Quito Travel Guide
Quito is a great place to start your trip in South America
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Quito, the capital of Ecuador, has many attractions for all kinds of visitors. The Andean City, at an altitude of 2850 metres, is located in a valley at the foot of the active volcano Pichincha. Although Quito lies only 13 km south of the equator, it always has a springlike climate.
Visit Quito's old city (El Centro historico), which has been declared a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO. Old Quito has many colonial buildings and a huge market with a lot of hustle and bustle. Go north and you end up in the new centre (La Mariscal), where tourists will find most hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and nightlife.
Arrival: Most visitors will arrive in Quito at the airport (Aeropuerto Mariscal Sucre). Don't worry, the plane is not going to crash in the city, although it might seem like it. Strangely enough, Quito's airport is located in the middle of the city. This means that during your stay in Quito you will often hear the noise of low flying planes.
Visa: Most nationalities will need a visa to enter Ecuador. You can get a tourist visa at the airport or the border. Depending on your nationality, you will get 60 or 90 days. You can get an extension at the migration office at calle Amazonas 2639.
You can also get a work, student, business or residence visa, which is more complicated and expensive.
Because chances are that you will be asked to show your passport at a checkpoint, it is not advisable to overstay your visa. However, the official fine for overstaying your visa is only 40 cents.
Where to stay: As a capital city befits, Quito has a wide variety of hotels and hostals (in Spanish also called hospedaje or hosteria). Most hotels can be found in the new city centre. The area around the Amazonas/Colon-junction, which is called La Mariscal, is the place where most foreigners hang out, since it also has many restaurants, internet cafes, travel agencies and bars. For this reason La Mariscal has 'Gringolandia' as a nickname.
Quito has many first class hotels with luxury and business facilities. Many cheap hotels can be found in the old city, but many foreigners prefer to stay in La Mariscal for safety reasons. This area has also many hostals for the budget traveller. Expect to pay 3 or 4 dollars for a reasonably clean hostal with shared bath. Add a dollar or two for a private bath. Sometimes it is possible to negotiate a lower price if you're staying longer than a week.
Some useful phrases for organising accommodation:
Have you got a room available? = Tiene una habitacion libre?
A double room = Una habitacion doble
How much does it cost? = Cuanto cuesta?
Has it got a private bath? = Tiene baño privado?
Can I see the room, please = Puedo ver la habitacion, por favor.
How to get around: Transport in Quito is relatively cheap and easy. Since Quito lies in a valley between mountains, the city has a long but narrow shape. The distance from the most southern point of Quito to the far north is 30 km, but from east to west it is only 3 or 4 km. Therefore most buses drive in the north/south direction.
The small blue/pink buses are called populares and cost 12 cents. The red buses are called especiales or selectivos and cost 20 cents. There are also pink buses (interparroquiales) that go to towns and villages just outside of Quito. The fare depends on the distance.
Another fast and cheap (15 cents) way to travel in the north/south direction is the trolley bus. The 'trole' goes over Avenida 10 de Agosto from the old city to the north. Everything is ready for the second trole, which will go over Avenida 6 de Diciembre. But at the time of writing this trole was not operational yet, due to money problems.
All taxis are yellow and some are very old. During the day ask the driver to turn on the metre (el metro). The minimum fare is 1 dollar, which should pay for a 20-minute drive. At nighttime prices go up and fares have to be negotiated in advance. Two dollars should be enough for a 20-minute drive.
Addresses in Quito are given with two streets; the destination should be close to the junction between the two. Many addresses have house numbers, but I haven't discovered any logic in them. Some houses have even two house numbers.
Where to eat: Restaurants in Quito are usually cheaper than in Europe or the U.S. and the quality varies from reasonable to excellent. Off course the local Ecuadorian cuisine is worth a try, but you can also find Mexican, French, Thai, Israeli etc restaurants in Quito.
Many Ecuadorian restaurants have a set menu, which is cheaper than eating a la carta. Ask for the 'almuerzo' (lunch) or 'merienda' (dinner). A set menu should be 2 dollars or cheaper and often includes a starter and a drink. The main course is often chicken (pollo), rice (arroz) or chips/fries (papas fritas) with some fried bananas (platano frito). Ecuadorian specialities are for example 'ceviche' (seafood) and cuy (roasted guinea pig)
Some restaurants are specialised in breakfasts (desayuno), which usually consist of scrambled eggs, bread, coffee and juice and costs around a dollar.
Sometimes restaurants add service charges and VAT to their prices. Although usually this is mentioned on the menu, it is worth asking if this is included.
Some useful phrases for eating out:
Have you got a table for one/two/three/four persons? =
Tiene una mesa para una/dos/tres/cuatro personas?
It tastes delicious = Es deliciosa
Can I have the bill, please = La cuenta, por favor
salt = sal
Pepper = pimienta
knife = cuchillo
spoon = cuchara
fork = tenedor
meat = carne
beef = res
pork = cerdo
Eat well! = Buen provecho!
Where to go out: Although the Quitenos do not have the temperament of the Brazilians or the party life of, say, Madrid, Quito definitely has an entertaining nightlife. Most bars are located in La Mariscal and most foreigners can be found here.
Beer is the most common drink. A big bottle of the national Ecuadorian beer Pilsener costs around 1 dollar, but many bars also serve cheap cocktails.
Some bars have live music; for example salsa bands, rock bands or Ecuadorian folklore music (with panpipes, guitar and a small guitar (charango)).
For the partygoers that are not tired after closing time, Quito has many clubs. Many play 'western' dance or rock music, but the salsa clubs (salsatecas) are also definitely worth a visit. Ecuadorians are great dancers and salsa is the music that makes their hips shake.
Entrance should be 2 dollars or less and sometimes includes a drink.
Some useful phrases for going out:
A beer, please = Una cerveza, por favor
A big bottle of Pilsener = Una Pilsener grande
Have you got a boy/girl-friend? = Tienes un(a) enamorad(o/a)
What kind of cocktails do you have? = Que tipo de cocteles tiene?
Can I see the menu? = Puedo ver el menu?
Where to go: Located in the Andes, Quito is the perfect base for exploring the mountains. Big mountains like Pichincha, Cayambe and Cotopaxi are very close by and also Andean towns like Otavalo and Papallacta are popular daytrip destinations. Some travel agencies in Quito organise guided trips to the national parks like Cotopaxi. Hiking and climbing gear can be rented in Quito.
Many travel agencies organise trips to the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos Islands are world famous for its wildlife (penguins, many beautiful birds, reptiles, turtles, sea lions, dolphins etc.). Darwin was already fascinated by the Galapagos wildlife and did research here. A trip to the Galapagos is not cheap: expect to pay roughly a 1000 dollars for a four-day trip.
The jungle at the west of Quito (el Oriente) is another popular destination. Jungle expeditions can be organised at the spot or booked in one of Quito's travel agencies. Trips can include guided tours, white water rafting or boat trips. Make sure you know all the details before you book.