Tourist First

Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Welcome to Steve Bailey's Tourist First. You can use the search function in the upper left corner of this screen to look for particular destinations. You can also simply scroll through the more than 100 postings. Or you can click on one of the terms below to find postings on a variety of topics and destinations.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ecuador: Quito, Capital of the Andes

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is one of the most exotic cities in the Western Hemisphere. The Spanish and Catholic influence here is countered by robust numbers of people descended from the ancient Incas and other native groups. The country's many unique traditions turn any visit into a cultural exploration. If you're there in December, look for the años viejos (stuffed dummies that stand upright). They're often accompanied by a live person, posing as the dummy's wife, who solicits money. The dummies are burned on the last day of the year for luck, a custom practiced throughout the country. That turns the wife into a "widow," one of whom is seen in the Ecuador item in the column on the right side of this blog.

Quito is 9,350 feet above sea level and squeezes about 1.4 million people into the long and narrow valley that is the city. Although it is less than 20 miles south of the Equator, the altitude means its climate is like an eternal spring: cool evenings, warm during the day but usually not hot.
Ecuador was part of the Inca empire for only a short period before the Spanish came. The Centro Histórico is the city's colonial center; it was built over the ashes of what was the capital of the northern half of the Inca empire until the Incas burned it to the ground rather than surrender to the conquistadors. The colonial district is home to the Church of San Francisco, shown here.

You will want to explore the colonial district's churches and markets, but the better restaurants, shopping and hotels are in the tourist-friendly Mariscal district. This is where you're most likely to encounter shop clerks who speak some English. My family and I stayed at Mansion del Angel (http://www.mansiondelangel.com.ec/home.aspx), a boutique hotel in La Mariscal with great shopping and good restaurants nearby.

The budget-minded traveler can find discounts at hostels, tour agencies and more by joining South American Explorers, which maintains a clubhouse in Quito. It offers a range of services and advice for travelers in Ecuador and elsewhere in South America. Membership is $60 U.S. a year. Visit its web site by clicking on http://saexplorers.org/clubhouses/quito/.

If Quito seems too daunting to tackle on your own, you might want to hire a guide. You can be put in touch with a local guide at http://www.toursbylocals.com/Quito-Tours, which gives you photos, bios and contact info to let you choose from a number of potential guides. Guides can and will take you to places not in Fodor's, will explain local customs and quirks, and will help you get the most from the time you spend there. One caveat: don't let a guide direct you to expensive restaurants unless there's one you particularly want to try. Guides often choose restaurants based on fees they receive from the restaurants.

For a quick look at a lot of basic information on Quito, click on http://thebestofecuador.com/quito.htm.