Hiking mountain peaks in the Andes is on our wish list, so starting our trip in Ecuador’s capital city of Quito, at 2,850 meters (9,350 ft) in elevation seemed like a logical place to acclimatize to the higher altitude required for trekking in South America.
Day One: Welcome to Quito
Our arrival in Quito was uneventful, a comfortable ride in from the airport to our hostel in Old Town. It was 1 am, so we quickly settled into bed after a long day of travel.
The next morning from the hostel’s rooftop terrace, this lovely view overlooking the city greeted us.
After breakfast, we set out in the direction of the historic centre, a UNESCO World Cultural site, asking for general directions from the locals, and made our way to Plaza Grande.
Flanking the central square is the Carondelet Palace; the home and office of the president of Ecuador, and part museum open to the public for free. With an hour to wait after getting our tickets, we wandered through the streets and visited a few local buildings.
The tour of the Presidential palace was engaging and well done. Our guide took us aside and presented the information in English after she gave it in Spanish to the others in the group.
We continued to walk the streets and made our way out of the historic area towards one of the many hillsides. Climbing a long staircase, we could feel the shortness of breath from the high altitude.
Our next stop was the magnificent Basílica del Voto Nacional, a Roman Catholic church in the Neo-Baroque architectural style, where we climbed all the way to the top of the Bell tower.
The last section was up some vertical ladders, safe but intimidating. We were rewarded with spectacular views of the city.
Back at the hostel, we went up to the rooftop terrace for dinner, drinks and to socialize with new friends from around the world. The night flew by and soon it was 11 pm when many of the ‘kids’ joined the party bus to dance the night away in Mariscal, the New Town. We know our limits– and passed on the offer to join them, and hit the hay.
Day two: Day trip to Otavalo
Today we decided to make the trip to Otavalo to see the famous artisan market. After a twenty-minute cab ride to the city’s northern terminal, we set out on a two-hour scenic bus ride.
Saturday is the busiest day for the market, so visiting on a Sunday was quieter–perfect for Gordon who doesn’t like crowds so much.
At the market, we meandered through the dozens of vendors stalls admiring the craftsmanship and colours of their handiwork. Ginette went all out and bought an alpaca hat and a coin purse.
We then explored the central area of town; we might have been one of the few gringos in town this day.
After a delicious lunch at a restaurant packed with Ecuadorians, we returned to Quito the way we came.
The evening was back to the rooftop for dinner, drinks, and a challenging game of trivial pursuit where everyone participated.
Day three: El TelefériQo and Pichincha Volcano
Today we opted for some exercise. We hired a cab to take us to the TelefériQo; a gondola that takes you up to about 3,900 meters in elevation, offering spectacular views of Quito and the surrounding mountains. From there we set out on the path towards the summit of the Rucu Pichincha Volcano at 4,698 meters (15,413 ft).
We made good progress considering we had only been away from sea level for a couple of days. We could feel the effect of the high altitude, not unlike the time we hiked Mount Elbert in Colorado. The gentle path ended, and now we started doing the real work, climbing the steep final 500 m to the to summit.
The trail became more difficult, and when we hit the 4,600 m (15,090 ft) level the weather turned foul, the clouds rolled in, and we decided to turn back and head down the mountain.
We reached a new high in elevation today. Still, the mountain won.