Day Three – Otavalo and Environs
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).
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, www.quitsato.org, 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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
- 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.