We were excited to move on to Ecuador after 2.5 weeks in Colombia as we were not falling in love with the country. Since I had a stash of United airline miles, we booked a flight from Bogota to Quito, saving us from a 20+ hour bus ride and from what we read a questionable border crossing.
I thought that we wouldn’t like Quito much, as we seem to prefer smaller towns over large cities but we both had a great time. It was easy to get around, there were plenty of things to see/do and the weather was pretty good.
Mitad del Mundo
The first day we went to Mitad del Mundo which translates to the middle of the world. I knew that this was not the actual equator, only what was believed to be the equator before GPS was able to confirm it was just a few meters down the road. Even though it was not the real equator, we decided to check it out before we headed over to the real line.
A lot of people take a taxi, paying $20 or so, to get to Mitad del Mundo, but we decided to save some money by going local. We paid 80 cents each to take the blue bus to Ofelia station where we transferred to a Mitad del Mundo bus. It was very easy to figure out on our own and when the bus reached Mitad del Mundo, the driver let everyone know so we could get off.
Mitad del Mundo was very touristy with tons of shops and restaurants all around. There were several different ticket options, but we paid $3.50 for the most basic ticket. We figured that we didn’t need to see any of the other attractions that were offered. There were some really great places for photo ops on the huge yellow line but beyond that it reminded me of spending time in a souvenir shop.
The most common question that we got when we shared pictures of ourselves on the equator with our families was why are you in long sleeve shirts and pants when you’re on the equator? Isn’t it supposed to be hot there? Since we were high in the mountains, even though we were on the equator it was still quite cool but when the sun hit, it got really hot.
After spending some time at Mitad del Mundo, we walked north up the road to Museo Inti-Nan. Originally I thought we were going the wrong way as the sidewalk ended and the shoulder of the road turned to dirt but we found it shortly after. I honestly believe that Mitad del Mundo has power to hide the smaller Museo Inti-Nan from the public, there is no other reason why there would be no signage or an easy to travel path from one attraction to the other.
The entry fee includes a guided tour and costs $4. Our guide spoke perfect English and was very knowledgeable of not only facts about the equator, but also the native people who lived in the area.
While the photo ops at the real equator were not as fun as the fake line, the highlight for me was being able to see all the science experiments.
There was a sink on wheels which our tour guide filled with water and added leaves. On the equator the water was sucked directly down the drain, to the north the water spun counterclockwise and to the south the water spun clockwise. It was crazy that just a few feet from the equator there would be that much of an impact on the water.
Balancing an egg on a nail
One of the experiments that is popular on the equator is the ability to balance a raw egg on a nail. The reason that you are able to balance an egg on a nail at the equator but not elsewhere in the world is the lack of Coriolis Effect on the yolk. The science was a little over my head, but our guide and 1 man in our group was able to balance the egg, we both failed miserably.
Since we were right on the equator, the sunrise and sunset are consistent year round. There is no longest or shortest day of the year – every morning the sun rises at 6am and sets at 6pm. On the equinox the sun is directly over the sundial and there is no shadow whatsoever.
OK it wasn’t really a sobriety test but it sure looked like it. You were told to stand with your feet directly on the equator, put out your arms and close your eyes. It was impossible to walk a straight line since the earth’s magnetic pulls were pulling you strongly to one side or the other.
Taking the bus in Quito was not only cheap at 25 cents per ride, but also really easy. The routes were well marked at the stops and there was easy access to maps which called out the public transit lines.
One thing that we joked about the entire time that we were in Quito was how nobody ever seemed to be working. No matter the time of the day, the busses were always packed and there were people walking all over the sidewalks.
One of our worst decisions was to take the public bus to the bus station where we would catch our bus to Banos, the next stop on our trip. The bus station was quite far from the center of town so a taxi would easily have cost us $20. We figured that we could take the savings and go out to a nice dinner.
Even though it was a Monday at noon the bus was more packed than any bus that we had been on to date. No matter how many stops we stopped at, it seemed that nobody was getting off, only on – pushing and shoving to get on the bus. We’ve learned to expect the pushing on public transit but will never get used to it. The entire hour trip we were stuck standing with our large packs on our backs and our smaller packs on our fronts. By the time we arrived at the bus station I was super hot and elated to be able to get off the bus!
We were having issues with our camera not focusing as well as it should. We haven’t had the camera serviced since we bought it in the spring of 2013 and have used it quite a bit, taking it all over the world. I thought that a good cleaning or adjustments to the camera may be able to fix our issue. We googled camera repair in Quito and found Clinica de Cameras. It was a little far from our hostel but the only place we were able to find.
We took public transit and walked uphill to the camera store. It was in a very local area which was both interesting to us since we were off the tourist circuit and nerve racking as we had our expensive camera with us.
