Day Three – Otavalo and Environs

The triple zeros told the GPS tale at the Quitsato Sundial.

Our third day in Quito started with an early wake-up call for our trip to the Otavalo Market. With our trusty driver, Rene, at the wheel for the two-plus-hour trip, we made our first stop near the town of Cayambe at the Quitsato Sundial. Quitsato is touted as the “true” tourist destination for standing on the equator (another far more-visited site – and, from what we’ve heard, a lot more touristy – is the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, but the monument there is several meters off from the ACTUAL equator). Sure enough, our iPhone GPS backed Quitsato’s claim.

Since we were visiting the sundial the day after the autumnal solstice, we were able to note an interesting phenomenon: the tall column in the middle casts a shadow ALMOST perfectly aligned with the line designating the equator (if we’d visited the day before, it would have been dead on).

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On the day after the autumnal solstice, our shadows were almost perfectly bisected when we stood on the equator line.

Quitsato is run by a nonprofit group that does a very nice job of presenting the sundial’s historical and astronomical context, especially regarding the pre-Incan cultures and various archaeological sites in the area. The group,, is conducting several research projects and has some intriguing ideas about the earth’s orientation, proposing that we think of the equator as the dividing line with the southern hemisphere to the right and the northern hemisphere to the left (as opposed to our traditional perspective that up is north and down is south). It’s based on the idea that east (Oriente in Spanish, which is also the root of the verb “to orient”) should be the geographical reference because – at least from our perspective as Earthlings – that’s the where the stars, planets, moon, and sun appear thanks to the Earth’s rotation. I’m not sure I really get the point, but it’s interesting nonetheless.


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Quitsato Sundial. Note how the column’s shadow is aligned with the equator line, the lighter-colored line that ends at the stone observation tower on the left.
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Indigenous street vendors at Otavalo

From there, it’s another half hour to Otavalo and its famed artisan market. Every Thursday, this spectacular market takes over most of the little town of Otavalo, and it’s an absolutely must for any Quito visitor. Check out our separate post about the Otavalo market here. 

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At Laguna Cuicocha
After shopping til we dropped in Otavalo, we made a lunch stop in the quaint town of Cotacachi, and then moved on to Laguna Cuicocha or “Lake of the Guinea Pigs. This lovely crater lake derives its name from two islands that, from a certain perspective, resemble the backs of guinea pigs (the Kichwa indigenous word for guinea pig being “cuy.”) Although we only spent a few minutes there, the lake has a nice visitor’s center and offers boat rides for tourists, and it’s also encircled by a scenic hiking trail.
Hot bizcochos and dulce de leche – divine!

Rene surprised us with one more stop before returning to Quito. Apparently the little town of Cayambe is known for flaky, melt-in-your-mouth pastries called bizcochos. Served piping hot with dulce de leche, the caramel-like sweet that’s ubiquitous in Latin America, the bizcochos hit the spot!

Tips for the day:

  • We said it in our previous post but it bears repeating. Rene Sandoval, our driver, was a real find – and he went out of his way to make this day memorable. Email:
  • If you want to stand on the actual equator, skip the kitschy Ciudad Mitad del Mundo and head for Quitsato. It was well worth the stop.
  • Although Thursday is the biggest market day, lots of stalls are open for business every day in Otavalo. Even if you miss Thursday, Otavalo is a MUST!

Day Four – Reaching for the Sky
Our last day in Quito was all about scaling the heights, and each destination rewarded us with a progressively breathtaking viewpoint.

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Villa Colonna hosts Phillip and Colette Pepperell

But first, we had promised friends back home in Panama that we’d visit the inn they own in Quito, the Villa Colonna B&B. As it happens, this splendid inn is only a block and a half from our own vacation rental, and we’re so glad we popped in. The gracious hosts, Phillip and Colette, gave us the grand tour and the property’s interesting back story. Our Panama friends, Debra and Pascal, recently purchased the inn from a couple that had lovingly restored the building – a stately old colonial home that had fallen into ruin. The previous owners brought the property to its former glory and furnished it with fabulous antiques and artwork.  Here’s a shout-out to Debra and Pascal and a thank-you to Phillip and Collette for showing us this lovely property. 

