Quito: The Second-Highest City in the World

Quito, Ecuador sits at 2,850 metres above sea level; a city of over two million people spread out as far as the eye can see over a valley ringed by mountains. Quito was knocked off first-place “high city” status by La Paz Bolivia, which sits almost 1000 metres higher.

We were warned about altitude sickness and had planned to take it a bit easy the first couple of days, but so far we have only experienced mild headaches and occasional shortness of breath.

When researching neighbourhoods, we decided on la Floresta, just 25 minutes form the Centro Historico and known for its “bohemian vibe“. What that means is that the artists who elevated this area with their many studios and street art will hopefully not price themselves out of the market.

Leafy hilly streets, an interesting mix of old mansions and older apartment buildings really add to the relaxing residential feel.

We lucked out with our Airbnb – probably one of the nicer ones we’ve ever rented. We have 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen and a back balcony where we can watch the giant hummingbirds dart from the feeder.

This is our view:

There is so much to tell you about Quito and surrounding area, so I am breaking this into two blog posts. I’ll begin with showing you a bit of our neighbourhood.

While La Floresta is known for its street art, we wandered the streets for hours and found lots of other things to admire. Here are a few examples of local art.

Some of the art is political. This message: “The self-determination of our bodies is the first step toward the freedom of our class” is meant to be specific to the struggles of Latin American women, but is also universal.

Ocho y Medio (named after Fellini’s movie 81/2), is just down the street from us. It was founded in 2001 by a group of producers, directors and artists who wanted to create a theatre space for independent films and live theatre and music. It houses two small theatres, as well as a cafe and is a buzzy hangout that I desperately wish was down the street from us in Nanaimo.

We paid just $3.50 admission (after a delicate inquiry from the sweet young girl about our senior status) and watched Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, which was wildly disorienting, not only for the bizarre (to us) content, but for the fact that the movie, shot in English and Mandarin, was entirely subtitled in Spanish, so we lost a bit in translation. We’ll be back to watch Tar in a couple of days.

La Floresta is filled with beautiful old mansions. This one was shot through their high iron gate.

This is another example of neighbourhood architecture.

This one, while certainly grand in its day, has fallen on hard times. It is currently a receptacle for graffiti, social messages and thousands of photo ops. A local man told us it is due to be demolished soon (this demonstrated with lavish hand motions and sound effects), but for now, it is a tourist attraction.

The neighbourhood just north of us is called La Carolina: an upscale business district dominated by a stunning 165-acre park and surrounded by quite diverse and architecturally interesting high-rise buildings. First, the buildings. This one has a curiously off-balance look to it.

This one, overlooking the park, is still a work in progress.

Zen in the midst of commerce.

La Parque Carolina – where Quito residents go to unwind. There is something for everyone here – a mini-lake with paddleboats.

A full-length running track.

A slack-line, achieved with much parental encouragement and many photos.

Ditto with beginner cyclists. This freshly-minted band of two-wheelers, sans training wheels, were being coached enthusiastically before they took off in all directions, with varying degrees of success.

And food. What is a park without cotton candy?

Or watermelon?

A few more neighbourhood shots, taken on our walk home from the park.

This message on the wall of this house struck me. I’m not sure if it is one of bitterness or pragmatism. Nothing is forever.

The street leading down to our place.

There are a number of day trips you can take from Quito, and one of the most popular among tourists is the Saturday market at Otavalo, an indigenous community two hours north. The Otavalo Indians are well-known for their textiles and weaving. The women wear embroidered white blouses and gold necklaces and the men wear long braids, white pants and navy ponchos.

We got up early and grabbed two buses to make it there before the crowds arrived. It was an incredible experience, with street after street after street lined with stalls under tarp. We plunged right in, and were soon greeted with this sight.

We arrived too late to see the live animal market, which was probably just as well, as our Canadian sensibilities might not cope well with the “at-source” reality of where our meat comes from.

The vegetable vendors were colourful enough for us. We kept hearing calls of “un dolar, un dolar“, and then we realized that “one dollar” can buy a lot here – a whole pineapple, a bag of tomatoes, or a bag of avocados.

There were the single-item specialists as well – this lady off in search of customers.

Or this lady. I’m not sure what she was selling, but she sat quietly waiting for business.

We were looking forward to seeing some of the much-touted textiles, but we were surprised at how few stalls sold quality goods. We weren’t sure how authentic many of the items were and the prices seemed high. Much of the market was devoted to mass-produced items and American brand clothing.

However, Stephen did purchase a hat from this gentleman who claimed his family made Panama hats. They are certainly Panama-like, and they do a far better job of covering face, ears and neck than Stephen’s baseball cap, so a deal was struck.

A lady across the aisle tried to interest me in a hat as well, casting a disdainful look at my rumpled little bucket hat, and claiming hers to be “mas elegante” (more elegant). No argument there, but I already have a fabulous hat at home, courtesy of my friend Kris, that I forgot to pack.

Closer inspection of Stephen’s new sombrero revealed a lack of craftsmanship and a notable absence of the “Panama Hat” label sewn inside. This shop in Quito might have been a better bet.

Still, our time in Otavalo was extremely entertaining. We were approached by this shy young woman who wanted to “interview” us for a school project. This is quite common in a lot of countries; a project to help students improve their English and a delightful encounter for tourists. Her mother videoed our chat, which was quite halting and involved me having to look at her list of questions frequently, but I was charmed by the experience.

We also had the chance to watch a wedding in progress. When we walked past church steps filled with people, we knew something was up, and a lady told us, “matrimonio.” We watched while the bride and groom made their way out of the church and stopped for about 10 minutes to receive hugs and well wishes. The bride was radiant and the groom wiped away tears. A good start to a long, happy life together.

