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Quito

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Quito [1] is the capital of Ecuador. It was founded in 1534 on the ruins of an ancient Inca city. Today, two million people live in Quito. It was the first city to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site [2] in 1978 (along with Krakow in Poland).

Districts

Quito lies between two mountain ranges and its altitude is 2,800 metres or about 10,000 feet. It may take you a couple of days to get accustomed to the altitude.

Quito is roughly divided into three parts: the Old City at the centre, with southern and northern districts to either side. The greatest concentration of tourist facilities is in the North, including the airport. Quito's Old City is the largest in the Americas. It has undergone a huge restoration and revitalization program over the last decade, mainly financed by the Inter-American Development Bank. It boasts no less than 40 churches and convents, 17 squares and 16 convents and monasteries. It's been called the 'Relicuary of the Americas' for the richness of its colonial- and independence-era architecture and heritage. It's a great quarter to wander, with several excellent museums and plenty of restaurants and terrace cafes for a rest while sightseeing.

Modern, northern Quito (on a map, up until the southern tip of the airport) is a fun place to explore, with plenty of museums and urban parks as well as restaurants and nightlife. The southern and northern (from the airport up) districts of the city are more working class and seldom visited by tourists.

Understand

Be prepared to speak some basic Spanish in order to get along. Quito is an excellent city in which to learn Spanish before heading off to other places in South America. The Spanish spoken in Quito is very clear and it is spoken slowly as compared to coastal areas. There are many excellent Spanish schools where you can have private or group lessons very economically. These schools will also arrange homestay accommodation which is convenient, inexpensive and a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the culture and try the local food.

Very few locals speak English except in the touristy areas of North Quito which includes "La Mariscal" quarter, where most tourist businesses are located. La Mariscal occupies several square blocks in North Quito and is the place to be if you wear a backpack. Bars, restaurants, hostels and internet cafes abound. Young people from many countries tend to congregate there.

Ecuador, especially the Sierra region that includes Quito, is culturally a very conservative society. This is reflected in manner of dress. People of all socio-economic backgrounds tend to dress up in Ecuador. For men, this means a pair of trousers and a button down shirt. For women, slacks or dresses are acceptable. Men and women seldom wear short pants in Quito, although in recent years casual clothes have become somewhat more accepted especially among the young and on very hot days. Some popular nightclubs and restaurants enforce a dress code. Lastly, remember that Quito is said to have "all four seasons in a day". Once the sun goes down it can get downright cold. Dressing in layers is a good idea.

The South American Explorers Club [3] is a non profit organization dedicating to helping independent travelers in Ecuador and South America. Their office, at Jorge Washington 311 y Leonidas Plaza (in the Mariscal district of Quito right off of 6 de Diciembre) is a great place to stop by, meet people, and get the latest information on where to go, what to avoid, and on adventure travel. You can find out more about the services they offer on their website.

The Quito Visitors' Bureau [4] has several information centres around the city. These include at the International Arrivals terminal at the airport; the small Parque Gabriela Mistral, on Reina Victoria in the Mariscal quarter; the Banco Central Museum in the Mariscal District; and finally, in the Old Town, on the ground floor of the Palacio Municipal on one side of Plaza Grande - their main centre. This includes helpful staff, lockers for leaving bags, maps, leaflets and books for sale, a store of Ecuadorian crafts. This offices offers subsidised guided tours, with various routes available. The contacts for the main office are: (+593 2) 2570 - 786 / 2586 - 591, info@quito-turismo.com [5]

The Ministry of Tourism [6]] has offices in their building on Avenida Eloy Alfaro and Carlos Tobar, close to the El Jardin shopping mall which cater to tourists. The Pichincha Chamber of Tourism (CAPTUR) is [7].

Get in

By Plane

You have to pay an airport fee of USD 40.80 in cash when leaving Quito by air(12'2009).

Near the baggage area of the Quito airport, it is possible to buy vouchers that can be used for a taxi ride. As of 2007, the cost to go to the tourist hotel zone was $5.

If you wish to try taking a bus instead of a taxi to the Mariscal (main tourist destination) section of Quito (it is not advisable if you have much luggage or are not familiar with Quito), which is often referred to as "gringolandia" by tourists or "la zona" by locals, you can exit the airport, cross the main street, and board any bus with "J.L. Mera" or "Juan L. Mera" on the sign. The cost is USD $0.25, but if you are a student under 18 or a senior citizen over 65 then it is USD $0.12.

