Travelling for long periods of time can be tiring on the body. Constantly being on the move, packing and repacking your backpack, translating instructions from a language you don’t speak and navigating the often complicated transport networks takes its toll on your energy supply. So it is important to schedule in breaks, holidays from the holiday you might say. So this is what I am doing. My destination of choice….Quito.
Most people, when I tell them that I am in Quito, respond by Googling ‘Where is Quito?’. Yes, while this place has a lot to offer and is in a prime location, it is not a place that many people are familiar with. I think that is why it appealed to me so much.
Quito is the capital of Ecuador. This 16th Century city boasts some pretty cool hallmarks. Like, it was built on top of the ruins of an Inca city, it stands at an altitude of 2,850m (second highest city in the world), closest city to the Equator and despite experiencing a number of earthquakes due to the multiple volcanoes that surround the region, it also has the best preserved and least altered historic centre in all of South America. Not bad for a city with a population of 2.6 million.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I landed in Quito. I was feeling quite jaded after my stay in Cuba. But I immediately felt at ease in Quito. Which I believe is a credit to the investment and support Ecuador has placed on the tourism industry. The tourist community is very important for Ecuador, and the city of Quito is a great example of how they are successfully nurturing the curious foreigner.
I was staying at Hostel Revolution, which was a great little home away from home. Hostels are everywhere in the Historic Centre of Quito and they all offer different experiences and different price brackets. Some other great options are the Secret Garden and Community Hostel, both of which welcome backpackers with open arms and make you feel a part of the family.
A fantastic city to explore with the most picturesque of the city areas being the Old Historic Centre, standing apart from the modern commercial and tourist districts with its colonial architecture and cobble stone streets. Quito was the first city in 1978 to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The best way to see the Historic Centre is on a Free Walking Tour. This locally owned company is run by a group of passionate and very knowledgeable Quito locals who twice daily, guide curious travellers around the town and bring the spaces to life with stories of the ‘novella’ like Ecuadorian history.
My favourite places include the Plaza Grande which is a central square that is bordered by the presidential palace (Palacio de Gobrierno), Arch Bishop Palace (Palacio Arzobispal), Quito Cathedral and the Town Hall. This square is the so full of Ecuadorian drama that standing here for too long leaves you feeling vulnerable to an uprising. My favourite story of this site is the mysterious poisoning of the Arch Bishop that took place here on Good Firiday of 1877, when the Bishop was poisoned via the holy water. What a way to go! Begs the question, was is man or devine intervention?
Actually, come to think of it, this Plaza should be renamed the Plaza of Death as it is at this place that Precident Garcia Moreno was machete to death in 1875 and carried dying into the Cathedral.
It's not all death and decapitations though. The Cathedral, while not being one of the most ornate religious icons in the city is a representation of the Ecuadorian devotion to religion. In fact there is a painting inside Cathedral that depicts the Last Supper, where Christ is eating roasted Guinea pig, and a nativity scene including a llama. Examples of how Ecuador add their flare.
The best part about the Historic Centre is that everything is within walking distance.
Actually, the whole of Quito is walkable if you are committed to wearing a comfortable pair of shoes. The city is really supportive of fitness and good health. You can’t walk a block without seeing a Health Assessment Tent, checking the blood pressure and weight of the general public, or wander through the park and find a free to the public gym. They even have a Car Free Sunday, where they block off the main arterial to cars, so that people can ride, skate or run through the city without the fear of traffic or pollution.
It is good that they support healthy fitness regimes, because if they didn’t, the food would get you. Yes, Quito is the home of some delicious and decadent treats. Home of some of the most delicious chocolate in the world, you could quite easily fall into a sugar coma here.
But life is about balance…yes. Balance your decadent cuisine with challenging workouts, and your long term travel with short term breaks in this mountain adorning metropolis.