Ted Travels: Reminiscing Quito
My very first landfall in South America was Quito, I flew in from Panama City in March 1975. What a surprise and what a mess it was way back then, everything revolved around the centre of the city. It was cramped, packed with street stalls and people laden with bags of fruit, vegetables, and all sorts of things including pots and pans. Later, I found out that people living in the countryside would come and try to sell their market garden vegetables, fruits and livestock like chooks, pigs, and sheep. All out in the open as there were no butcher shops back then.
The other thing that made an impact on me was the fact that I had trouble breathing. Not so much because of the altitude – even though Quito is located on the Equator at 2,850 metres above sea level – but because of the pollution produced by cars and buses. There were so many minibuses moving people around the city in and out of the countryside that the pollution made my eyes watery… it was awful.
I was glad to get out of the city when we started our 3-month overland camping tour heading to Rio. The countryside of Ecuador was picture-perfect with patchworks farms all along the Valley of Volcanoes to Cuenca. Really wonderful!
I have been back many times since then, and last month was once again a delight. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to witness many positive changes around South America and the transformation of colonial Quito was one of these delightful experiences.
Some of the crowded streets have turned into pedestrian walkways. Central plazas have been turned into beautiful pedestrian-friendly spaces, surrounded by restored Spanish colonial buildings. The “street markets” have been moved out to new under-covered facilities a few blocks away. You will visit these new clean markets at the start of our cooking classes.
It’s now a pleasure to wander around the car free streets, to explore and discover churches with altars covered in Inca gold. Museums, farmer markets, specialized chocolate shops and of course great restaurants!
Accommodations have also improved from my first visit. In the past, you would probably find one-star hotels that charged $10 per night or less. Today, two lovely old-world properties; Casa Gangotena and Plaza Grande stand out in the Old Town. They have been totally renovated and are absolutely world class. Should you find similar properties in, say, Paris or Madrid, you would be paying twice as much.
Travellers also can find great 3- and 4-star accommodation and good value restaurants serving local dishes with fresh produce and exotic fruits from the Amazon. There are so many things to see; we recommend at least 3 to 4 nights here.
Hemmed in by the Andes and active volcanoes, Quito offers a dramatic setting. Its Old Town, which is the best-preserved colonial centre in Latin America – and part UNESCO World heritage – makes this city one of my favourite places to visit in Latin America.