A new, large international airport is presently under construction in a valley located in the northeast of Quito. It will be well outside the city between the towns of Tababela and Puembo, approx. 25 kms from the city. It will feature a one of the longest runways in Latin America: 4,100 meters long by 45 meters wide, that will allow an average of 44 take-offs and landings per hour. The airport is expected to start its operations in mid-2011.

By Bus

The old "Terminal Terrestre," which was located in Cumandá (Center of the city)has been replaced by two new terminals.

Fares depend on where your going. Long distance bus fairs in Ecuador cost around $1 per hour, but generally the price is already established. So if for some reason, your bus trip takes double the time to get to your destination, for whatever reason (damaged road, too much traffic, etc.) you don't have to pay the extra hours. The fare to Guayaquil (July 2009) is 9$.

Still, the same safeguards apply: as long as you hold on to your belongings and don't hang around there at odd hours, it is safe. People will probably shout at you asking where you are going. They either work for a bus company and want to get you to buy a ticket with that company or want to help you find the bus you are looking for in exchange for a tip. If you arrive with a lot of luggage it's best to avoid the public transportation system in Quito and take a taxi to your hotel. Ecuadorian long-distance buses will generally let passengers off anywhere along their route.

Get around

There are 3 independent, 'enclose stations' systems of buses, with very few transfer stations among them. They are very inexpensive (USD 0.25 for a single ride). These lines follow north-south-lines down through the heart of Quito, and they have stations close to La Mariscal where most hotels are located. Take note that there is no tradition of waiting for people to disembark before people board, so this may take some getting used to. The buses are among the cleanest of South America, but still, be aware of pickpockets!

The easiest way to get to most Quito hotels from the airport is to buy a taxi ticket, available after the baggage area before exiting the airport. Cost to the hotels in the main tourist area is USD 5 (November 2008). If you hail a cab just outside at the airport you can get them to use the meter and pay less than USD 3 for a ride to La Mariscal hotel district.

Taxis and buses are everywhere and very inexpensive. . A taxi ride costs a minimum of USD 1 during the day and a minimum of USD 2 at night. Only use official taxis (yellow with a number painted on the door). Make sure the driver turns on the taxi meter if you don't want to get ripped off and find another taxi if they claim its broken (taxímetro). At night or if they refuse to, negotiate the price before getting in, or wait for the next. Carry small denominations of money and have exact change for your taxi fare. If you do not have exact change, taxi drivers conveniently won't be able to make change for you and will try to convince you to make the change a tip instead. Most major hotels have taxis that they have approved as safe and legitimate. If unsure about a taxi, call your hotel and they can generally have a safe taxi dispatched to your location. A bus trip costs in Quito USD 0.25, including Trole and Ecovía (March 2010)

See

Do

Buy

There are lots of artisans working on unique crafts in the capital. These include guitar-makers, candle makers, tanners and leather-workers, silversmiths, ceramicists and woodcarvers. You can find them at their workshops, published in a guide by the Visitors' Bureau.

There are also several fair-trade shops in Quito which promise to pay the craftspeople fairly for their products. The ones at the Tianguez (Plaza San Francisco), El Quinde (Plaza Grande), and Museo Mindalae are all very good.

There are many shopping malls in Quito such as Quicentro, Mall el Jardin, CCI, CC. El Bosque, Megamaxi, Ventura Mall, Ciudad Comercial el Recreo, San Luis, etc. and every street corner has several small "Mom and Pop" shops or stands where only a couple of items are for sale. If your shopping list is very long, you may spend all day looking around for the stores that have the items on your list.

There are many casual wear stores like MNG, Benetton, Lacoste, Guess, Fossil, Bohno,Diesel etc. So if you need some items Quito is in fact a very good place to buy nice clothes at relatively low prices.

Ecuador's indigenous peoples include many highly skilled weavers. Almost everyone who goes to Ecuador sooner or later purchases a sweater, scarf or tapestry. In Quito vendors are found along the sidewalks of more touristy neighborhoods. You should also consider travelling directly to some of the artisen markets, such as the famous one in Otavalo. If you haven't got time for Otavalo, you can find virtually the same gear at the market on Jorge Washington and Juan Leon Mera in the Mariscal district. The Mariscal is replete with dozens of souvenir, craft and T-shirt stores which make shopping for a gift very easy.

