Quito and around

Quito

The Old town

The Old Town (El Centro Historico) used to be a bit of a no-go zone, but in recent years it has been transformed and is now one of the main tourist draws in Ecuador. If you have little ones you still have to keep them on a short leash, but there is lots to do and at least one trip is a must.

You can go to the Compania de Jesus pay a little extra to go and have a look at the roof. The kids can climb and the views are good. All the photos in this section were taken in Summer 2014 on a family holiday.

There are some great kids stories about old Quito as well
There are some great kids stories about old Quito as well
At the top of the Compania
At the top of the Compania

Then get tickets for the Presidential palace although it’s a bit of propaganda tour it’s the first time it has been opened to the public and the queue is mostly Ecuadorian, but beware the lines to get in.

Uniforms
Uniforms

You can also hang out in La Plaza Grande, which does what it says on the tin. Of course this is not the place to lose your kids so keep them in sight, but in general these days the “Centro Historico” as it is known is pretty safe.

These next photos were taken when Tommy was a baby and Mom and Ken my step-dad came to see us for a month or so. This was Ken’s only visit before he passed away so it will always have special memories for us.

Taking five
Taking five

I remember how surprised both Mom and Ken were at just how much they enjoyed Ecuador and it’s no surprise that it has become one of the world hots spots for people to retire to, for its climate, beauty and friendly people.

Oh, and it took ages to get Ken to wear his Panama hat, but once he did he never took it off.

Outside the San Francisco church with baby Tommy and Mom and Ken
Outside the San Francisco church with baby Tommy and Mom and Ken

One thing that Mom and Ken missed was the re-furbished part of the old town called La Ronda, which is a must visit, especially if you have slightly older kids. In this newly renovated part of the Old Town there are some street performers. chances to buy souvenirs, traditional food and music. Try going along in the evening for the real action and again there are police around so it is safe.

An old town house front
An old town house front

Also in the old town it’s good to try some of the old style traditional business that are still on the go there. There are barbers like this one in the Plaza Grande, where Tommy (and various Ecuadorian presidents) got their hair cut. Or there are restaurants like the one below that serve ‘comida tipica’ like ‘empanadas de viento‘.

Tommy's first haircut (the before shot)
Tommy’s first haircut (the before shot)
A typical colonial patio in the old twon
A typical colonial patio in the old town

There is also a ride up the Teleferico or cable car, that is a winner for kids, don’t forget to take a pullover and once you get to the top you can walk around and get breathless (it’s seriously high up) or go for a horse ride.

The view from the Teleferico
The view from the Teleferico

North Quito

North Quito, “El Norte” is where I lived when I first came to Ecuador in ’99 and it has plenty of reasons to go back, for adults and families.

One of our favourite spots in the north is the Hotel Quito, it’s a great one for Sunday brunch, and then you can roll down the hill to Guapulo for a look around and a drink.

North Quito from the Hotel Quito
North Quito from the Hotel Quito

The hotel may not be flashest in town but it has the best view and is a real institution, as seen by this bullfighter dropping by after a fight.

This unexpected visitor to the Hotel got Mom's back right up!
This unexpected visitor to the Hotel got Mom’s back right up!

The staff are also old school and have been there forever, like this lady, who as well as waiting on tables, gives free baby health tips.

Mom and our favourite waitress at Hotel Quito
Mom and the number 1 waitress at Hotel Quito

Over the years we have been to Sunday brunch with just about everyone in the family and it has never let us down 🙂

With Danny's Godmother Aunitie Sarah at yet another Hotel Quito lunch
With Danny’s Godmother Aunitie Sarah at yet another Hotel Quito lunch

After lunch we would sometimes head over to the Mariscal area of the city and go for a stroll in the El Ejido park. This park has market stalls, paintings and often has buskers.

Action shot
Action shot
Lorena doing her bit
Lorena doing her bit

On this particular day there was dance-off going on complete with full band and judges. The only spare seat for Ken to park on was next to the judges, and so the legend of the Gringo dance judge was born….

Meet the judges
Meet the judges
The band
The band

The painting for sale along the side of the park tend towards the bloody horrible, but there are some exceptions and if you want to pick up a Guayasamin copy (Quito’s most famous artistic son) then this is the place.

Checking out the photos in the Alameda
Checking out the pictures in the Alameda

Of course you can wander around the North of Quito on any given day and see street life happening, perhaps an office part packed onto a Chiva or some of the highland indigenous people coming into town looking for money, something that fortunately you see less of in the newly prosperous Quito.

A famous Quito chivo
A famous Quito chiva
Begging is fast disapearing in Quito
Begging is fast disappearing in Quito

The North is where you will find even more shopping like the handicrafts market in the Mariscal, or one of the places on Rio Amazonas and around, although if you want something more upmarket (and worth the extra IMHO) you can try one of Olga Fisch stores, either the one featured in the Lonely Planet or the newer store in Quicentro Shopping.

