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Anyone traveling to the Galapagos Islands has a choice of starting their adventure in Guayaquil, the economic and fishing center on Ecuador's coast, or in Quito, the country's capital, nestled in a saddle of the Andean chain. Most travelers choose Quito for its centuries-old colonial charm and beautiful spring-like weather. Since travelers should arrive 2 nights prior to Quito for their morning Galapagos flight, to insure a comfortable (and safe!) connection onto the islands, that leaves a full day to explore Quito and environs. But how should you make the most of those hours?
TAKE A CITY TOUR
Our Quito City Tour covers the most important and beautiful colonial buildings in the UNESCO World Heritage center…the baroque La Compania Church, with its gold-leaf altars, blood-red accents, and ornate domes (Bonus - look for the syncretic elements of indigenous Ecuador "hidden" away in painted faces and native plants), and the Church and Convent of San Francisco, built in the mid-16th century, anchors the lively plaza of the same name. It is a vast complex of 13 cloisters, three churches, more than 3,500 works of religious art, and a library holding thousands of books and historic documents.
STRADDLE THE EQUATOR
Visit Mitad del Mundo, a monument to the "Middle of the World," marks the spot where the Equator runs through the country and is only a short, 30-minute drive from the city. Note: With modern measurements, we now know that designation is off by approximately 790'. But it still makes for a fun photo memento of straddling the line demarcating the hemispheres! There are also experiments performed at the site are always a hit for travelers with kids.
ART AND CULTURE
Museo Guayasamin, perched on a lovely landscaped hill with views of the city, houses a collection of modern artwork from Ecuador's most famous son, Oswaldo Guayasamin. The artist's Capilla del Hombre is one of the most important works in all of Latin America, a homage to the suffering of indigenous people under colonialism. A pleasant walk through the grounds leads to Guayasamin's grave, next to that of his friend, writer Jorge Enrique Adoum, beneath a pine tree.
A stroll through La Ronda, Quito's oldest pedestrian throughway, takes you past art galleries, trendy shops, street musicians, and more as you make your way to a wonderful spot where El Panecillo hill, with the Winged Virgin statue at its peak, comes into view. Enroute, look for plaques on the walls of restored colonial mansions, denoting homes of famous poets and other historic figures of Quiteno lore.
TELEFERICO CABLE CAR
A trip up the flanks of Volcan Pichincha on the Teleferico cable car is a fabulous way to truly get your bearings. The spacious glass gondola presents vast views of at least 6 volcanic Andean peaks, ranging from Ilinizas at 16,818' to Chimborazo at 20,564'! A short hike at the end of the ride takes you to the peak, with more spectacular views. Do bear in mind, the air becomes thin as you ascend from 9680' to a plateau at 13,290'. I recommend doing this only after you have fully acclimated to Quito's elevation of 9350'.
There's plenty more to see and do in Quito! Tell me your interests: be it biking, cooking, public markets, watching a rehearsal of choirs or plays, or a visit to an artist atelier, given enough time and flexibility, I can make it happen. Quito is much more than a place to bide your time before a trip to the Galapagos. Feel free to give me a call for more info at 800-345-4453.
Keeping it wild,