The next stop on our journey was Quito, the capital of Ecuador. In South America, capital cities are usually the largest city in each country because that is where most people can find jobs. This is also the case in Ecuador.
On our way back to Quito from Otavalo, we had a much more civilized bus experience while leaving Otavalo. Once we arrived at the bus terminal in Quito, we took a taxi to the historic center. Ecuador´s capital city has two main tourist sectors: Historic and Modern. In the cab to our hostel in the historic center, we were warned by the driver to be very careful with our money and belongings, especially on public transportation.
With this useful information, we decided that it was best to find a hostel close to our drop off point so that we were not walking around the city with all our belongings. After lightening out load, we were off to explore the old churches, plazas, and streets that make up the historic center of Quito. Luckily, we have found the tourist information centers to be very helpful and knowledgable. They have been able to give us recommendations for hostels, super markets, restaurants, attractions, and how to get to each of those places. They are also usually located near the main plaza in each city. Our travel book was also a vital resource, recommending that we go to the Midad Del Mundo, or in other words, the equator.
With our valuables hidden away and a small day pack with water strapped to the front of me, we took the bus north to the Midad Del Mundo. If you are unsure what the Midad Del Mundo is, it is a museum, monument, compass, and line representing the location of the equator as determined by French explorer Charles Marie de la Condamine in 1736. It is quite impressive that this gentleman was able to determine the location of the equator to within 150 meters that long ago and without all the technology we have today. This is a pretty cool site and I recommend going.
Another attraction recommended by our book in Quito was the Museo Nacional del Banco Central in the modern sector of the city. In fact, the book said that if you only have time for one museum in Quito (which was us), you should consider going here. Although we did not visit any other museums, I would be willing to second the book’s recommendation. The museum is full of nicely displayed artifacts from many of the preincan civilizations and gives a brief summary about each of these. To read more about Quito museums, reference this page.
We have met a lot of people on our trip and learned that 2 months is a very short amount of time for the distance we are traveling. Most people we have met are doing a similar route (or the reverse) in 5-9 months. In order to be able to get to Brazil when we planned, we decided to stop just once on the way to Lima from Quito.
After our flights from the Galápagos Islands, our main method of transportation has been by bus. Buses are pretty cheap in South America, and you can usually find one that leaves when you want. Since we are on a tight budget, we took the buses from Quito to Cuenca, Cuenca to Loja, Loja to Piura, Peru, and Piura to Lima. We spent two nights in Cuenca because the city itself is a UNESCO world heritage site and there were some cool ruins 2 hours north of the city. After Cuenca the next 48 hour stretch we spent 26 hours on a bus. Yuck. We liked the smaller towns of Southern Ecuador better than Quito. I even got to play some soccer with the locals in a sweet park while we were waiting for our next bus in Loja. The park had everything from playgrounds to skate parks to lakes to swimming pool to sports fields to ostriches to cultural buildings representative of many of the world’s cultures. If ever in Loja, Ecuador, go check out Parque Jipiro.
We immediately got a good vibe from Lima, despite being warned of the pickpockets again. With some hostels in mind, we took a taxi to the suburb of Miraflores, an upscale, oceanfront city 30 minutes outside of the Lima city center. We were able to explore this area for a few days and felt at home. It is a pretty and clean area with some big name hotel chains and a mall built in to the side of the cliff overlooking the ocean. The ocean looked nice, but despite several locals testing the waves on their surfboards, we read that the beaches in Lima are rather dirty. Regardless, Miraflores is a nice area that we would like to return to again. We also found a nice, clean hostel (one of our primary deciding factors deciding on a hostel) by the name of Kokopelli while in this area.
One of the evenings in Lima, we went into the downtown area of Lima to see what the city itself is like. Taxis are a bit more expensive in the evening because there is more traffic. While in downtown Lima, we stopped by the Plaza de Armas which is where the Peruvian Capital building is located and wandered inside the Iglesia de San Francisco. This is a very historic church and there are some highly-rated catacombs and museum under the church (though they were closed by the time we got there). If we ever make it back to Lima, which I hope we do, we will be sure to check these out.
Another highly recommended place to visit in Lima (both by our travel book and the locals) is the Magic Water Circuit. This is similar to the impressive water fountains in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, the “magic” only happens from Wednesday to Sunday and we were there on a Tuesday. That night, we took an overnight bus from Lima to Nazca. All in all, Lima left a good first impression of Peru in our heads!