From the verdant and wild landscapes of Colombia—San Agustín Archaeological Park, Tatacoa Desert, and Tierradentro—to the sprawling metropolis of Quito. I was there about 2 weeks, though for the time I was there I didn’t do as much as I could or should have. I use the bipolar weather as a disclaimer, as most nights torrential thunderstorms greeted my cousin and I—a potentially portentious omen for our arrival.
Still, we managed a few solid adventures. The historic city center around the presidential palace, a good place to start expeditions around the city, teems with tourists and vendors selling souvenirs and street food over smiles. Scattered around the cobblestone lines streets of the historic center are a plethora of cathedrals, many built after Spanish colonization as gauche and grandiose displays of the Catholic God’s almighty power and opulence. For a pristine example take a gander inside Cañana Church with its bountifully Baroque lavishness (layered with hints of Gothic, Renaissance, and Neoclassical architecture due to remodeling after earthquakes). Nearby is the pre-Colombian Art Museum, housing artifacts of indigenous civilizations predating the Spanish conquest, a drastic comparison in artistic vision with Spanish cathedrals. Other museums like the National Museum of Ecuador and the monument of the Virgin de El Panecillo offer interesting perspectives in other parts of the city, one a look at more modern art in Quito and the other a vista overlooking the urban sprawl of Quito. For an even more picturesque panoramic view of Quito, ride the Teleférico gondola up into the highlands overlooking the city to see the vast reach of Quito’s boundaries (assuming the weather, and Pachamama, permit it).
I didn’t find Quito to be the most rambunctious city on this odyssey through South America, but it was a much needed change of pace from wild adventures in Colombia, adventures as chaotically beautiful as a packed dance floor in a Cali salsa bar. Colombia vibrated with energy, and Quito provided a respite from the madness—despite being consistently caught in thunderstorms.
Quito was also a central launching point for adventures into the exquisite nature of the Andes and Amazon or lessons about Ecuador’s location, both physically and in history. Refuges in nature like Baños—the Ecuadorian doorway to the Amazon—offer an abundance of extreme sports in the domain of the natural world. Canyoning, rafting, bungee jumping, ATV and moto paths through the mountains, and zip-lining headline the plethora of activities there and pair harmoniously with nights at any of the volcanic thermal baths in town to wind down. Also around Quito is the cloud forest in Mindo, a hotspot for bird watching, hiking to waterfalls, and dining on Ecuadorian “delicacies” like roasted Cuy (guinea pig). More keen for a history or geography lesson? Mitad del Mundo, the equatorial line (for which Ecuador, meaning “equator,” is named) is accessible in a day trip. Stand in both the northern and Southern Hemispheres, learn about indigenous communities still living throughout the country, and try to perfectly balance an egg on a nail.
Find your escape from the city. Find the right balance between the urban domain of Quito and the outdoor domain of Pachamama (Mother Earth) and you’ll discover the charm of life around Quito.