Travel South America

Should You Go To Quito?

October 16, 2017
View of trees and cherry blossoms in Plaza Grande, Quito

Quito. 6:30 pm. July 21st, 2017. 

‘Is there anywhere to eat nearby? I asked the receptionist upon check-in.

‘Yes, in the square about 100m away, but you shouldn’t go out alone,’ he replied in a serious tone.

‘What? Why?’ I demanded in frustration. After a long day of travel, I felt hungry enough to eat my fingers.

‘It’s not safe to go out on your own,’ was the grim reply.

‘Perhaps I can eat here,’ I ventured. At this stage, I was starting to feel desperate.

‘The restaurant’s closed, but I can sell you some snacks.’

Minutes earlier, as my taxi pulled up in front of the hotel, I had noticed that the street was empty. Now, looking at the selection of snacks in the glass cabinet beside the reception desk, I had to accept a harsh reality. My food choices were some packets of nuts, a few bars of chocolate and mineral water. It was going to be a long and hungry night. My trip to Ecuador was clearly getting off to a flying start (NOT!).

Quito: The Official Travel Advice 

The following is the official advice of the US State Department website:

Crime is a widespread problem in Ecuador.

Pick-pocketing, robbery, and hotel room theft are the most common crimes.  Tourists have been robbed at gunpoint on beaches and along hiking trails.  Passengers arriving at the Quito and Guayaquil airports have also been targets of armed robberies.

The advice then goes on to mention a few more minor issues such as theft on public transport, express kidnappings at ATMs, carjackings, sexual assault, violent assault, and the use of ‘incapacitating drugs’.

If that isn’t off-putting enough, then take a look at the UK Foreign Office website which includes these choice words about Quito:

Muggings and pick pocketing are very common. In Quito, take particular care in ‘La Carolina’ and ‘El Ejido’ parks, the districts of ‘La Mariscal’, ‘La Floresta’ and ‘La Marin’, the bus terminals and the old town including the main square and ‘El Panecillo’ hill.

Just about everywhere you might want to go in the city…

The question is clear: Should you go to Quito?

Old City

With my few nibbles and a bottle of water, I climbed to the roof of the hotel. My initial feeling was: What the hell am I doing here?

However, on the roof and despite my hunger, this quickly softened. The rooftops of a Spanish colonial city were visible all around me. In the distance on a hill directly opposite, bathed in a bright white light, shone the Panecillo. It is a symbol of Quito.

The next day I discovered a city that was hard to hate. Its streets provided hours of exploration- steep climbs, religious art, and exquisite colonial architecture. Quito became the first UNESCO World Heritage Site on the planet in 1978 and it was easy to understand why. Plaza Grande must be one of South America’s most impressive central squares. The benches between the palm trees and pink cherry blossoms proved to be the perfect spot to admire the imposing whitewashed buildings that dominate the area.

View of birds in Plaza San Francisco, Quito

One of the best preserved colonial centres in South America

However, with so much more to see, it was impossible to stay long in one place.

Historic Centre 

Quito’s attractions clearly deserve a standalone article. But, amidst the incredible cultural offerings, two places stand out. La Ronda, a vertical street of brightly painted colonial buildings, could be one of the continent’s most charming urban retreats. Meanwhile, Casa del Abalado is a veritable celebration of indigenous culture. And these are only two of the many places to visit in the centre. In truth, I visited so much more.

Days in Quito followed a similar pattern: sightseeing, museums, cafés, and lots of walking. During the hours of daylight, the city was heavily policed, particularly in busy areas. After dark, those same streets would empty, the police would disappear and I would dash off to quickly grab a bite to eat. Nights were spent in my hostel. Locked in. Literally.

The New City 

Following a trip to the north, I decided to make a detour to Mindo. From there, I expected to visit Otavalo. However, Quito was on my route and it called me back. This time I stayed in the Yellow House in Mariscal Foch. Again, I was not disappointed. The New City was vibrant and modern, a complete contrast to Old Quito. Also, La Capilla del Hombre, reflecting the artist Guayasamin’s focus on indigenous suffering, must be one of my favourite art museums in South America. Despite all these positives, the area also had an edge. The German owner of my hostel warned me not to venture too far on foot. Quito, it seemed, could never feel perfectly safe.

