Arriving in Quito, Ecuador, I was excited to step foot in South America for the first time, marking the fifth of the seven continents I’ve visited thus far. It was also the highest elevation of any place I’ve ever experienced. At 9,350 feet, many people get altitude sickness when arriving in Quito City. It’s a big difference from my usual sea level locale of Guam. Fortunately, I spent a few days in Denver before traveling to Quito, which (at 5,280 feet) we jokingly referred to as the “base camp.”
A few tips to keep in mind when traveling to Quito, Ecuador:
- The high elevation is no joke. Drink plenty of water, get as much sleep as possible, and consider keeping your activity level less strenuous the first day to avoid overtaxing your heart and lungs.
- The currency is US dollars. Bring cash, particularly small bills for shopping in markets. Interestingly, American $1 coins are more prevalently used in Ecuador than in the US.
- Taxes on services such as hotels and restaurants are high. Many restaurants include a 10% service charge onto the check, but tipping beyond that amount is not expected. Small tips for hotel bellman, drivers, and tour guides is customary, but the amounts expected are usually less than in the US.
- Taxis are extremely affordable by US standards, and Uber is also prevalent throughout Quito City.
During our first full day in Quito, we decided to make the most of our time and buy tickets for the hop-on-hop-off double-decker Quito Tour Bus, which helped us get the lay of the land for this big sprawling mountainous city. While on the bus, tour highlights and information were announced in both English and Spanish. We chose to get off in the Old Town Quito Historic District and take a free walking tour. Our guide, Erika, was a wealth of information, showing us many of the cultural and historic spots of the beautiful Quito Historic District.
We visited the Queens Arch, several famous plazas, a local theater that features both movies and live theatrical performances, and two of the seven famous crosses found along the Quito Historic District, including Santa Mariana de Jesus church in its baroque glory. To put into historical perspective, this church was built before the United States of America was founded as a country, and it was only one of many historic sites we visited that day. We also learned of interesting customs and practices, such as the variety of medicinal plants widely used for both physical and spiritual ailments, the guinea pigs eaten as a main dish, the Pregnancy Bench where women hoping to get pregnant sit for a spell, and the purple robed and hooded Cucuruchos penitents who march along the streets on Good Friday. At 9,895 feet, the Virgin of Quito giant angel statue atop the El Panecillo former volcano marked the highest elevation I visited.
We ended the day with a luxurious dining experience at Achiote restaurant. Though pricy by local standards, this restaurant featured a stunning example of traditional Ecuadorian food. We had the Locro de Papa (potato cheese soup with avocado), the shrimp & crab ceviche, the goat main entrée in gravy accompanied by rice, plantains, and a hot pineapple salad, and an Ecuadorean Cabernet Sauvignon wine. The ambiance and service were excellent. The restaurant is built around a beautiful tree, giving it a Frank Lloyd Wright feel incorporating nature and architecture. The food and service were exceptional, and it marked a wonderful way to end our first day in Quito.