Quito: The Equatorial City

Originally, my plan was to just make myself an extended long weekend trip to Mexico City and then go home. But then due to sheer coincidence I had a friend who was going to Ecuador to visit a mutual friend so I thought hey, what the hell, let’s continue heading further south.

So I did and it was awesome.

It’s kinda neat because through all of my travels, I’ve never once set foot in the Southern Hemisphere. That is, of course, until I visited Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

Monumento Mitad del Mundo
A monument to an imaginary line.

Quito is the biggest city by the equator. By virtue of that, it means I’ve officially the Southern Hemisphere. It also means that it essentially exists in a weather limbo where there aren’t anything that I would consider seasons.

All year round the temperatures are pretty much the same and the amount of sun they get per day is about.. 12 hours. Exactly half the day.

It’s pretty crazy when you think about it. As a person from Toronto, seasons are definitely a real thing. You can have temperatures dip to like -30 in the winter and rise to 30 in the summer and the length of the day varies so much throughout the year as well so honestly, I can’t really comprehend the idea that things stay so.. constant throughout the year.

Quito from Fundación Guayasamín
The weather is constantly cool.

In addition to that, Quito is the second highest capital in the world, with an altitude of about 2800m, so it’s not uncommon for travelers to experience something related to the altitude.

It’s wild.

Again, as a dude from Toronto, which sits at a comfortable 0m above sea level, it’s pretty crazy to get to a city that far up and be winded going up the stairs. Now, I’m by no means a physically fit person but even I can do that much.

But on my first day there we were going up these stairs at the Basílica del Voto Nacional and I noticed my breathing got a bit harder even if I went up just one flight of stairs. The church itself was beautiful and it gave a wonderful view of the city from above, but the climb up was actually pretty tiring just because of the altitude.

View from the Basílica del Voto Nacional
View from the Basílica del Voto Nacional.

I eventually got used to it, but on my second last day in the city, we took the TelefériQo up to the top of a volcano. The gondola ride itself brought you up to almost 4000m and again, the view from up there was amazing. But, at that altitude you could definitely feel it affecting you.

We took plenty of breaks and eventually found a place up there that would let you rent some horses to go sightseeing on. I’ve never ridden a horse before and I really wanted to so I was so surprised to learn that it was only $5 for a 25 minute ride.

That was so fun and definitely worth every penny. The view was nice, my horse was cool, and I got a chance to catch my breath. Wonderful experience all around.

Sightseeing by Horseback
Checking out some stuff by horseback.

Speaking of volcanoes, Quito is situated right in the Andes so it’s essentially in a volcanic mountain chain. That’s why the city is so far above sea level but it also means the city itself is surrounded by mountains.

Now, I love mountains and it’s always great to visit a city that’s surrounded by dramatic mountains. It also means that there are a lot of nice day trips out of the city to visit even cooler mountains. For example, we did a road trip out one day to visit Cotopaxi, a volcano, and Quilatoa, a crater lake.

Cotopaxi
Cotopaxi, an active volcano.

Both of those are technically not part of Quito but I thought they were worth mentioning. It’s neat because Ecuador in general is in a neat part of the world where you can find everything from the ocean, mountains, and even the rain forest.

Quito is kinda right at the middle of it so there’s a lot of cool opportunities to travel to different biomes. I would definitely love to do that next time I go. I especially want to go to Galapagos.

Anyways, back to the city. Quito was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s kind of wild to think that of the over 1000 sites across the world that this city was one of the original members.

La Ronda
The view from La Ronda.

I can kinda see that though. The historic downtown portion of Quito is quite nice and really well preserved. A lot of cities have historic centers that have been dramatically changed throughout the years. Maybe they constructed some newer buildings or demolished some older ones, or maybe they just let it get run down to the point where it doesn’t look that nice.

But Quito’s is different. It’s quite well preserved and there are a lot of cool buildings that have stood the test of time. For example, there are a bunch of churches there but my favourite one is the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús. From the outside it doesn’t look too special but then you go inside and it’s just, a golden spectacle.

Quito Historic Centre
The outside of the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús.

They didn’t allow people to take pictures inside (in an attempt to keep it preserved?) but I’m telling you now that it was really cool. I’ve been to a lot of churches in my time but I’ve never been to a church that elaborately decorated.

They also have this giant statue near the center of the city. It’s slightly elevated on a small hill/mountain and it depicts a winged Virgin Mary standing on a dragon.

Now, I don’t know about you but just that description alone is pretty badass. The view from there is also pretty spectacular too. And what made it even better was that you could take an Uber up to the statue and it only costs like 2.50 USD because Ubers are dirt cheap there. So great.

El Panecillo
The guardian of the city.

Since this was also my first time in South America, it makes sense that the food would be different as well. They eat a lot of corn down there and there are a lot of different types of corn that I’ve never seen before.

But, by far the most interesting thing I’ve had the opportunity to eat was cuy, guinea pig.

I’m all for eating new animals and when I was given the chance to eat this one I couldn’t turn it down. But, to be completely honest, it wasn’t very good. There wasn’t a lot of meat and it just kinda tasted like weird pork. For that price it didn’t seem like it was worth it since regular pork is better and cheaper.

Cuy
Roasted guinea pig, with teeth and all.

But hey, now I can say I’ve eaten guinea pig before and that just adds to the list of unconventional animals I’ve tried.

From a geographic point of view, I think Quito might be one of the most interesting places I’ve been to. Between the altitude and the fact that it’s at the equator, it means you experience a lot of things that you might not experience at other cities.

In all, I really enjoyed my trip to Quito. It was definitely a plus that I had friends there that could show me around but the city itself was quite beautiful and I feel like there’s a decent amount of stuff to do. I could definitely see myself going back, if anything just to transit to go to other places in the country.