3 DAYS* in QUITO
If Ecuador had to create an online dating profile, it’d probably read something like the following:
Small, yet mighty and full of surprises. Outdoorsy, adventurous and mostly peaceful, but can occasionally erupt. Centered nicely around the equator with well-balanced north and south chakras. Spirituality is of utmost importance. As are music, art and literature.
Day 1* in Quito
Like many cities in Latin America, Quito was erected on top of Inca ruins after the Spanish wreaked havoc. Today, its Old Town is one of the best-preserved historic centers on the continent and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Any guidebook will list the sights you shouldn’t miss, but what truly stuck with us were the cozy side streets, lined with local vendors. We snacked our way through fried plantains (sweet and slightly charred), sausages and grilled nuts then washed it all down with a deliciously fresh batido de mango from Los Jugos de la Sucre.
Another mandatory stop should be Mercado San Francisco, Quito’s oldest market that recently received a facelift. It boasts a ridiculous amount of local treats and a healer named Rosa, who can allegedly cure any ills with her indigenous remedies.
You can explore the most scrumptious dishes for dinner especially the traditional soups, a staple of the Ecuadorian cuisine. The Secret Garden roof terrace is ideal for a short pit stop for a fizzy beer. The spectacular view of Quito during magic hour will be etched in your mind forever.
At the Calle La Ronda, a historical walk street seeping with colonial charm we stocked up on alpaca ponchos and a Panama hat, which is actually of Ecuadorian not Panamanian origin.
Nicely lubricated, shake your hips to fiery salsa beats at Seseribo. Their large dance floor gives ample room to showcase your tipsy moves. For better or worse.
Day 2* in Quito
Adapt your 3 Days* itinerary according to the weather, as you’ll want a clear day to soak up the beauty of Cotopaxi (19,347 ft). The world’s highest, most active volcano is nestled along the Avenue of the Volcanoes and only 90 minutes south of Quito on the Pan American Highway. Cotopaxi is the star of the show amongst seven, 17,000 feet cones.
Beautifully positioned in the windswept highlands, its nearly perfect symmetry and picturesque snowy cap makes it a real showstopper. Or at least so we're told (the damn fog was ridiculously stubborn during our visit). It's also helpful to know that the National Park may restrict access due to volcanic activity, so be sure to check the ever-changing status before hitting the road.
Sadly the popular ascent to 15,750 ft was temporarily restricted and with that, the downhill mountain bike tour was nulled as well. Not to worry, mulling around the Limpiopungo Lagoon, biking along the base of the volcano and chasing wild horses in the mist still made for a perfect day.
We opted to rent a cab for the day instead of joining a tour, but word on the street says Gulliver’s Expeditions treats you well for the dollars you spend. (On that note… Ecuador’s currency is the US Dollar) Bring cash for the park’s $10 fee and stock up on coca leaves at the souvenir shop if high altitude bothers you.
Back in Quito the energy level was barely sufficient for a Peruvian inspired tasting menu at the upscale Zazu. But we're glad we motored, as the snow crab ceviche and octopus parrilla were simply sublime.
Day 3* in Quito
For this ambitious day tour you might want to invest in a private ride (pre-negotiate a deal with a taxi driver for ~$140/day) as you tackle the Quilotoa Loop, starting clockwise from Latacunga. Make sure you leave early, because there's so much to see.
The route passes through remote Quechua communities high in the Andes, rattling your soul with breathtaking Instagram moments and allowing a glimpse into the rural life of the rugged Ecuadorian highlands. If you aren’t on a tight schedule, permit time to hike the loop for fuller immersion. You will not regret this.
A powerful contrast to the muted browns of the plateau are the vibrant colors of the locals’ garments. Men keep warm under their ponchos while women still dress in traditional attire with bowler style hats.
You can indulge your way through villages like Zumbahua as its Saturday market is truly sight to behold. Alternatively, Pujilí has wonderful markets on Wednesdays/Sundays and Saquisilí on Thursdays.
For best results, avoid eating more than three sugared empanadas de viento. Just trust us on this one! With a little luck you’ll come across some Chagras (cowboys) herding the cattle across golden pastures.
Which brings to mind… The Black Sheep Inn organizes horseback riding tours that’ll burn themselves into your mental hard-drive as well as your butt cheeks.
The icing on this Andean cake is the jaw-dropping Laguna Quilotoa, a turquoise crater lake that pops up unexpectedly behind the crater rim. The trek to the water edge and back shouldn’t take more than 1.5 hrs and the memories will last a lifetime.
Back in Quito, we quickly cleaned our dirty bits before treating ourselves to a posh dinner at the luxurious Casa Gangotena. The restaurant serves traditional dishes prepared with a contemporary touch. Chef Andrés Davila whips up a red snapper ceviche and chupli-crusted tuna that’ll spoil your taste buds for years to come. A Cedron Spritz (rum, sparkling wine and lemon) at the hotel bar and then it was off to dreamland.
After 3 Days* in Ecuador we're going to guess she's either a Virgo or a Leo. You really should right-swipe her, she’s worth it!
- Cronicas (2004) with John Leguizamo
- Mission Blue(documentary, 2014)
- Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation: Ecuador