Quintessential Quito

My original plan was to cross the border to Ecuador by land. However, I’ve been hearing several stuff that made me change my mind. I’ve kept in touch with several people I’ve met in Colombia who crossed the border ahead of me. They told me they were in line in the border for more than 5 hours before they were able to cross. This is due to what’s going on in Venezuela. A lot of Venezuelans cross the border to Colombia. In fact I saw a lot of them in the cities begging for spare change. After spending some time in Colombia, a number of them would decide to head to Ecuador to see if that country would offer better opportunities for them. I was told that the fact that Ecuador uses US dollars as their local currency is kind of an incentive. At the border, Venezuelans are actually on a separate line. I’ve been told they usually wait for days before they get to cross the border. But the sheer number of them overwhelms the manpower allotted on the border, so it affects everyone else.

I was looking at the map of Colombia. I’ve been planning to cross the border for weeks so I already knew the route. First I’d have to catch a bus to Cali. Then from there I’d need to catch a bus to Ipiales. In Ipiales I’d catch a mini van to the border. Then once I cross the border there would be mini buses or taxis heading to the Tuculpa station in Ecuador. From there I could catch a bus to Quito.

I realized that was quite complicated— especially since I had no intention of spending a night in any of those places.

See, originally I was planning on stopping by Cali for a few nights, but everyone I met wasn’t too fond of it. They say the only reason to go there is if you’re interested in learning Salsa. I wasn’t. On the route to Ecuador I wasn’t interested in anything else. If I won’t spend a night at any of those stops, it’s still gonna take almost 2 full days. The locals I’ve met weren’t recommending stops in between either. They say those areas are not that safe for locals, what more for those who are obviously just visiting. So yeah I decided to look for a cheap flight.

I found one. There’s a budget airline called Wingo that flies from Bogota to Quito 2-3 times a week. There was a flight leaving in 4 days and it only costs a little over 100 USD. That must have been dumb luck because I’m seeing prices above 200 USD for their flights leaving on the same week. I could spare 100 bucks so I bought a ticket. I never heard of Wingo but what the heck. Yeah I’d have to take another bus back to Bogota which would last for more than 10 hours, but it has to be a lot more convenient than crossing the border by land. Sitting inside buses for almost 2 days then spending at least 5 hours in line at the border would have felt like torture.

So yeah I ended up flying. The airport in Quito isn’t really in Quito. In fact it’s about an hour away so you’re gonna spend a lot of money if you’ll take a cab to the city. The cheapest way would be to take a public bus from the airport to one of the bus terminals in the city. You’d only have to pay 2 USD. Now this would only be the cheapest option if you’re gonna take another public bus to your hotel or hostel— it’s not an easy task if you’re carrying bags since these buses are almost always full. If you’re gonna take a cab from the bus terminal, you’re gonna pay at least 10 USD — even more if your hostel is far.

Personally I’d recommend taking the Aero Bus. You’d see their ticketing counter right before you exit the terminal. They charge fixed fares and it’s quite cheap considering you’d be dropped off right at your hostel/ hotel. To the historic center, they only charged me 12 USD. Here’s the breakdown: They charge 8 USD from the airport to the old airport terminal in northern Quito. From the old airport terminal a private taxi will pick you up and they get paid the additional 4 USD. That’s really cheap considering the distance from the old airport terminal to the historic center! Well I had to wait for 30 minutes before my taxi arrived, and the old airport terminal is located in a very sketchy area, but I didn’t mind since I wasn’t paying much anyway. Alternatively you can book online, but you’d have to arrange your own transportation from the old airport terminal to your hostel/ hotel. I’m not sure how easy it would be to hail a cab during the daytime. I arrived at the old airport terminal at around 8 PM and the only cabs that passed by were the ones who were there to pick up passengers that were dropped off by the Aero bus.

