This post is part 4 of my first-time adventure in South America. If you want to, you can read about part 1 (Machu Picchu), part 2 (Amazon Rainforest), or part 3 (Rainbow Mountains) to get caught up!
Why Quito? Well, we wanted to visit multiple countries on this trip if possible. We were looking at a few options, such as Columbia, Bolivia, Ecuador, or Brazil… Quito and La Paz were top of our list. I severely wanted to see the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia, and we tried really hard during planning to make it happen. But we eventually realized that it just wasn’t going to work on this particular trip. With that in mind, we picked a city that we could explore for a few days and have fun in! We decided on Quito.
Walking Tour of Quito
At this point in the trip, Andrew and I were pretty tired, physically. Our muscles took us up and down mountains multiple times, through the jungle, and on some exciting boat rides. We were both looking forward to our time in Quito as a chance to relax and slow things down a bit. It was the end of our trip, after all! I didn’t mind slowing our pace down.
So for our first main day, we got a recommendation from our hostel, Minka Hostel, to take a free walking tour.
We met up with a small group and a guide at a church in the city and began the tour. Right away, I could tell that this city was much, much larger than Cusco. It was equally hilly though, so our muscles ended up getting a small workout anyway.
We were the only English speakers on the tour. Our guide spoke English, but he mostly gave the tour in Spanish for the other group members (and a quick few sentences on what he had just said to us in English afterwards). From that standpoint, it wasn’t the best free walking tour I’ve ever been on. But I did enjoy seeing some cool sights still.
The first stop was the famous Basílica del Voto Nacional. It is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. Apparently there is also a legend with this Basilica, that if it ever stops being under construction, the world will end. So, since construction began in 1884 it has been perpetually under construction – even today! Despite there being some scaffolding in the way occasionally, it was still a stunning site to behold.
One of the interesting things our guide pointed out, were the gargoyles. On each different face of the building (north, south, east, west), were a different set of gargoyles meant to represent the animals in Ecuador that could be found in its various regions (mountains, ocean, valleys, forest). I thought that was pretty cool!
The following day (not on the tour), Andrew and I actually went inside the Basílica. It cost a few dollars (the U.S. dollar is the official currency of Ecuador, so that was pretty convenient!) and got to see some amazing architecture inside.
Huge pillars line the path to the alter, and stained-glass artwork adorn every window.
By taking a series of stairs, you could get to various platforms above the alter for seeing the windows closer. At one platform, there was a huge window with a stained-glass mural of orchids. Apparently, this piece of art contains every species of orchid that can be found in Ecuador.
I have to admit, I was getting a major Kingdom Hearts vibe from this place. For those not familiar with that video game, it’s one of my all time FAVORITES. It’s rife with gothic-style buildings in certain worlds. Stained-glass-style art often accompanies pictures of the game too.
Anyway, this whole place kept reminding me of various elements of Kingdom Hearts and I loved it!
Take for example, the giant clock tower we got to go up in, which reminded me of the Peter Pan world.
Anyways, the Basílica was beautiful inside and out. At times it even reminded me a bit of Hogwarts, with the tall stone pillars and huge ceilings.
After a series of long stone and spiral staircases, we reached the top of one of the towers, which had an amazing overlook of Quito.
Back to the Walking Tour
Our guide then took us down a famous street in Quito, nicknamed the “7 church” street, because there are 7 famous churches along it. Our guide took us to each one (though Andrew and I swear he might have skipped a few…).
Besides the churches, we also walked through some of the main plazas and squares of the city, which were cool to see. Our guide had a lot to say about various important buildings, of which famous Ecuadorian politicians and artists lived in.
One very important detail I forgot to mention, was that it was Good Friday on this day. Now, I knew that much of South America was Catholic, but I didn’t prepare myself for how BIG OF A DEAL Good Friday is for them. The streets were CRAZY packed, people were everywhere, everything was closed, performers were out and about, flowers were draped over all the crosses, decorations and banners lined every street, etc. Apparently it is a city-wide, maybe country-wide, probably continent-wide day of celebration.
Which brings me to… the parade.
The Good Friday Procession
Apparently every year on Good Friday in Quito (and every major city in South America, we were told), a parade goes through the streets for hours. Thousands of people march through the city, and anyone can do it. They all wear these…purple… KKK-like outfits, carry crosses, and meanwhile this intense music blasts through speakers lining the streets.
I have to admit, I was very confused when I first saw their robes! I’m actually really glad we happened upon the parade while with a local guide though – so he was able to explain to us the strange sight before us.
The parade happens every year, and is meant to be an expression of “one repenting for their year’s worth of past sins.” They wear the robes in humility and embarrassment, and carry the crosses as Jesus did. There was a certain amount of intensity to the people in the parade, you could feel it.