From there, we huffed and puffed up the hill to the Basilica del Voto Nacional, which turned out to be one of the highlights of our entire visit. Not only is the Basilica the only Gothic structure in Quito’s fleet of historic churches, but it’s also much newer than most  – by several centuries. Completed in 1909, the Basilica has some unique features, such as gargoyles and other decor modeled on the local fauna and flora. You can also climb, through a series of steep and rickety ladders and catwalks, almost to the top of the anterior tower. It’s s not for the faint-of-heart or acrophobes, but for us the 360-degree city view was well worth it!
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The Basilica is one of the dominant features of the Quito skyline
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We climbed to just below the rear tower on the left, looking toward the twin bell towers
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Instead of traditional Gothic gargoyles, the Basilica features armadillos, jaguars, and other native creatures
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A mass was in progress when we visited. We would soon walk ABOVE that ceiling to climb the tower!
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The Basilica’s stunning rose window. Sadly, some of the stained glass is missing.
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Detail of rose window featuring native flowers of Ecuador
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The rickety catwalk ABOVE the high vaulted ceiling of the main chamber
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Climbing still higher to reach the rear tower. There was an even steeper ladder outside, at the top of this one
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At the top viewing platform. Hmm, what time IS it?
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The reward for the climb – the panoramic view. Note El Panecillo and the Virgin statue in the distance.
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The Virgin, up close and personal.

From the Basilica, we caught a cab up to El Panecillo for an up-close look at the city’s most recognizable landmark, the

Winged Virgin. Locals claim the Virgin, at 45 meters tall, is the world’s largest all-aluminum statue and the only depiction of the Virgin Mary with wings. She stands atop a globe and is stepping on a snake, iconography you’ll see repeated in other depictions of the Virgin throughout Latin America.

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Scaling the mountainside aboard the TelefériQo

It was time to get higher still, so we cabbed it to the TelefériQo, Quito’s gondola ride up the slope of Pichincha Volcano. At close to 13,000 feet, the top terminus of the cable car offers stunning views of the city against the backdrop of the Andes foothills. 

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The panoramic Quito view at almost 13,000 feet, at the TelefériQo terminus

After such a lofty morning, we taxied our famished selves down to the Mariscal neighborhood and landed at Cosa Nostra – a cozy Italian cafe with excellent pizza. After lunch, we strolled around Mariscal, an area known for its restaurants and

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An indigenous lady at the artisan market catches a snooze

nightlife that was pretty sleepy the afternoon we were there. Completely by accident, we stumbled on Quito’s public Mercado Artesanal.  Oh, darn, time for more shopping!

For dinner that evening – in keeping with the theme of the day – we enjoyed our final Quito meal at Vista Hermosa, a rooftop restaurant back in the historic district with panoramic city views. It was the perfect place to end our day and celebrate our whirlwind Quito visit, before catching an early plane to the Galapagos the next morning. 

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Cheers! at Vista Hermosa
 Tips for the day:
  • If you’re looking for upscale accommodations in Quito’s old quarter, look no further than the Villa Colonna. And check out the stellar rating on TripAdvisor!
  • Be careful with the taxis – there’s a bit of “gringo bingo” being played. Make sure you get in a cab that has a working meter (by law, it’s required); otherwise, you’ll pay much more than the ride is worth. If there’s no meter, be sure you negotiate the fare.
  • If you aren’t able to make it to the Otavalo market, the artisan market in Mariscal has many of the same goods we saw in Otavalo, at more or less the same (negotiable) prices.
  • Cosa Nostra – friendly people and good Italian food. Vista Hermosa – good food, good service, stunning city views.


  1. You two have the best time! Great post, and excellent writing, as usual. The mismatched clocks is a great metaphor here in Latin America. ‘Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?’ (to quote Robert Lamm & Chicago) Keep ’em coming!

  2. Mary Lea (Mimi) Reply

    Two more winners. I’ve always wanted to visit South America, and now I feel like I’ve been there through you photos and word pictures!

  3. Another great post about Quito! This and the previous post really make me want to visit the Ecuadorian capital soon!

  4. Sharon Brooks Reply

    Thank you so much for your excellent photo journalism. Looks like a wonderful place to visit. Your writing is enticing and always pulls me into your adventures.

  5. Mike Cregan Reply

    Hey Susan and John
    Just returned from Whistler after a teen day stay. You remember that place?. Not the altitude you we at but I’m sure colder. Happy New Year.

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