Eat

You name it, and it's available in Quito. Restaurants range from the basic places offering chicken and rice for $1.50 to international food with very expensive prices. The country benefits from all worlds, with a variety of dishes inspired by both coastal and Andean produce. Seafood and fish is fresh and delicious, while meats, particularly pork, are excellent. These combine with typical ingredients such as potatoes, plantains and all sorts of tropical and Andean fruits.

A good area to head to for eating out is the Plaza El Quinde (or Foch) which is in the Mariscal district at Foch y Reina Victoria. There are dozens of restaurants and eateries all around this area. La Floresta, up the hill from the Mariscal around 12 de Octubre, also has many fine restaurants. The La Floresta traffic circle turns into an evening market after 5 pm and the most popular dish served is tripa mishqui (grilled beef or pork intestines).

Churrasco is a a great Ecuadorian version of a Brazilian dish. Tallarin is a popular noodle dish mixed with chicken or beef. Chinese restaurants are known as "Chifas" and are very abundant. Chaulafan is the local term for fried-rice, a very popular dish. Cebiche (also spelled ceviche) is a very popular dish in which clams or shrimp are marinated in a broth. Worth trying, but look for a well known restaurant with many locals to be sure you are getting fresh seafood.

When buying from lower-priced restaurants or shops, if you only have bills larger than a $5, it's a good idea to get them changed at a bank first.


Drink

There are several Ecuadorian brands of beer, but the most prevalent throughout the country is Pilsener. There are also some alcoholic drinks which can only be found in Quito like Mistelas, etc.

The night sky of northen Quito is incredible and the food is great.


Dance Clubs

La Mariscal offers tons of places for dancing or just drinks.

Outside of La Mariscal are other clubs that are more famous among locals.

Guapulo

Check out the Guapulo area of Quito, its a winding steep area with several great bars and cafés with a real bohemian feel.

Sleep

There are dozens of hostels and hotels in town to accommodate all the visitors. Most people stay in the new town, which is closer to the nightlife.

New Town

Budget

Mid-Range


Splurge

Between the Old and New Town

Budget

Old Town

Closer to the bus station, Old Town is a good base for sightseers.

Budget

Mid-Range

Splurge

Stay safe

General Tips

Quito's reputation as an unsafe city is becoming more apparent and as in every big city tourists should take special care in certain areas.

Do not travel up El Panecillo on foot; use a taxi even during the day. Not only is the neighborhood bad, but the road leading up the hill has very narrow sidewalks, and sometimes no sidewalks at all. This presents a risk of being, at best, overwhelmed with diesel fumes as busses chub by, at worst, getting run over.

As the Old City becomes quite dead after dark, it is best to avoid walking around alone. However, much of the central squares of the Old Town are patrolled by police and well-lit, so it's fine for a stroll in a group at night. During the day it is perfectly fine, bustling with locals, shopkeepers, hawkers and tourists, and well patrolled by police, especially at the main tourist attractions. Nevertheless, pickpocketing and pursesnatching can be a problem, so take normal precautions. The plaza and doors of the San Francisco church, and the main trolley station near Plaza Domingo are particularly notorious areas for this. Pickpocketing is done by highly skilled groups of 3 or 4 people. You are best off not bringing a wallet at all--just some bills split between various pockets. Also, watch out for the busses and trollies while in old town! On many streets, sidewalks can be very narrow, so it's best to pay attention at all times so you can flatten against the wall and cover your face (diesel fumes!) if you need to let one pass, especially when the sidewalk is crowded.

Mariscal Sucre, and all parks among other areas can be unsafe at night so taxis are advised for even short distances. Keep your belongings as close and as secure as possible, and if you feel in danger, duck into a bar or shop, and then hail a taxi. Beware of credit card fraud, which is an increasingly serious problem in Quito as tourists are being targeted in the Mariscal area.

The area near Hospital Militar is quite dangerous, even in the late morning. The road "Solano" where Casa Bambu Hostel is situated is especially dangerous. Armed robberies have become more common. Men have been known to jump out of cars to target and physically threaten foreigners in order to steal their belongings. Although its views are amazing, exercise caution when walking to and from your accommodation. Taxis travel up and down this road frequently so if you can spare $1.50 to get into Mariscal Sucre, do so. Parks nearby are also dangerous. Perhaps walk around the parks instead of going through them.

