Traveling with my husband and 13 year old son we arrived in the early morning hours at our Ecuadorian hotel, not too far from the Quito Airport, in the small town or “pueblo” of Puembo.
At first concerned the hotel did not understand our flight details (when I previously spoke to them in Spanish), we were relieved to see the hotel driver waiting for us, with a sign, and a smile, when we got out of Customs.
We’re staying at a typical Ecuadorian style of hotel for the first two nights… It’s called “Hotel San Jose de Puembo”. It’s a bit of a hacienda style hotel or “estancia” with beautiful flowers, gardens, architectural details, and even a small farm of animals.
There are many activities at this hotel including: horseback riding, swimming, and bike riding. We didn’t utilize all of the possibilities unfortunately because we were a bit jet lagged and my son was suffering from a bad case of altitude sickness, which meant he spent most of the first day sleeping or not feeling so great.
To combat his high altitude sickness I remembered a native remedy, coca tea (or also called mate de coca tea). This helped my son a lot and he continued to request it and drink it during our stay in Quito. The altitude in Quito is 2850m or about 9200 feet… It’s slightly less in Puembo at approximately 8800 feet.
Staying in Puembo the first couple of nights turned out to be a good decision for us because of the free airport shuttle that picked us up in the middle of the night, and the good rate, about $80 with breakfast. And since my son was recuperating it was also a good place to rest and walk around. The grounds were beautiful, and lush; with its beautiful flowers, fountains, pathways, doorways, architectural details, colonial style country buildings, singing birds (including a morning dove nesting on its two eggs (perched right outside our room), and also many unique decorative style tiles and black iron window designs. There were also many other interesting design details. It also felt relaxing just to walk around and appreciate the beauty of the surroundings while we got acclimated to the new climate, language, and culture.
This hotel appealed to me because I’m drawn to nature, gardens, flowers, wildlife, architectural details, history, and beautiful old buildings. I also like to take a lot of flower, nature, water, and architectural style types of photos. Listening to the music playing throughout the property also put me in the South American frame of mind, as it was quite authentic, and had a beautiful Latin flavor.
We didn’t meet other Americans, but some Europeans, English, French, and Dutch, also many Ecuadorian and other South Americans. The hotel itself was pretty simple, but nice. Nothing super luxurious but fine for what we needed. The staff was a little formal but friendly. I speak Spanish, not 100% fluent, maybe about 60% fluent, so I did most of the communicating with the staff etc., although most did speak English too.
The food was also pretty good, with some fresh and local Ecuadorian dishes. Throughout our time in Ecuador we noticed many fresh food options, especially great seafood and fruit. There are also options for all types of specialized diets.
After a couple of days in Puembo we were off to the city center of Quito, about an hour away. At a somewhat higher altitude we were happy to have already adjusted a bit to the higher altitude.
One note regarding taxis is that most people still don’t use seat belts there. A couple of times I almost had to pull us out of a taxi, until some taxi drivers literally pulled the back seat cushion out, to show the seat belts underneath. Luckily, it all worked out. I had to explain that as a “Madre” or Mother I couldn’t let us ride in their taxi without the proper seat belts.
Once in the city of Quito it was a lot more bustling and certainly more crowded, although still quite manageable. We stayed at the Hilton Colon Hotel in the Mariscal district, because I got a pretty good rate there too. The Mariscal district is their downtown area, and also near some hip bars and restaurants. It’s also near the artisanal “Mercado” or market, where you can get some beautiful craft items for a good price… where you should negotiate… which I did.
Driving or walking around the old historical district you notice the beautiful old colonial style buildings, and cobblestoned streets. It’s also a beautiful and popular place to stay, although the really nice places tend to be a lot more expensive.
The good news is that the taxis in Quito are pretty inexpensive, normally between
$3 - $5 for most taxi fares. In Ecuador the currency is also the US dollar. You can also rent a taxi for the afternoon for about $70.
