As the smallest country in South America, Ecuador is fairly easy to see extensively. Unfortunately for us though we only had 10 days, so we just chose 2 places – the capital Quito and the city of Cuenca.
We arrived in Quito late at night, slightly scared from all the reports of it being super dangerous, though in reality it never felt threatening at all. Our first impressions were that the city was massive, really massive. It cost $8 and took half an hour plus to get from the bus station to our hostel in the old town.
The next day we started to explore and for the first time on our travels we felt the effects of the altitude. Quito isn’t THAT high (2,850m), but it was the highest we had been at the time, and it didn’t take long for us to start panting when we went out walking.
We did manage to make it to Quito cathedral, as it was just up the road. While you had to pay to get in, it was cheap and definitely worth it. We were excited to bed directed upstairs at one point as we thought we could get to the roof, but alas no, just more prayer rooms.
In the evening we found Bandido brewery which had some incredibly good beer – after months of bland lager it was nice to have something with a bit of flavour. There was even cider for Katy, and best of all happy hour! I can’t remember the exact price but it was $2-3 for a pint, which was good enough for us.
On Good Friday we took our place on the streets with the rest of the population of the city for the annual procession where devoted Catholics paraded wearing crowns of thorns, and carrying gigantic crosses to repent their sins. The majority wore capirotes, a pointed hood with a long Catholic history in Spain and her former colonies. Despite appearances, they are nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan!
This was one of the main reasons we decided on Quito over Easter and we wern;t disappointed – it’s one of those experiences that we really appreciated, despite not being religious ourselves.
Later we took a walk around the various small parks near the old town, filled with families boating on the rivers.
The next day, and mercifully the only day with decent weather, we took an essential Quito trip – to the equator, aka Mitad Del Mundo (middle of the world).
It was a fairly long bus ride from Quito, and then a lengthy walk to the entrance, made better by the fact we found $60 lying on the floor. There was no-one around who could have dropped it, so we accepted our good fortune and hoped it had been dropped by well off tourists and not locals.
As it was Easter and everyone was off work, Mitad Del Mundo was exceptionally busy and we queued about half an hour just to buy a ticket. Once inside, it’s as touristy as you can get, with various overpriced restaurants and a Disneyland feel. The locals loved it though.
What bugged me more though was that it isn’t actually at the site of the equator – the GPS measured spot (which didn’t exist when Mitad Del Mundo was opened) is some 500m away, complete with a smaller monument and museum. I was desperate to go to the ‘real’ one but as it had taken so long to get there and get in there was no time, so I accepted this was as close as we were going to get.
It was nice to tick off the equator though, after seeing the Tropic Of Cancer in Taiwan. Just the Tropic Of Capricorn to go!
On our last day in Quito the heavens opened and it was not sightseeing weather. It was also Easter Sunday so literally nothing was open. Except for this quirky art gallery.
If we’re honest, Good Friday procession aside, Quito didn’t blow us away. But then we didn’t even venture out of the old town for the most part, but that is where most of the sights are located.
Next it was on to Cuenca. We had booked a really cool AirBnB apartment, and we were looking forward to spending a few days chilling and cooking our own food before moving onto our volunteering.
Cuenca was an interesting city. It has a large American expat population, and because of this there are lots of foreign owned restaurants and amenities. However it’s also a university town so there are plenty of locals, and the whole city had a nice vibe. It was a little quiet during the week but it seems like it would be a cool place to hang out at a weekend.
What it does lack though is many sights. The main square is nice enough but nothing different really (aside from the imposing brick cathedral), and the area down by the river is nice for a stroll. We also visited the Panama Hat museum. Yes, the famous Panama hat doesn’t come from Panama at all, but from Cuenca.
The ‘museum’ was really just a glorified hat shop with a few exhibits, and really wasn’t that great, but if you love hats perhaps you’ll enjoy it?
If I’m honest the best part of Cuenca was our cool apartment, with the resident cat Lupo who would dart in as soon as he could for strokes and food. Cheeky but very cute.
Our accommodation in Quito was the incredibly popular Secret Garden hostel. What a disappointment. On paper it sounds so good but in reality it’s confusingly sprawling with dark, expensive rooms and nowhere to hang out unless you want to get wasted in the overpriced bar.
The food was shockingly bad, the staff were more interested in partying than helping anyone (they readily admitted this) and everything had tax added onto already high prices – nowhere else in Ecuador did this. We pretty much hated it. An old, damp smelling room cost us £22.61 per night.
In Cuenca, as mentioned we stayed in an apartment and we loved it. It was small and quirky but had enough space for us, and was built in the back yard of a local artist who was super friendly. It was close to both the old and new towns and plenty of restaurants. We paid £19.33 including AirBnB fees per night (see why we think Secret Garden was overpriced?). The listing is here.
The bus between Quito and Cuenca took around 9 hours and cost $10 each. Loads of buses run from Terminal Quitumbe in the south of the city.