The main bus station is an area known to target travelers (foreigners or locals alike). You need to watch your bags closely, before departure, during departure, even once on the bus. It is best not even to put your luggage in the overhead shelving or under your own seat, as you can be easily distracted and have all your key possessions stolen before realizing it. Unfortunately you need to watch your bags on top of, or under the bus, at every stop until you arrive at your destination. There are two important sorts of scams that you may encounter on buses:

(1) One common one scam involves a thief impersonating bus staff (this can be easy because those of many companies don't have uniforms) who will direct you to a seat and finding some excuse to ask you to put your bag in the overhead compartment or directly under your own seat where you can't see it; an accomplice seated directly behind you will then slash open your bag and steal the belongings. Having the bag between your legs is not safe either as children are commonly used to climb down under the seat (from behind you), slash the bag, and remove belongings without you ever feeling a thing. Always have your bag on your lap.

(2) Another scam will often have an accomplice who will provide a distraction such as pretending to sell sweets before spilling them all over you, giving their friend the chance to steal your belongings. This can't be emphasised enough: don't let your belongings out of sight. If something suspicious is happening like this on a bus, just refuse to co-operate and hold your belongings close to you. Robberies of this kind are common, particularly on buses leaving Quito. It's worth considering paying $3 or $4 more for a trip on a more high end bus as these often have additional security measures, which can prevent robberies of tourists and locals alike. On city buses, it's best not bring a backpack. If you absolutely have to bring one, wear it on your chest, not your back.

Finally, several neighborhoods located to the very north and south of the city are infamous among locals for having gang/delinquent trouble. "La Bota" to the north is specially notorious as it even locals try to avoid passing through it as much as possible.

Assaults of Hikers and Trekkers

Do not assume you're safe when hiking or climbing in Ecuador. Unfortunately, there have been a number of rapes and robberies of individuals and couples who have gone on treks, including well known hikes such as the Pichincha volcano (there have been quite many assaults reported above the teleferico for Rucu Pichincha). If you plan to hike your best bet is to go in a LARGE group. Individual travelers might organize a group themselves through their hostel or the South American Explorers Club, or go on a trek organized through a reputable travel agency or trekking company. Ask around before to determine a company's reputation.

Blend in and avoid con artists

Wearing "gringo" clothes (i.e. fishing vests, travelers pants, bright colored t-shirts, dirty sandals) will make you a target. Ecuadorians in Quito generally dress conservatively; a pair of nice black pants or dark jeans and a non-descript white/off-white t-shirt will make you look a business person who knows his way around and not just another tourist posing as a Haight-Ashbury hippie.

Travelers in Quito are likely to be approached at some point or another by con artists or persons with "sob stories". Ignore such persons and be wary of anyone asking for money under any pretext, including children begging. If you're feeling charitable, Ecuador has lots of legitimate charities you can support.

Illicit Drugs

Avoid associating at all with the drug trade in Ecuador. Ecuador has strict laws against possesion, transportation and use of illegal drugs and foreigners caught transporting drugs at the airports have been sentenced to long prison terms. Unfortunately, any foreigner with a "alternative" or "hippie" appearance (such as men with long hair) may be assumed by some Ecuadorians to be looking for drugs. If you are approached about drugs in any context it safe to assume the person approaching you is up to no good.

One exception is use of ethnogens by indigenous people. Interest in ayahuasca is prompting increasing numbers of Americans and Europeans to travel to south america in order to partake in traditional ceremonies, and Ecuador is one such place. It is advisable to plan such a trip with a reliable guide before you travel there.

Local Laws and the Ecuadorian National Police

All Ecuadorian citizens and visitors are required to carry ID at all times. If your stay in Ecuador is for a few months or longer, sooner or later you will encounter a roadside police check and be requested to show ID. You can show your passport; however, carrying your passport around all the time is not advised due to the risk of loss of theft. A better option is to have a copy of your passport certified by your embassy and carry that. Students and long term residents will be issued an Ecuadorian "censo" card that can also be carried in place of a passport for ID purposes.

If you are the victim of a crime it is suggested you report it to the Ecuadorian National Police (by law, you must report within 72 hours of the incident), as well as to your home country embassy and to the South American Explorers Club.