If you’re staying in a hostel, it’s probably located either in the historic center or in the Mariscal Sucre District, specifically in the areas surrounding Plaza Foch. Most hostels are clustered in these areas for obvious reasons. The main attractions in Quito are in the historic center, so obviously a lot of accommodations can be found there since people would prefer to be within walking distance to most attractions. Plaza Foch is where the nightlife is. Lots of modern bars and clubs can be found here, so for travelers who are looking to party it’s best to stay in this area. I wouldn’t stay here if it wasn’t a weekend though. On weekdays, there is some semblance of a nightlife on Thursdays but it’s pretty dead on other days. Personally I’d still stay at the historic center even on a weekend. A cab to Plaza Foch costs only 10 bucks anyway. And if you’re going to party you’ll most probably be sharing a cab with your new friends from the hostel so it’s even cheaper. A cab fits 4 passengers but we managed to fit all 7 of us lol.

Plaza Foch

The historic center is massive. We joined a free walking tour on our first day, and then walked around on our own on the second. I loved the part wherein we got to sample a lot of Ecuadorian chocolates, which are supposed to be one of the best in the world. We spent 2 full days in the historic center and it still seemed as if we haven’t seen everything. When it comes to sheer size, the other colonial historic centers that I’ve previously visited paled in comparison. By the way, Quito is more than 9,000 ft above sea level. Considering that the city is basically laid out on a number of small hills, walking around can be grueling especially on your first day. If you’re looking for nightlife you don’t have to go to the modern areas of Quito. Nightlife in the historic center is more authentic and you’d get to mingle with the friendly locals. They play local music at the bars and the locals would ask everyone to join them once they start dancing.

Besides the historic center, another popular attraction in Quito is the Mitad Del Mundo, aka the Middle of the World. It’s easy to get there via public transport. Every local bus within the city only costs 25 US cents each way. Grab a hold of a copy of the Quito Metro Bus routes and figure out how to get to the Ofelia Bus Station. From there you can catch another bus heading to Mitad Del Mundo for only 15 US cents. These buses would drop you off near the entrance along the highway. By taking public buses, the total travel time is at least one hour.  Heading back is easy. You’ll see lots of buses heading back to the Ofelia bus station on the highway. If you’re going as a group and you don’t mind spending a little more, a cab to Mitad Del Mundo costs around 20 bucks. That’s not too bad if there’s 4 or 5 of you heading there, and you’ll also get there faster.

The Quito Metro Bus Map

It costs 5 USD to enter  Mitad del Mundo. I thought it was just gonna be one huge monument— hardly worth spending 5 bucks for. Turns out there was so much more inside. It’s kinda like a theme park with lots of stores, exhibits and mini museums. There’s one allotted for coffee, another one for chocolates, I even saw one for beer. I’d say it’s worth 5 bucks— even though it’s not really on the equator line. lol.

That’s right. This huge monument signifying the equator line isn’t on the equator line. Though the actual equator line is less than a mile away so it’s completely within walking distance. Just head north on the highway and after a couple of minutes you’ll see a road leading to the entrance on your left. The equator line is at a place called Museo de Sitio Intinan. It costs 4 bucks to enter. I’d say it’s worth checking out as well. Aside from exhibits about indigenous tribes in Ecuador, there are also stations wherein you’d do activities proving that you’re actually standing on the equatorial line. Among these is the water draining experiment wherein the water drains clockwise or counterclockwise depending on which hemisphere you’re standing on. This is also where you’d see that famed equatorial sign where loads of people take pictures. Oh yeah, if you bring your passport you could get it stamped by the entrance so you have proof that you’ve been to the equator.

As I’ve said above, Quito is massive. A week might not even be enough to see everything it has to offer. It has historic attractions, novelty attractions, and on weekends people who are looking to party would not be disappointed. It has something for everyone. There are a number of day trips to nearby attractions too, making it a great choice to base oneself for a couple of days. Actually,  the entire city itself is one huge attraction, which is the reason why it shouldn’t be missed by anyone planning a trip to Ecuador.



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