Although I love my new home of Portland, Oregon, the weather is mostly cloudy and chilly rain, with what seemed like two weeks of warm and sunny summer weather. I was happy to use free air miles to travel to Ecuador, a country that I have longed to visit for years. Luckily, there are many marvelous destinations in South and Central America to enjoy in winters to come.
Quito is the capital city of Ecuador, and, in the Andes mountains, at an elevation of 9,350 feet above sea level, it is the highest official capital city in the world after La Paz, Bolivia, and the one which is closest to the equator. With a population of 2,671,191 according to the last census (2014), Quito is the second most populous city in Ecuador, after Guayaquil. I will not visit Guayaquil, a big, businesslike city.
The historic center of Quito has one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centers in the Americas. Quito and Kraków, Poland, were the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO, in 1978. The central square of Quito is located about 16 miles south of the equator. A monument and museum marking the general location of the equator is known locally as la mitad del mundo (the middle of the world), to avoid confusion, as the word ecuador is Spanish for equator
The Spanish invasion was in the 16th century against the Incas, who destroyed their own city rather than leave it to the Spanish. On March 28, 1541, Quito was declared a Spanish city. As with other places colonized by the Spanish, the colonizers promptly established Roman Catholicism in Quito. The Spanish converted the indigenous population to Christianity and used them as labor for construction.
On August 10, 1809, an independence movement from Spanish domination started in Quito. It is a famous date, and in February I will be living on a street in Cuenca called August 10. There has been much violence and upheaval during the centuries, like all of South America.
Since 2002, the city has begun renewing its historical center and also demolished the old airport and built a new Mariscal Sucre International Airport located 45 minutes from central Quito. It is difficult to travel to and from the airport. I paid roundtrip $60 for private transportation; ouch.
I arrived in Quito the day before New Year’s Eve and had chosen to stay in the historical center at a youth hostel, thinking that I would enjoy the young energy. I did stay up until 12:03 am but hung out in my private room rather than join the drunk and screaming young people in the very crowded dining area. I had hoped for dancing on the roof but it was raining.
I went to buy flowers for my room at the Central Market, which was only a block away from the youth hostel. I had fun dancing there with the workers.
I only had 3 days in Quito, so went on a bus tour my first day there and a walking tour of the historical district on my last day. I have done this in many cities when I don’t have time to walk around extensively on my own to get to know the city.
The traffic is horrendous even though between 2003 and 2004, the ecologically friendly bus lines of the Metrobus (Ecovia) were constructed, traversing the city from the north to the south. Many avenues and roads were extended and enlarged, depressed passages were constructed, and roads were restructured geometrically to increase the flow of traffic. A new subway system is currently under construction. It is taking much longer than anticipated. The Ecuadorians just laugh.
Here are a few pointers to protect yourself in the Ecuadorian traffic. Pedestrians do NOT have the right-of-way. I look all ways and RUN. The cars and buses do not seem to slow down. Watch out for dog feces.
The larger streets have signs with names. But we are talking about the historical district in a large city. I am now in Cuenca. If you are walking around residential neighborhoods, with your map; good luck. Streets are rarely identified. $2 taxis are a better bet to arriving swiftly and safely; although many taxi drivers are maniacs. One chose to save a minute by going the wrong way down a one way street.
Quito’s closest volcano is Pichincha, looming over the western side of the city. Quito is also the only capital in the world to be directly menaced by an active volcano. The largest eruption occurred in 1660 when more than 9.8 in of ash covered the city. There were three minor eruptions in the 19th century. The latest eruption was recorded on October 5, 1999, when a few puffs of smoke and a large amount of ash were deposited on the city.
Quito has a subtropical highland climate. Because of its elevation and proximity to the equator, Quito has a fairly constant cool climate. The average afternoon high temperature is 70.5 °F with a average night-time low of 49.6 °F The annual average temperature is 60.1 °F. The city has only two seasons: dry and wet. The dry season, June through September (4 months), is referred to as summer; the wet season, October through May (8 months), is referred to as winter. Annual precipitation, depending on location, is about 39 in. The sun is hot in January and every other month of the year.
Quito is divided into three areas, separated by hills:
- Central: houses the colonial old city, where I lived at Community hostel for my 3 day stay. Quito has the largest, least-altered, and best-preserved historic center in the Americas.
- Southern: is mainly industrial and residential, and a working-class housing area.
- Northern: is the modern Quito, with high-rise buildings, shopping centers, the financial district, and upper-class residential areas and some working-class housing areas.
The top major industries in Quito includes textiles, metals and agriculture, with major crops for export being coffee, sugar, cacao, rice, bananas and palm oil.
TAME, an airline of Ecuador, has its headquarters in Quito.
Petroecuador, the largest company in the country and one of the largest in Latin America is headquartered in Quito.
Headquarters and regional offices of many national and international financial institutions, oil corporations and international businesses are also located in Quito, making it a world class business city.
- Carondelet Palace
Carondelet Palace (Spanish: Palacio de Carondelet) is the seat of government of the Republic of Ecuador, located in the historical center of Quito. The palace is in the nerve center of the public space known as Independence Square or Plaza Grande (colonial name), around which were built in addition the Archbishop’s Palace, the Municipal Palace, the Hotel Plaza Grande and the Metropolitan Cathedral.
- Basilica del Voto Nacional
This monumental Basilica del Voto Nacional is the most important neo-Gothic building in Ecuador and one of the most representative of the American continent. It was once the largest in the New World.
- Cathedral of Quito
The Cathedral of Quito, is one of the largest religious symbols of spiritual value for the Catholic community in the city. This church began its construction in 1562, seventeen years after the diocese of Quito was created (1545). The church building was completed in 1806.
- Church of La Compañía de Jesús
The Church of La Compañía began construction in 1605; it took 160 years to be built. By 1765 the work was completed with the construction of the façade. This was done by Native Americans who carefully shaped the Baroque style in one of the most complete examples of this art in the Americas.
- Church of San Francisco
San Francisco is the largest of the existing architectural ensembles in the historic centers of cities in Latin America. The construction of the church began in 1550, on land adjacent to the plaza where the Native Americans engaged in the barter of products.
El Panecillo is a hill located in the middle west of the city. A monument to the Virgin Mary is located on top of El Panecillo and is visible from most of the city of Quito. The statue of the Virgin on the Panecillo is a replica of a sculpture made by Bernardo de Legarda in 1732. So this monument is also called Virgen de Legarda or Virgen del Panecillo.
Museo Nacional del Banco Central del Ecuador – This art museum houses 5 displays. Each one covers a different time period, ranging from prehistory to modern Ecuador. Our delightful tour guide on our walking tour told us about the transition of money from sucres to dollars about 20 years ago. It was a horrific story with tremendous inflation (one day the value of sucres was cut in 1/2) and suicides when many people lost everything.
My next post will be on Cuenca, where is much smaller and more charming than Quito. I am here until February 27 when I fly back to the States.