In 2009, two Visitor Safety Service offices were opened or revamped. They can help with filling out forms, embassies and passports, etc. They have two vehicles for further assistance. Staff speak English and some other languages. These are:

Corner of Roca y Reina Victoria, Edif. Relaciones Exteriores (Pasaportes) Opening Times: 24 hours, 7 days a week. Tel: (+593 2) 254-3983 ssturistica98@yahoo.com

Historic Centre Plaza Grande (north side of the square on calle Chile, between Venezuela and García Moreno), Edif. Casa de los Alcaldes. Opening Times: 24 hours, 7 days a week. Tel: (+593 2) 295-5785

Contact

A good place to start is the Quito Visitors' Bureau [26]. It has several information centres around the city. These include at the International and Domestic Arrivals terminals at the airport; the Parque Gabriela Mistral in the Mariscal District (just north of Plaza Foch); the Banco Central Museum in the Masiscal District; and finally, in the Old Town, on the ground floor of the Palacio Municipal on one side of Plaza Grande - their main centre.

The main centre includes helpful English-speaking staff, lockers for leaving bags, maps, leaflets and books for sale, a store of Ecuadorian crafts. This centre also offers free guided tours of the Old Town, where visitors only pay the admission fees to sights. The contacts for the main office are: (+593 2) 2570 - 786 / 2586 - 591, info@quito-turismo.com [27]

The main iTur (national tourist information offices, [28]) is located in northern Quito, close to La Carolina park and El Jardin malls, to one side of the Ministry of Tourism, Av. Eloy Alfaro y Carlos Tobar.

Get out

Quito is surrounded by a variety of places that could interest all kinds of tourists. A couple of hours on a bus ride is all it takes to reach them:

To the North, all tourists should visit the province of Imbabura, which has beautiful lakes such as Yaguarcocha and San Pablo. Hikers and mountain climbers can also ask for adventures in Cayambe National Park, home of the 3rd largest volcano in Ecuador. It's inactive. For tourists who want to shop a bit, they should take notice of the town of Otavalo, it's indian market is famous worldwide for the quality and variety of products on sale. Don't forget to haggle for your preferred price!

To the North West of Quito lies the region of Mindo, a subtropical rainforest paradise, full of rivers, majestic waterfalls, unique wildlife and more. The region is home to a variety of animal wildlife sanctuaries, and is famous locally and internationally because of its beauty. At a slightly higher altitude to Mindo is the Cloudforest. The variety of plants, birds and butterflies is wonderful. The guides carry good qulaity binoculars to help you spot some of the many varieties of birds. After each guided walk you can return to the lodge for meals. Near the main buildings there are many humminbird feeders which attract many of the energetic and luminous birds. Accommodation is simple but very clean and pleasant with balconies from which you get beautiful views into the forest. You can visit the butterfly and humming bird farm too for about 3 USD. The staff will show you around and explain to you in Spanish the life cycle of the butterflies (very worthwhile!) Landslides are known to occur on the roads to and from Mindo. Traffic can be held up for hours if this occurs. Trout (trucha in Spanish) is a specialty of Mindo and a dish of this should cost around 6 USD. To get to Mindo from Quito, catch a taxi to Ofelia bus station (5-6 USD) and at the North bus terminal buy a ticket to Mindo for 2.50 USD. The frequency of these buses differs between weekdays and weekends and travel guide times may be out of date. The earliest bus on a weekday is at 8am (13th April 2010). The bus trip is around 2 hours in length.

To the east, lies Papallacta which is a thermal water resort town. If you're into spas and relaxation, dipping into one of the natural hotwater pools for a couple of hours is a no brainer. The trucha (trout) dishes that are served here are also exquisite (~ $5.00). Take a taxi to Cumbaya bus station (from Mariscal Sucre it should cost about ~8 USD) and from there you can catch a bus ($2.50) to Papallacta. Just ask the buses that stop if they are going there. The bus will drop you in the centre of the town. You can get on the back of a Ute by hailing it (with wooden seats) for about 50 c per person to get to the hot springs. Entry into the hot springs is about $7.00. Be careful with your belongings here. You can hire lockers (50 c per locker plus a $5 deposit) but staff advise that you leave your expensive valuables behind the counter. The choice is up to you.

By Train - There are trains to Latacunga from Thursdays to Sundays leaving at 8am. The train makes a stop for breakfast and at Cotopaxi National Park. It arrives in Latacunga at 12am and heads back to Quito at 2pm, arriving there at 6pm. The price is 10$ for the return trip. You can use it as an excursion from Quito or get off at Latacunga and travel on from there by bus.

WikiPedia:Quito

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A list of contributors is available at the original article on Wikitravel. Additional modifications may have been made by users at TRAVEL.COM [29].

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