Flying in to Quito, Ecuador from Boston left us breathless, literally. Going from Boston (sea level) to Quito (10,000 feet) had us wheezing as we lugged our backpacks up one measly flight of stairs so we could collapse into our beds at our hostel. Deciding that we hadn’t challenged our lungs quite enough, the very next day we took the TeleferiQo (gondola lift) up another 4000 feet into the mountains surrounding Quito to enjoy spectacular views of the city. After only an hour at that elevation headaches and a chilly breeze chased us back down into what felt like deliciously rich oxygen in Quito.
We also spent an afternoon exploring Quito’s beautiful Old Town. It is packed with several churches per block, indigenous folks selling Chiclets and handicrafts, and a couple of lawsuit-worthy opportunities if this were the US. The gothic Basilica del Voto Nacional towers high above Old Town, complete with grimacing gargoyls, giant stained glass windows, and delicate towers. For just $3/person, you can climb up to the highest points of two of the Basilica’s towers. After crossing rickety wooden plank platforms, climbing rusty rebar ladders, and scaling almost vertical stairways, we were rewarded with great views across Quito, unimpeeded by pesky safety barriers or railings. Once we were safely back on firm ground, we wandered through several other old churches, admiring the gold filigree and bloody crucifixes. After the sun set, Old Town was beautifully lit by streetlights. By chance we stumbled across a dance and music performance of traditional Ecuadorian arts. Sponsored by the Foundation of Art and Culture, the performance ranged from ancient fertility dances to more recent Spanish influenced waltzes. The dances were all accompanied by the bright live music of guitars and flutes and complimented by gorgeous costumes. We next head to the chill mountain town of Baños to soak in the hot springs and enjoy the views of volcanoes and waterfalls.