More woolies
More woollies

You can also go to the same mall for a whole host of sanitised overpriced imports that you will find in any other posh mall anywhere else in the world, or for the cinema, ice skating or sushi. Either here or El Jardin Mall, I always get confused about which has which, they are pretty much interchangeable…. Oh, I’m also forgetting the CCI mall which can be combined with a trip to the Parque La Carolina, if you’re stuck for something to do with or without little ones, just don’t wander into the park at night if you value your wallet. Still it has been cleaned up a bit in recent years and is a good place to kick a ball or people watch. If you want a more ambitious park trip there’s also the Parque Metropolitano, which is big enough to get lost in or go for a bike ride.

Guapulo

My favourite barrio in Quito is Guapulo, although I must admit it’s not always the best for kids as it the cars coming down the hill get right on top of you.

Looking down on Guapulo and the valleys beyond
Looking down on Guapulo and the valleys beyond

The square in the photo is a good spot to have a run around though, followed by a walk back up the hill and a drink at the Cafe Guapulo, a venerable bohemian hangout with live music, food and drink.

The church in Guapulo
The church in Guapulo
On the road down to Guapulo
On the road down to Guapulo

Around Quito

Pasochoa

Pasochoa is an extinct volcano about an hour or so from Quito, and is must do day trip if you have a family.

The suspension was too low on the Corsa so out you get mom
The suspension was too low on the Corsa so out you get mom

We went again with Mom, Ken and Tommy and I don’t think we have been back since, it’s definitely on the ‘to do’ list for next time.

Llamas en Pasachoa park
Llamas en Pasochoa park

You can start with playing with the llamas near the visitor’s centre, before going on to choose one of the signposted routes to walk, which are easy enough to do with kids, are well signposted and have labels on some of the plants.

Corn fields on the way to Pasochoa
Corn fields on the way to Pasochoa

You can see from the pictures that it’s a nice drive as well so there’s no excuse, it’s one of my faves.

Papallacta

Papallacta is famous for its hot springs and is a typical day trip destination for Ecuadorian families. You can stay overnight or pay a day pass in one of the spas like Termas de Papallacta. To be honest the pools are more for soaking in than having kiddy fun, but you are surrounded by mountains and as part of a day out it can be fun, just don’t expect a water park!

At a trout farm with cousin Matt
At a trout farm with cousin Matt

You can also combine your visit to a stop at a trout farm for a catch your own lunch and run around outside. When we last did this Lorena was pregnant with Danny so prices might have gone up a bit but if I remember it was great value for money as well as it’s geared to locals more than overseas tourists.

Llamas and Andes on the way to Papallacta
Llamas and Andes on the way to Papallacta
Not many of these podycarpus left now
Not many of these podycarpus left now

El Quinche and Guallabamba

El Quinche is a big pilgrimage spot outside Quito. You can hop on a bus and have a look at the BIG church are soak up the atmosphere for a couple of hours. It’s worth checking out when the pilgrimage itself takes place.

Pretty as a postcard
Pretty as a postcard
We went on this trip to get the new car blessed
We went on this trip to get the new car blessed

Then it’s off to the Guallabamba zoo, your own wheels would be useful here as the zoo is a bit out of the way, but you might be able to use a combination of bus and ‘camionetas’ if you’re feeling adventurous. The zoo itself is small but well maintained and does good conservation work.

A girl carrying sugar cane
A girl carrying sugar cane

Puembo

Puembo is another pleasant valley town just outside Quito, where you can go for an ice cream in the town square, or like we used to do get a day pass at the Rincon de Puembo and eat and swim to your heart’s content.

Hacienda in Puembo
Hacienda in Puembo
Diane looking impressed in her Panama
Diane looking impressed in her Panama

Cumbaya y Tumbaco

These two areas are well the well-heeled of Quito live, so both towns are a bit like a California suburb in places. Both are a 30 minute bus ride for the North of Quito and as they are down the mountain are warmer than Quito itself.

Downtown Tumbaco
Downtown Tumbaco
More downtown
More downtown
Old town in Cumbaya
Old town in Cumbaya
The square in Tumbaco
The square in Tumbaco

Once there you can hit one the several malls or cinemas, or try bowling. For a more Ecuadorian feel, the town squares of both areas are more traditional and busy at the weekends, especially Tumbaco, which is jumping with shops.

A Train Ride

There are various options now in Ecuador on the revitalized rail lines for tourists. We took a day train to Cotopaxi with a stop at a Hacienda and some typical dancing. We did everything in a big group, which I struggled with. And did I mention it was expensive? Still it was a nice day out the city…

Take a woolly hat
Take a woolly hat
A dancing pit stop
A dancing pit stop

Nayon

Las Fiestas de Nayon are an undoubted highlight of Lorena’s home town. If you’re in Quito in July check them out. They still have a strong indigenous flavour and it’s a ‘real’ experience. It can get packed and thousands turn out for the biggest bits.

