When we woke up in our first morning in Quito there was this amazing light in the sky that immediately reminded us of Lisbon. We might have been a bit homesick that day 🙂 We could not stop snapping pictures! The vivid contrast between the blue sky, punctuated with some very white clouds and the colors of the city was captivating.
Quito is a very welcoming city and it was easy for us to feel at home. It felt pretty safe, but as usual in big cities, always keep an eye open for pickpockets. From the top of it’s 2.850m, it’s the highest capital in the world, which also allows for great views, as we could testify from the top of ‘El Panecillo’.
Quito’s history goes back in time, to 870 AD, when the Caras tribe conquered the Quitu tribe located there, and created the Kingdom of Quito. During the 15th century, the Caras were defeated by the Inca’s and became a part of their vast empire, until 1543, when they were in turn conquered by the Spanish. This lasted until May 24th 1810, when Mariscal Antonio Jose de Sucre, under the command of Simon de Bolivar, led Quito to independence. This was a mark in Ecuador’s history and you’ll find frequent references to Mariscal de Sucre all over the city.
Quito is a UNESCO world cultural heritage site and has the largest and best preserved historical centre of all South America. And indeed you will find here all the traces of colonial architecture, with the nice terraces, the small houses with flowered balconies, the plazas (Quito has three main plazas: ‘Plaza Grande’ or ‘Plaza de la Independencia’, ‘Plaza de Santo Domingo’ and ‘Plaza San Francisco’) and numerous churches. Religion does play a very important role: when we arrived the city was getting prepared for the Pope’s visit in five days time. Everyone would tell you about it and it was palpable the importance and significance of this visit.
This mixture of Spanish and Incan/pre-Incan legacy gives the city an exotic flavor, but this coexistence is not always peaceful, as demonstrated by the controversy around the 45 meter tall aluminum statue of the “Woman of the Apocalypse” (or according to the locals, a representation of the ‘Virgen de Quito’). This impressive (but not necessarily elegant…) statue was built on top of ‘El Panecillo’, a 200 meter hill on the South of Quito, a place were ancient pagan rituals used to take place. Religion controversies apart, what is truly amazing in ‘El Panecillo’ is the view over the city! It totally deserves a visit by car or, better yet, by climbing up the steep staircase.
After strolling for some time through the streets and monuments of downtown Quito, we were longing for some contact with nature, and headed to ‘Jardin Botanico de Quito’, a very calm and relaxing spot, in the middle of ‘Parque la Carolina’. There you can find a beautiful rose garden and an impressive cactus and succulents’ collection, but what impressed us most was the incredible orchids greenhouses, in such a variety of forms and colors. Oh… and the carnivorous plants as well! Verne totally felt at disadvantage there 🙂
This was a great leeway for our next stop: the most anticipated visit to the Galápagos Islands! I’ve been dreaming about this since the first time I studied Darwin’s Theory…