More often than not, travel has a lot to do with luck. The way our airline miles flight and a separate flight to the Galapagos worked out, spending a day in Quito Ecuador would save us a bunch of money and miles. Also as luck would have it, that day was Fat Tuesday. There will be more on the Ecuadorians crazy way to celebrate that later.
After a bit of research we picked three things that may have been of interest to us in Quito. The Historic Center of town which is supposed to be one of the best in South America, the El Panecillo Statue and the cable car that supposedly had great views of the city. We only had one day and because of that had to nix the cable car ride.
In the morning, we got up had breakfast and asked for a cab to the Historic Center. We got dropped off at the bottom of El Panecillo hill. In retrospect we should have got dropped off at the base of the statue, which at the time we didn’t know was an option. It was a long 700 step climb to the top of the hill especially when Quito itself is 9250 feet above sea level. The air was very thin.
The 130 some foot high “El Panecillo” statue of the Virgin Mary stomping a serpent was quite a site and for a few dollars you could climb up the base and get an even better look of the city. In the distance we could see our finish line for the day the Basílica del Voto Nacional.
So I mentioned that it was Fat Tuesday. In Quito and all over Ecuador they celebrate Carnival by dousing each other with water and spraying foam on anybody near by. They actually sell carnival spray foam cans all over town. We saw people on the back of pickup trucks with Super Soakers having people throw pots of water on them. It was a battle for the ages and a lot of fun to watch. We had been sprayed by foam and Super Soakers all day, but people were nice enough that if you weren’t spraying back they wouldn’t completely douse you. .We chalked it up to another cultural event we were lucky to experience.
After the long trek back down the hill, way easier than the climb up, we entered the Historic District of Quito. All around was amazing architecture, restaurants, pubs, open air markets. We even got some honey fresh from a live bee hive.
I must mention that we are pretty much clueless travelers. We didn’t even know what Quito was until we started planning a Galapagos trip. That being said we saw people in line to view stuff and just jumped in line. The first line we got in was to visit the Church of La Compañia de Jesus. I must say, I have stopped in many churches all throughout Europe hearing about how one is better than the other. This Church of La Compañia de Jesus is one of the most amazing artisan crafted churches I have ever seen. The 160 years of wood working intricacies and gold leaf trim that adorned every inch of the inside of the church was incredible.
We wondered the rest of the way through the historic district occasionally stopping for a wine, beer and food all the while getting surprise foamed or squirted. We love their brick oven pizza in Ecuador almost as much as they do!
Finally we had made it to Basílica del Voto Nacional, the “must see” according to everyone we had talked to. Supposedly it’s a replica of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris with one exception. The gargoyles that adorn the outside are 1/3 Notre-Dame gargoyle replicas, 1/3 animals native to Ecuador and 1/3 native animals of the Galapagos.
The thing that made the Basílica del Voto Nacional more unique than any other I had been in was the access to everything. We felt like we were insiders, custodians or maybe even part of the clergy. There is scaffolding with 2 x 12 boards that crosses long ways above the top arches you see in the picture above that lets you view basically how the arches were formed. Across the scaffolding, which by the way has a railing, there is a small ladder that leads to an open outside deck. From there even another very narrow very steep set of steps that takes you up to the top of the spire.
At the top of the spire waiting for us was another incredible 360 degree view of the city and framed between the clock towers the starting line of the day the El Panecillo Statue.
This is how we did it.
- Used airline miles from USA to Quito Ecuador
- Booked a hotel online, there are hundreds of well-known hotels and others lesser knowns
- Taxi from airport to hotel
- Taxi to Historic District. (We recommend getting dropped off at the El Panecillo Statue instead)
- Taxi from Basílica del Voto Nacional (there’s a taxi stand right out front) to hotel
- Taxi from Hotel to airport.