So we made it to Quito, capital of Ecuador and the highest constitutional capital in the world! It is also pretty much bang on the equator and as we discovered over our few days here, has crazy weather.
We stayed in the historic centre of Quito which is a good location for visiting other parts of the city as well as the surrounding countryside.
Mitad del Mundo
You can’t visit Quito and not visit the equator! We were really excited to visit the Mitad del Mundo (or the ‘middle of the world’) equator marker in the north of Quito, although after doing a bit of reading online, we soon found out that the famous Mitad del Mundo marker is actually in the wrong place. Yeah, ridiculous.
American GPS in 2002 came along and proved that the statue had been put in the wrong place and that the real equator line is about 250m away. So the Ecuadorians built a museum in the real location and that’s the one we visited. Being the precise engineers that we are, we HAD to visit the correct one.
From our hostel we had to take two buses to get to the Inti-Nan museum. Word of warning here, although getting around Quito is easy, it takes bloody ages. We though it would only take us an hour to get there and it took about 90 minutes. The way back took even longer, 2 hours! Anyway the museum itself is fairly easy to find – walk past the touristy Mitad del Mundo and you’ll see a sign for the museum, pointing up a dirt road.
For $4 each we got a tour of the outdoor museum, including replicas of houses of the indigenous tribes in the Ecuadorian Amazon. We also learned about the Shuar tribe who are famous for creating shrunken heads out of their enemies. The museum even had a REAL human shrunken head to show us!
Joe’s joke: it was probably the same size as Fran’s head.
Fran’s joke: if Joe’s head was shrunk it would be the same size as a normal human head.
So after learning a bit more about the Amazon and being shown a baby tarantula in a glass box (which I couldn’t even look at, clearly those arachnophobia hypnotherapy sessions I had before the trip haven’t worked), it was on to the best bit – the equator.
Apparently walking with your eyes closed is more difficult on the equator line (it is, we tried) and it should be easier to balance an egg on a nail (it’s not, it’s pretty darn difficult, although smug Joe managed it). We also saw some cool sundials and did the classic photo where one of us was in the northern hemisphere and one of us was in the southern hemisphere. We couldn’t resist.
Cotopaxi National Park
From one extreme to the other – 30 degree heat at Mitad del Mundo one day, and the next day we were up a volcano in the snow. Crazy!
Cotopaxi volcano is the second highest active volcano in the world and is only an hour or so from Quito. We hadn’t done a hike in a while and really wanted to see the views from the volcano so booked a tour through our hostel. You can take local buses to Cotopaxi and hire a guide when you get there, but because it had taken us ages to get to the equator on the buses, we thought a tour would be easier and quicker.
For $85 for the two of us we got transport to and from the park, breakfast, two guides and lunch.
Unfortunately the $85 did not include decent weather and it was too cloudy to actually see the top of the volcano. Here’s us posing on a rock in front of Cotopaxi… you’ll just have to take our word for it that there’s a volcano hidden within that cloud.
Things didn’t get too much better and by the time we were hiking, we were in the cloud and the weather couldn’t decide whether to rain or snow. So it did both!
After about a 45 minute hike we made it to the José Rivas Refuge, used by the more gutsy (crazy?) extreme hikers who go on to the summit of the volcano. At an altitude of 4864m above sea level, this was high enough for us. After our Rainbow Mountain experience we weren’t so keen on hiking to over 5000m again!
At the refuge we treated ourselves to hot chocolate (any excuse) before heading back down the volcano. After a photo stop at Laguna Limpiapungo, we went to a cosy pub just outside the national park and had the most amazing lunch of fresh trout and chips, and then it was back to Quito.
We really enjoyed the tour but felt it was a tad expensive for what it was. It could definitely be done for cheaper on your own but the tour is good as an easier option.
Quito Walking Tour
To see a bit more of the historic centre of Quito we did a free walking tour which visited the central market, main plaza, a couple of churches, and Calle de la Ronda. Our favourite bit was definitely Calle de la Ronda, a really cute street with bunting, pretty balconies and artsy shops.
There’s also an amazing chocolate shop on Calle de la Ronda that we visited after the tour – you can learn more about how chocolate is made and more importantly, get free samples. We were also lucky enough to see the Swiss owner make small chocolates with a passionfruit filling. So of course we bought some, and they were lush!
Ok so technically our visit to Otavalo wasn’t quite part of our trip to Quito – we decided to stay in Otavalo for a night, make the most of its famous market, and then head over the border to Colombia.
Saturday is the main day for the amazing market, but we went on a Friday and it was still great! Even better, there were less people so we could take our time and enjoy browsing all the beautiful stalls without being stuck in a crowd!
We couldn’t resist all the pretty handicrafts and gorgeous knitwear, we just had to buy some! We ended up buying a huge alpaca throw blanket for only $20, three cushion covers for $20 and I got an alpaca snood scarf for just $5. Total bargain! We were proud of our haggling skills.
The best buy of the day though was Joe’s alpaca hoodie. A lovely lady actually managed to find one that fits tall gringo Joe!! He was so chuffed that we just had to celebrate with local beers afterwards.
Otavalo is definitely worth visiting if you’re in Quito and can be done as a day trip if you don’t have time to stay overnight. To get to Otavalo it’s about a 2 hour bus ride from Quito’s north terminal, and it only costs a couple of dollars.
We’re so glad we got to spend some time outside of Quito as well as seeing the historic part of the city. Have you visited Quito? What are your top tips? Leave us a comment below and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for more travel photos!