Quito is the capital of Ecuador and as of the last count, has about 2 1/2 million residents. The country of Ecuador is about 18 million in all. It is actually the second largest city, coming in second to Guayaquil, a resort town on the Pacific coast, which has 3 million residents.
It also reportedly has the second highest altitude of any capital city in the world, coming in second to Lima, Peru, a city also nestled in the clouds of the Andes Mountains. Flying in to the airport, you get the most spectacular views of the mountains and the surprising geographical sprawling size of the city itself.
There are two distinct districts that everyone talks about visiting in Quito: the Centro Historico and the Mariscal Sucre district. One is as it sounds, “Old Town” is the other common name for the part of the city that was built by Spanish colonists in the 1500’s. Mariscal Sucre is the modern, hip area with all the nightlife and the most tourist-centric part of Quito.
We chose to stay in a hotel in Old Town, because the architecture is wonderful, we’d be within walking distance of the Plaza Grande (Plaza de la Independencia), and was generally reported to be one of the safer areas in the city.
Just a side note, the US State Dept. as well as other countries’ government traveler information sites warn travelers to Quito about tourist-targeted crime, ranging from simple pick pocketing and strong arm robbery (no weapon) to actual assault and even, rarely, murder. So, safety was a concern of ours.
Specifically, it is strongly recommended that you just take taxis everywhere, but get your hotel to call them for you so you make sure you get into a “real” taxi. (There’s been a rise in crime involving fake taxis painted up to look authentic.) We did just that and walked within the safe areas pre-determined by my research and confirmed by our hotel concierge and we had no incidents whatsoever. Well, a very few taxi drivers tried to grossly overcharge us on our return trips, but that seems on par for any country. Overall, most taxi drivers were very nice and even spoke enough English to get you where you needed to go.
The city is crowded, and the stories about the crazy driving are true – I had to look at my shoes most of the time to keep from clutching wildly at parts of the cab or gasping in terror once the driver really got going. I heard it is even worse on rural roads outside of the cities, where it is not uncommon for people to miss a curve and plummet down the side of a mountain. We didn’t need to have that confirmed through personal experience, thank you very much.
Mariscal Sucre is a nice, totally touristy place we went to one day in search of vegetarian restaurants (Again, research had led us to several in the area we were hoping for tofu, maybe.)
We wandered around, talked to a British ex-pat who owns a book store, cleverly named “The English Bookstore” (HA!) and found “Uncle Ho’s Vietnamese Restaurant and Bar”, which had actual tofu listed on the menu!!! Sadly, when we walked in for lunch, mouths already watering, “Uncle Ho”, also known as Stuart, from Scotland, informed us that the actual Vietnamese menu was only available for dinner and there was nothing with tofu on the lunch menu. Sorry, not sorry.
The laugh was on him because we ended up at one of the other restaurants on our list, El Maple, which was 100% vegetarian and wonderful!!!