From southern Colombia through the center of Ecuador, we rode the Andes mountain range which provided continuous and spectacular scenery on a grand scale.
At Ipiales, Colombia we took a colectivo to the border of Ecuador and strolled across the frontier right into the quiet and unassuming Ecuadorian migration office. That was probably the easiest and fastest border crossing process we’d experienced throughout the entire journey. After zipping through immigration, we crossed the street and grabbed another colectivo to the town of Tulcan. It seemed to drop us on the street in the middle of a small, nothing-burger town and when I asked the driver how to get to the bus station, all I could understand was to just get on any bus that runs along the street. Instead, I hailed a taxi and we continued along another 1/2 mile or so right to the terminal.
Following our guidebook’s suggestions, I asked for a direct bus with no stops to Quito. I came to find out ‘direct’ means the bus doesn’t go out of its way, and though the window clerk said there would be no stops, there were in fact dozens of stops along to pick up/drop off other passengers, as well as for vendors just like those we experienced in Colombia. The difference being the addition of one or two whose sales pitch were about some health (read: snake-oil-type) product.
Safe travels are always a concern. We read numerous warnings about the dangers of traveling through Ecuador, especially on the buses which were notorious for pickpockets and sneak-thieves. Our first destination, Quito, sounded especially dangerous. We already heard a couple of first-hand instances of people being robbed at knife point in Colombia (though, each of the victims admitted they went against their better judgement and were not being careful). So, for the entire 5-hour ride to Quito, we kept our day-packs on our laps the whole way.
We were very busy in the first two days of Quito which were spent looking for last-minute deals for a cruise through the Galapagos Islands. It wasn’t an easy task. It’s an expensive place to visit and according to several travel agents, this year seemed especially busy with people trying to do the same thing as us. It’s always less expensive booking trips from as close to the venue as possible. The alternative was to go directly to the Galapagos. However, it could also mean waiting days for availability on an appropriate cruise. We decided to try to maximize our time touring Quito and Ecuador once we had booked our tour.
Afterwards, we were better able to enjoy touring Quito which sits in a picturesque valley in the Andes.
The Basilica Voto Nacional took over 100 years to build. Instead of gargoyles, it is adorned with iguanas, armadillos, and Galapagos turtles.
Quito is not only the capital of Ecuador, but it is also the religious and politically conservative center. It has some of the largest and most elaborate churches and cathedrals in South America.
The Casa Alabado is a museum dedicated to the documentation and displaying artifacts of pre-Colombian history.
These effigies of ancestors were originally buried up to their waists symbolizing their emergence from the underworld.
We visited two other museums as well. The Museum of the City was about the origins of the city of Quito from 10,000 BCE to today, and the Ethnohistorical Museum which held many artisanal products linked to the Indigenous, Mestizo, and Afro-Ecuadorian values.