Andrew and I did not plan this trip knowing we would be in Quito on Good Friday, it was coincidence. I’m kind of happy we were able to see such a rare sight though! It’s definitely something I’ll never forget.
Markets and Street Food
For the final leg of our free walking tour, our guide took us through a district known for its cute shops. We went into a small chocolate shop and tasted some really delicious dark chocolate. He also brought us through a really narrow street that had an ice cream shop and a wooden toy shop.
At one point, we were able to get a really great view of the famous El Panecillo statue.
It’s apparently the largest statue of the virgin mother Mary in the world. I would have loved to get up close to it, but we were informed by our guide that it was a 2 hour hike up and extremely difficult. Because this was our last part of the trip, and our muscles were still kind of sore and tired, Andrew and I decided against the climb.
At a certain point, Andrew and I realized our guide had completely forgotten his English speaking tag-alongs, and was only speaking Spanish. Andrew and I took our cue to break away and head back to the hostel.
It may not have been the best free walking tour I ever did, but I still enjoyed it, and learned a lot about Quito. One very cool thing we got to do, was go onto the balcony of the President’s house where a former President was assassinated. We were able to look out over the huge crowd, and stand next to the (Buckingham Pallace-esque) guards at attention. I think our guide had a connection with one of the other guy’s watching the gate, and that’s why our group was able to go up on the balcony. So props to our guide for that neat experience!
Foreign Food in Quito
I mentioned before how everything was closed because of Good Friday. When I say everything, I really mean it! Andrew and I really struggled to find places to eat while in Quito because of the holiday weekend. Luckily, you can always count on foreign food to get you through a holiday!
And so, during our time in Quito we ate once at an Indian restaurant, and another time at a Chinese restaurant (the Chifu’s came through for us!) These were the only places that were open.
At the Indian place they had a delicious sampling of vegan food, from vegan burgers, to vegan burritos, kabobs, samosas, etc. I took some vegan rice cookies back to the hostel with me as a late-night dessert and those were really yummy too.
At the Chinese place we both ordered huge plates of fried rice, with vegetables, veggie soup and these fried tortillas.
Final Day In Quito
For our final day, we went up in the Basilica (photos above), and wandered to various markets. We didn’t really have an aim in mind, but it was still cool to see the different things they had to sell. Just like with Peru, everything was extremely colorful.
We came across a market that had lots of random stalls, and some cool artwork along the outskirts. I enjoyed looking through them. At one point we came across what looked like a festival. There were dancers in a square performing, which was fun to watch for awhile!
All in all, our bodies were pretty worn out though, and so we eventually decided to take it easy and relax at the hostel. We made ourselves a delicious meal of some bread we had bought and fresh apples. We chilled in some hammocks, and tried (unsuccessfully) to get a movie to play in the hostel’s DVD player.
Overall, Minka Hostel wasn’t my favorite hostel ever, but it was ok. We did find it hilarious for being so hipster it occasionally hurt to look at. Take for example their bucket lights, blender vase, crate furniture, and overall woo-woo-hippie vibes. But hey, it was pretty cheap there for a private room and private bathroom!
Well, that pretty much sums up my trip in South America! Overall, I loved it. We planned so many exciting things, and I got to explore 2 different, unique countries. I took home a few souvenirs even, some dark chocolate for myself (mango & ginger flavored, and jasmine tea-flavored!), and ground coffee for my boyfriend Cody.
Quito was a very busy, very large city. Given more time, I think there were some activities on the outskirts of the city we would have liked to see (like a snow-capped volcano), but we only had 2 short days. We were also pretty limited with what we could do given the holiday weekend, and everything being closed. We did what we could and saw what we could though. I still enjoyed our time wandering around.
Below are my closing thoughts on Ecuador. I hope you enjoyed this series of posts about my trip in South America. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and hope you had fun reading about it!
- Once again, the people in Ecuador were extremely friendly and welcoming.
- They were very proud of their coffee and chocolate here, they kept boasting about how it was “some of the best in the world.” I can’t disagree, the dark chocolate I brought home was really really good! Cody liked his coffee a lot too.
- Quito was not nearly as vegan friendly as Cusco was. Even though everything was closed, on the map I could see that there were far fewer veg-friendly places to go to in this city compared to Cusco. This was surprising to me, especially considering Quito was much larger.
- Religion was VERY big here. There were churches and crosses on every corner it seemed. You could tell religion was a major part of people’s lives here.
- Driving here wasn’t as scary as it was in Cusco.
- Once again, there are mountains all around you it seems. Quito was very hilly, which was neat!
Wow, these are wonderful photographs. Well done!
I love the part about Kingdom Hearts! One of my favorite video games of all time too. I definitely saw the resemblance you talked about in the photos.
I’m glad you see it too. The inside of the Basilica had me feeling like I was in Beast’s Castle in the Beauty & The Beast world!