –

Keep having a blast and hopefully we will run into y’all somewhere on the road!


Kim August 21, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Thanks for the skyscanner tip. I’ve heard of it but never used it! I REALLY hope we run in to each other at some point.


Hannah August 20, 2012 at 4:36 am

I’m so glad you guys have decided to go to The Galapagos – it’s a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m sure will be totally worth the money. We are definitely planning on going, and are going to try and volunteer while we’re there. A friend of mine got food and board for spending her days replanting indigenous plants – you should see if that helps budget wise? And you will always be able to say that you helped to preserve a piece of natural wonder 🙂


Kim August 21, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Wow, that is pretty awesome! We’ve already done and booked a trip but volunteering would be amazing…


Sarah Somewhere August 20, 2012 at 6:50 am

It looks beautiful, I love the colours, the vibrance of the place. I feel your excitable energy, can’t wait to see the galapagos through your eyes! Love the cop car story, very sweet 🙂


Kim August 21, 2012 at 1:12 pm

How is Australia??!?! So excited to be headed to the Galapagos tomorrow and to write all about it!


Amanda @amandaelsewhere August 20, 2012 at 7:14 am

Last year when I did Ecuador, I traveled extensively through the country and decided to skip Galapagos. I thought all of the Ecuadorians would be really proud of me for really making an effort to see and know their country. Instead, everybody I met was extremely disappointed in me that I didn’t go to Galapagos. Now, I have to plan a return visit! Can’t wait to hear about your adventures there!


Kim August 21, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Amanda, I’ve had the same experience. Before we’d decided to go and people asked I said I didn’t know because it was so expensive. The look of disappointment on their faces was pretty amazing. Anyway, I’m glad we just bit the bullet and did it!


Carmel August 20, 2012 at 7:36 am

What a nice follow up to reading about Sarah’s experiences with the kindness of strangers. I can’t wait to see the pictures from the Galapagos. Good pick on the bracelet. It’s beautiful!


Kim August 21, 2012 at 1:14 pm

I love the bracelet- so colorful!


Shalini August 20, 2012 at 11:31 am

Some Galapagos tips – the water can be pretty rough this time of year (I was there the end of June)so def. get something to help with motion sickness if you’re the slightest bit sensitive(most boats will sail only at night)and use LOTS of sunscreen, every day multiple times a day. Everyone on our boat got burned but my friend and I.
It was such an amazing place… The good thing (for me in my 10 day break from reality) is that you will have no cell service or contact with the outside world, I travel a lot and this is the first time that has happened (had service in the Serengeti but not here.) I was there when Lonesome George died but we didn’t hear about it until 4 days later because our guide didn’t have service.
Have fun!
(I’m a friend of Brad & Annie’s and came across your blog via their’s)


Kim August 21, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Thanks Shalini. We went to buy motion sickness meds at the pharmacy today but I didn’t know how to say “motion sickness” in spanish so I just said Galapagos and then made a barfing sound! Then the lady rocked back and forth and I nodded yes and she handed me 10 pills I paid $1 for. No idea what they are but I hope they work!


Miel August 21, 2012 at 6:13 am

Well done on day one! Not knowing is definitely part of the process!

I want to reiterate staying safe in Ecuador/Peru/Bolivia. I travel in Africa all the time now and have never seen pick pockets and such as I did in SA, Peru in particular! Any distance between you and your bag is too much! Connected to you is no guarantee either. Stay safe!

I’ve been traveling for twenty years and had all of my worst incidents happen in those parts. It was 15 years ago, but I doubt that means it is better now. Also be aware of counterfeit bills! Never leave your bag anywhere out of your site, not if you want to see it again.

Hate to be a downer, but better to tell you what I learned from my experience.

Safe travels!



Kim August 21, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Oh yeah, I definitely keep a tight grip on my bag wherever I am! Have you had your stuff stolen in SA?


Ayngelina August 31, 2012 at 10:22 am

I adore Ecuador and spent 3 months there, if you go to Cuenca (my favourite city) you must stay the La Casa Cuencana, which is run by a family and tell them I sent you!


Kim September 8, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Ayngelina, we are definitely headed to Cuenca. I will look for La Casa Cuencana- thanks for the recommendation!


quito to lima bus November 8, 2015 at 10:07 pm

Very useful tips! We are planning on visiting Quito in the month of December any useful deals?


Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

{ 8 trackbacks }