The city of Quito is also known as “The City in the Sky” or “Quito en el Cielo” because it is so high up in the mountains. It’s also known for its old colonial architecture, old city streets, beautiful churches, music, and native crafts.
Our first night we went up to the old historical part of town. It was a beautiful and clear night. Many tourist attractions were closed at that point, but some of the churches were open, having Mass, so we were able to enter and look at the insides of the churches, many with ornate decorations and beautiful paintings and sculptures. I came upon some beautiful and simple scenes, whether they were religious sculptures, paintings, or children singing. We walked in on a few surprise Christmas music concerts during our stay. Some “Quitaños” mentioned that Christmas is celebrated the whole month of December, with special lights, fireworks, music concerts, and more.
In Quito there are many beautiful buildings, monuments, and sculptures that line the city streets, especially surrounding Plaza Grande or Plaza de la Independencia. There are also many important museums and churches in this area.
We also ended up looking for and finding another significant neighborhood in Quito, called La Ronda. I heard about this place from my seatmate on the plane flying to Quito. She told me it was a great place to go in the evening. La Ronda, it turns out, is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Quito, with very narrow cobblestone streets, and typical restaurants, and small shops. We weren’t sure where to go at first, as we passed what seemed like a large procession of policemen, but somehow stumbled upon an old restaurant, near a little shop that I went into. The main dining room, it turned out, was full, but they said they would set something up for us near the balcony. At first we thought we would be the only ones eating in that area, but then within 10 minutes, another 20 people or so filled the space with us.
Then moments later, much to our surprise, we heard loud music, and people cheering and descending down the street, in a procession, and seemingly sharing some type of important celebration. They were singing as some played traditional Ecuadorian musical instruments. Then they all stopped right in front of our restaurant, including the large policemen group that we saw before, as well as locals, a priest, and many others. It turns out there was a rare blessing or some type of benediction for the neighborhood of La Ronda and it happened right in front of our restaurant. I immediately got up and watched from the balcony. Because we were on the balcony we almost felt like we were part of it. I was able to watch up close, not only the processions of people below, but also the others that were watching from their flower filled balconies, including the old wrinkled man who stumbled out of his apartment to see what was happening. It felt like something special to witness this special event.
All the people we met in Quito were very friendly to us, often trying to help us find our way if we were lost. It’s possible we may have stuck out a bit, being a bit on the tall side, and with blond, auburn, or lighter brown hair. Because my son is pretty tall for his age, some mistook him for an older teenager, and would give him “boite” or dance club suggestions, or offer him alcohol. Sometimes I had to intervene.
Many people would also greet us throughout the day, no matter if they knew us or not, with a “Bueños Dias” or an “Hola”. Schoolchildren were also quite curious about us and would often smile and light up at us if we spoke with them. Many would talk to me, and ask us about what we were doing, where we were going, and why we were visiting etc.
It was great to talk with the locals, hear their stories, and practice my Spanish too.
There are also other tourist attractions near Quito, including a huge artisanal market in “Otavalo” (which I visited on my first trip to Ecuador), and the cute town of Mindo (known for its beautiful birds and architecture). Both places are around two hours from Quito. Another beautiful attraction is the volcano and national park, “Parque Nacional Cotopaxi”, with its national park and many hiking trails.
And of course there is the official line of the Equator, “La Mitad del Mundo”.
We also spent one afternoon going up the “TeleferiQo”, a ski type tram that goes up the nearby mountain of “Volcan Pichincha” for a great view of Quito. Although it’s important to note the altitude is even higher up there at 13,125 feet, with much thinner air, so it is recommended to wait a couple of days before attempting this. We went up in the “TeleferiQo” on our third day in Quito.
The view was amazing of the mountains and city… even with the emerging clouds. There are also trails and a small chapel to see. Although it is a little harder to breathe up there, so it’s important to take it a little easy.
Overall we really enjoyed our time in Quito, getting to know the people, seeing the sites, including the old colonial architecture, beautiful churches and monuments, and coming across the surprise musical concerts, events, and lights.
Quito is a bit of a surprise… a good one we found.