Dancers will do home delivery dances well
Dancers will do home delivery dances well

There’s plenty for the kids along the lines of beat up old table footballs (pricey at 50C a pop I think) and watching the madness unfold. There’s food, music, dancing, drinking fireworks, orange throwing and a fun fair, what’s not to like.

Llamas get a look in in the fiestas
Llamas get a look in
Taking a dance break
Taking a dance break

During the day there’s also bull fighting with a difference to be enjoyed, the difference being that the idea is for brave/young/drunk/daft young men to get in the ring and taunt the bulls then run away before they get speared, with varying degrees of success. The only way the bulls get hurt is if they die laughing…

Run Forest run!
Run Forest run!
Here's a close up
Here’s a close up

You can go down in the day with the hangover crowd to this, or at night when it really kicks off. If you do have small kids be prepared to have your eyes open as they can easily get lost.

Lore posing with some clowns during a dancing break
Lore posing with some clowns during a dancing break

You can of course visit Nayon outside of the Fiestas. On any given Sunday the place is busy with people coming down for a “fritada” or “yaguarlocro” or to buy a few plants. Like all other small towns in Ecuador Sunday afternoon is given over to football and basketball and beer and food are also served at the town stadium.

Pululahua 

Another day another volcano. Again an easy day trip from Quito and one that we have lots of time over the course of the boys lives, since Tommy was a baby like in the photos below to last Summer.

The volcano itself is the main attraction of the trip, get there just before midday to see the clouds rolling dramatically (and really quickly) over the crater.

Looking down into the crater
Looking down into the crater

You can also take a drive into the crater itself (although the road is a bit precarious), and go for a meal at the restaurant and soak up the peace and quiet and slightly surreal feeling of driving around a crater.

We have about 5 versions of this photo, one for every relative we take!
We have about 5 versions of this photo, one for every relative we take!

The first time we went to Pululahua there were a few stalls selling the usual tourist fair, and you could rent a donkey to go into the crater.

Now you can still by the tourist goodies but in a mini mall on the edge of the crater, and you can go for food in one of the restaurants if you can find a seat with all the tourist coaches.

Also on site now is the Templo del Sol, a museum/temple/art space cafe which is also well worth a visit to see the world’s fastest painter in action.

here are the boys doing the painting raffle
here are the boys doing the painting raffle

Mitad del Mundo

Just a ten minute drive away from Pululahua you will find one of Ecuador’s better know tourist attraction the Mitad del Mundo. The entire site is based on its location in the middle of the world, except that it’s not, it’s off. Still if you want buy some handicrafts and eat slightly overpriced traditional food then you’ve come to right place.

The sacred mountain
The sacred mountain

On the other hand you can get a tour to the ‘real’ Mitad del Mundo, which is located 5 minute car drive away. We did with a guide we found at the commercial site, he took us to a bare hillside with some very bare archaeological remains, where his GPS read lots of zeros. Our guide explained the possible theories behind the site and its importance to the Incas as part of a giant astrological clock. And you know what, despite being a pile of orcks and not much else it was an infinitely more rewarding trip than the supremely tacky Mitad del Mundo site.

The real mitad del mundi
The real mitad del mundo
The not-so real one
The not-so real one

Mindo

We’ve had loads of good times here with our close friends Molly and Efrain, who have an incredible place there 🙂 . This cloud forest town is around 90 minutes from Quito, and is a bird watchers’ mecca as well.

Tommy's first nearly solo run, he was only 3 at most.
Tommy’s first nearly solo run, he was only 3 at most.
It's a lovely place to zip over the trees
It’s a lovely place to zip over the trees

If you don’t fancy zipping over the trees then go to the Butterfly Farm, you can have a walk around  and marvel at some really big butterflies as well as learn about their stages of development. Warning not suitable for those with a butterfly phobia!

This butterfly imitates an owl for defense
This butterfly imitates an owl for defense

Mindo town is full of places to organise rafting, biking and birdwatching and if you drive a short way out of town there are trails to go for pleasant and not-too-taxing walks.

Tommy's first trip to Mindo at 2 months
Tommy’s first trip to Mindo at 2 months

We have been back to Mindo I don’t know how many times, from before to the kids were born to Tommy as a baby to when both boys were older and it never disappoints.

Marshmellow cook up
Marshmellow cook up

You do need to be careful if you are travelling on a busy holiday weekend as you will find the town outside packed with locals, unless of course you head for one of the outlying spots like Casa Divina.

A bedroom in the lodge
A bedroom in Casa Divina with a box fresh Danny

As well as seeing Toucans and other birds in the lodge itself, you can arrange with Ephra to get an early start and go and see the cock on the rock and some serious hummingbird action. It costs a bit and there’s a drive as well as the early start, but even as a none bird watcher it’s one of the National Geographic moments that visiting Ecuador is all about.

Casa Divina
One of the cabins from the outside

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