Once we arrived, we used our broken Spanish to explain that the camera was not focusing well. The worker took some test pictures and understood what we were talking about. We decided to get the lens and camera body fully cleaned for $50, a discount from the $65 that he originally quoted us. While we aren’t sure if this was a great deal or not, it got our camera clean and helped the focus issue a bit. Since the store was closed the next day, we stayed in the neighborhood until it was completed at 2pm.
While we were waiting I decided to splurge for a mani/pedi for $9 at a shop that I saw along our walk. The woman did not speak English but her son did. We had a great time talking and learning about each other’s lives. I always wonder what my Spanish sounds like to a native speaker – if I have an accent, if it is clear, etc. The woman laughed a lot when I talked and told me that my accent was “cute”. I guess I learned that my Spanish accent is terrible but at least it is amusing. Before we left, we took pictures together and they both wished us well on our travels.
It was a little mundane to have real life things interfere with our travels but we wanted to have our camera at tip top shape so we could take the best photos possible. The only disappointing thing was that the day we were running errands, it was the most beautiful day that we had in Quito – sunny with blue skies and white, puffy clouds.
We spent a while walking around the old part of the city. There were lots of old, beautiful buildings, shops and restaurants. When we were there on a Sunday, there were loads of people in the parks and around the streets which were blocked off to traffic, only allowing cyclists. We found it difficult to get good pictures so we moved on to the Basilica Del Voto Nacional which we expected to be extremely packed as well.
Basilica Del Voto Nacional
When we arrived at the Basilica Del Voto Nacional, we were shocked that it was pretty much empty, especially since it was a Sunday and they have mass. Before a crowd of people arrived, we set up the tripod and took some pictures of the basilica. It was a challenging shot as the basilica was so massive, it was impossible to fit within the shot.
I had read online that you could climb to the top of the basilica for $2. We paid the entry fee and headed up. The first level had a massive, round stained glass window and a view onto the church pews below. Once we got some pictures there we continued up where we walked across the roof of the church and climbed up to the top of the tower. From there, we had sweeping views of Quito and the nearby mountains.
Even though I’ve seen a lot of churches throughout my travels, this was the first time that I was able to see a church from a different perspective. The fact that there were not too many people around was just icing on the cake since we were able to get a bunch of great shots without anyone in the background.
Virgen del Panecillo
One of Andy’s favorite things about large cities is going to a high point to get a view of the city. We knew that there would be a good view of the city from Virgen del Panecillo, a statue on a hill overlooking the old city.
Our plan was to take a city bus to Virgen del Panecillo to save money. We stopped at the tourist office to see what bus lines ran there. The man at the office said that there was no bus, only taxis up there. This didn’t seem right as there is no way that all of the locals pay for a taxi to get there. We were told it was $3 so we said we would splurge and grabbed a taxi.
Our driver started the meter and took the most direct route, something we always pay attention to so we don’t have the meter run up on us. Once he was at the top, the fare was $4 and change. I gave him a $5 and waited for my change since in Latin America, taxi drivers make a good living and don’t expect tips. He told me that it was a $5 flat fare to the top which was a lie but I didn’t have change to give him the exact amount so I was out of luck.
As I predicted, we saw city busses which dropped off directly at the statue. Since we didn’t want to spend another $5 to get down, we made plans to take the city bus back to town.
We paid a $1 entry fee to enter the statue and and made our way to the top. As we were climbing, we noticed how the structure of the statue was put together which was pretty interesting. The statue was made out of over 7,000 pieces of aluminum, all in different shapes and sizes. While it is a metal, it didn’t feel like metal at all, more like a stone or plastic.
Unfortunately for us, it was an overcast day which sucked since you could tell that the view would have been amazing had it been clear. With our luck, it started to rain when we were in the statue. We waited out the rain for a while and eventually it stopped. We took a few pictures while we waited for the bus and as luck would have it, right before we were able to take a picture with us in front of the statue the bus arrived! Since we didn’t want to wait any longer in the cold rain, we hopped on without the picture that we wanted.
We didn’t know where the public bus that we hopped on would take us but we knew that we could figure out a way back. Andy was equipped with Google maps on his phone and our location was tracking. Once we got to the general area that we needed to be, we hopped off and traveled the rest of the way by foot.
I knew that Quito was the highest capital city in the world, but was for some reason not expecting the number of hills that there were. Climbing the hills while feeling the effect of the altitude made for quite a hike! Luckily we were in Medellin and Bogota before we arrived in Quito which allowed us to acclimate to the altitude better than we would have coming from a lower altitude.
The city was pretty clean, had a large expat presence, easy public transportation and many things to do. We had planned to spend 2 nights in Quito but ended up staying 4. We had a great time and found lots of things to do with our time. By the time we left, we had seen everything we wanted to see and we were looking forward to our next stop in Banos, Ecuador.