I couldn’t resist this young wedding attendee.

Graffiti, Otavalo-style.

And that’s it – Round One of Quito. Still to come – Centro Historico, celebrating Carnevale in Quito, and straddling the equator at Mitad del Mundo. See you again in a couple of days.

23 thoughts on “Quito: The Second-Highest City in the World

  1. Great memories Ginny. I bought my Panama hat in the city. You can pay up to a thousands bucks for the genuine ones. Depends on how tight the weave is, so they say. We loved that market and Ecuador in general. You’re painting a pretty good picture of what it’s like there. Looking forward to “Part Two”.


    1. Oscar, part of the challenge of travelling with a small backpack is there is zero room to bring back some of the beautiful things we’ve seen in Colombia and now in Ecuador. We’ll to figure out some way to ship some things back, although a $1000 hat won’t be among them!
      Ecuador is wonderful, and the people play a big part in that. They seem to be watching out for us; nothing but kindness and friendliness along the way so far.


  2. Very interesting area Ginny & Steve. That goat head would surely put me off. We had similar in a market in Turkey (cow). Sorry the market was disappointing. Good when we were there! We toured the area around the Presidential Palace too. Anxious to hear how Galapagos Islands goes. Can’t wait for that blog ! Love Lyn


    1. Actually the market was still quite fascinating because of everything that was going on and the people we talked to. We had a great time, and I forgot to mention how beautiful the drive out and back were – high up in the mountains. I guess I had imagined something quite different because everything I read really emphasized the crafts, and they were such a small part of the market as a whole.


  3. loved your photos. brought back memories of the month or so I spent in Quito with side trips to Otavalo and villages in the mountains on the local busses with Ecuadorian friends. beautiful country!


  4. Love to see where your adventurous spirits are taking you. Wondering where you’re travelling to next. Let me know if you’re heading down the Pan-American into Peru — we have friends to introduce you to if you get to Mancora.


    1. Michelle – nice to hear from you! We’re in Ecuador until March 24, and that will include 10 days in Galapagos. Originally we were going to Peru, but with all the protests and unrest there now, we figure it is best and more respectful to the Peruvians to leave Peru for another time. so instead we’re going to Chile and will be there until the end of April. We will go to Santiago and then head north to the desert country and then south to the lake district. Leave Patagonia and Argentina for another trip.


      1. It makes sense to skip Peru. Our friends are in Northern Peru — not far from the Ecuador border, and where things still seem somewhat settled — but it’s not a good time to be in that country. Hope you get there one day.


  5. Fantastic blog my friends. An education for me for sure. I am very relieved to hear that film boggled you as well. I actually turned it off after 40 minutes.. how is the food?


    1. Nanc, you reminded me that I’m not talking about the food very much or taking photos. I don’t know quite how to describe the food so far, except that to my taste, it is too carb-heavy. I find myself craving salads and fresh vegetables, but I also find myself craving sweets. The bakeries and coffee shops are just too tempting. There is so much selection for all kinds of food – pizza, pasta, sushi, bowls, etc. that we’ve been eating well, but perhaps not as locally as we should.


  6. Loved reading about Otavalo – the market looked so intriguing and full of colour. The produce looked amazing; but, like you, I would pass on the live animal market! Looking forward to Part 2!


    1. We went to a live animal market in Mexico, near Oaxaca. As someone who loves a good hamburger, or a roast chicken or bacon, I need to be a little more realistic and less squeamish about the whole process involved. The smells and the animal squeals and the inevitability of their fate was all too much for me, but it shouldn’t be.


  7. Been following your travels for some time now, although first time commenting. Although living in Alberta now, we have spent most of our life in BC. I quite enjoy your descriptive narratives of the places, people, food, accommodations etc. We have travelled to many of the places you have (our first big trip was to Peru and Ecudor back in 2013) and its very interesting reading your blogs with a diffrent travel style than how we have travelled and all so educational. I look forward to your posts on the Galapogos! We enjoyed our 5 night cruise. Keep up the good work….its enjoyed by so many.


    1. Hi Kathie – it is very nice to hear from you and thank you for following our blog. I’m really glad to hear you enjoy our experiences – there are so many ways to see a place and we always leave feeling we have missed a lot. I guess that is unavoidable. On this trip we ran into s man from Vancouver who had hit a transition point in his life and was on the road in SA for an indefinite period. He told us all about places in Colombia we had not even heard of, and that is the beauty of chatting with other travellers. Online info and blogs can only tell you so much.
      Are you still travelling?


      1. Yes….we are still travelling, and hope to for several more years. The world and its inhabitants are truly amazing! Last year at this time we were in Jordan, and then continued on to Egypt. Although a relatively short trip….it was amazing to say the least. I would like to go back to South America, but alas we have chose English speaking this spring with New York City and New Orleans! We only travel a month at a time….however, my dream was to travel as you are once we retired….my husband on the other hand likes “home”. I take what I can get! LOL


      2. Yes….we are still travelling, and hope to for several more years. The world and its inhabitants are truly amazing! Last year at this time we were in Jordan, and then continued on to Egypt. Although a relatively short trip….it was amazing to say the least. I would like to go back to South America, but alas we have chose English speaking this spring with New York City and New Orleans! We only travel a month at a time….however, my dream was to travel as you are once we retired….my husband on the other hand likes “home”. I take what I can get! LOL Feel free to check out my travel blog. https://kath1961.blog/

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Everyone has already said it all so I’ll just remind you that we are both enjoying your posts and are green with envy. That is. Sun, I think! Lol.
    Can’t wait for second episode as I sit here watching snow continue to fall—-a fair accumulation since early this morning. All schools were cancelled. Stay safe. Cold and white in NS


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