Posted by: Gideon | February 10, 2012

Ecuador with Kids: Discovering Quito.

Crazy animal sculptures in a colonial monastery - old Quito

While the Galapagos was the main reason for our trip to Ecuador, we decided  to spend a few days exploring part of the mainland. Often, the Ecuadorian mainland is missed by many visitors making a beeline for the Galapagos, yet it is an amazing country – compact, but full of different habitats and climate zones – in the same day you can travel from tropical beaches to cloud forests to alpine peaks to the Amazon jungle – it’s hard to believe!

Quito is the second highest city in the world at close to 3000 meters – while we did feel a bit breathless on our first day, the altitude didn’t bother us too much, though Gal struggled to sleep the first night.

Quito has a long history – founded by indigenous peoples, it was incorporated into the Inca empire, only to be conquered by the Spanish during the conquests of the 1500’s. The city, high as it is, is surrounded by even higher mountains and volcanoes, and despite being almost on the equator, the temperature isn’t warm – the altitude ensures that it’s always pretty cool or “spring like” but it is a comfortable temperature for touring.

The core is the small old colonial city – a city of cobblestones and squares, with museums and churches dotted around. It is a particularly photogenic area. Modern Quito envelopes the old city and stretches far to the North and the South. The modern city is not very attractive although the setting is quite spectacular.

On our first day we took it easy. We were staying near the Mariscal neighborhood, a section of modern Quito that has longed been ground zero for foreigners – it’s filled with hotels, restaurants and pubs and is a good place to base yourself. The only proviso was that we were warned about walking around at night. So while it felt safe, apparently it wasn’t all that safe at night. The center of the Mariscal is a large square and it’s a fun place to hang out – we were there during a major soccer match and the square was thronged with supporters waving flags, and police were in evidence everywhere which made it feel completely safe.

On our first full day we walked the old city with our guide. Like so many Latin American cities, Quito has a huge statue of the Virgin Mary on a hill overlooking the city,, and after enjoying the view we were soon wandering through the old streets. It is a very atmospheric place – with incredibly ornate colonial churches, and lots going on everywhere.  It was the Xmas holidays and kids were everywhere, and the city was in a very festive mood. We visited the excellent City Museum, where we saw highly original displays by local artists, and we climbed up to the bell towers of the Cathedral – not for vertigo sufferers!

Old Quito

We visited one of the main produce markets – we were told that Ecuador produces all its own food, and the varieties of fruit and vegetable at the market was astounding. We didn’t even recognise many of the fruits on display and Gal found it fascinating.

Later, we visited the Guaysamin Museum – Oswaldo Guaysamin was an Ecuadorean painter who made it his life’s career to portray the suffering that the native people of South America suffered at the hands of foreigners. It is a harrowing place – and we found, a bit belatedly, not really for kids at all. The nearby Chapel of Humankind, which was his project to universal peace, is a wonderful building and definitely worth visiting.

Our first day in Quito was really busy – and really fascinating. For dinner we went to an authentic Ecuadorian restaurant and ate some interesting dishes, including the local soup with chunks of cheese and avocado. Guinea pig is a national delicacy, but we just could not bring ourselves to order it!

Was this really Santa?

Fruit stand - some familiar, some VERY unfamiliar!

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