View of La Capilla del Hombre and the city of Quito

La Capilla del Hombre is dedicated to the work of Guayasamin

What to Do

Should you go? I don’t know. However, I can say that I’m glad I went. In fact, I even hope to return. That said, it’s not the safest destination in South America. As a solo traveller, I felt more vulnerable there than I did in many other cities on the continent. Ultimately, it’s a choice between experiencing a stunning city and the potential threat to your personal security. Remember that most visits are trouble-free, but look after personal possessions, and safety must always come first.

Practicalities

The Old City is a great place for sightseeing, but it’s not without its problems. Rincon Familiar is a choice spot for travellers looking for good value accommodation. The Yellow House, mentioned above, is safe, secure and friendly. Light sleepers should avoid it on weekends.

Quito is accessible by bus from destinations throughout the country. The new airport is about 45 minutes from the city. Travellers going to and from Colombia should look at this article to get an insight into bus travel between the two countries.

Have you been to Quito? How do you feel about travel to ‘edgy’ destinations? Leave a comment below or send your story to me by email at Unlatinoverde@gmail.com

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  • Jennifer Tatnell October 16, 2017 at 21:38

    Maybe I was just lucky but as a solo older woman I had a wonderful week in Quito

    • Unlatinoverde October 16, 2017 at 22:06

      As you may have picked up, I also loved many aspects of the city. In fact, I would return. That said, when the locals are nervous, it’s best to be cautious. I wouldn’t have missed it, but I met quite a few who were scared off by its reputation.

  • Julie Cao October 18, 2017 at 10:37

    I was in Quito for a week two months ago. The city is really beautiful and has lots to offer. I would not go out at night myself tho, just as you observed the street is empty. I feel safe during the day and had a great time there. We all need to be careful and trust our instinct when travel, and enjoy our trip.

    • Unlatinoverde October 18, 2017 at 17:34

      I agree about it being safe by day. The night is another story. Empty streets are never good news, particularly for solo travellers. One strategy might be to stay in the busier parts of the New City and to visit the Old Town by day. As I comment in my post, it’s an incredibly beautiful city.

  • Ratheesh R Nath October 18, 2017 at 10:44

    This is the first time i’m hearing about this place and from your words I really would like to visit it; though, I do feel a bit scared after reading the first paragraphs.

    • Unlatinoverde October 18, 2017 at 17:24

      Indeed, it has a reputation and there is a reason for this. However, it is a beautiful city with lots to offer. If you were ever to spend time in that part of South America, it would be a pity to miss it. You just need to be aware all the time and to be cautious. Walking in empty streets at night is, for example, not a good idea.

      I would go back. In fact, I would LOVE to go back!

  • Chica October 20, 2017 at 06:31

    I’ve travelled to Quito twice, once in 2011 and again in 2015. It had definitely changed since 2011 in terms of safety, possibly tourism increasing and therefore more crime. During my travels in 2015 me and my husband were mugged at knife point in daylight near the Basilica by motorcyclists so I am aware that what they say is true but it was obvious they just wanted money or equipment to sell on which in our case was just a basic camera. I love Quito, it is beautiful and it is a brilliant place to be to visit surrounding areas but I must admit this time I felt less safe and didn’t wonder too far at night. There was an incident where we saw three men on different sides of the roads and they looked as though they were communicating to plan some kind of mugging on us so we swiftly walked back to our hostel. I think you just need to be very careful and aware of your surroundings in these countries and the main capitals especially. I have also travelled other reputable countries for muggings and danger such as Colombia and Bolivia and had no problems but I was cautious. I always feel safer in the more rural places compared to the capitals and cities. Just keep your wits about you, don’t always trust everyone, research before you go and never take valuables or too much money out with you because that’s mainly what people want. Also as a young traveller I think it’s important not too get so drunk as you leave yourself vulnerable.

    • Unlatinoverde October 20, 2017 at 18:06

      Hi,
      Thanks for sharing your personal experience. I totally agree with you about it feeling less safe than comparable destinations in Colombia and Bolivia, although La Candelaria in Bogota gets decidedly edgy after dark. You’re also correct when you say that rural areas are much safer. In fact, I would add that smaller towns are significantly easier to deal with as well in most cases. As is clear in the article, I think Quito is a fabulous city, but it’s a place where care must be taken. In such places it’s best never to allow yourself to be vulnerable, hence not getting drunk. I once met a girl on the Peruvian border who had lost everything, including her passport, in La Paz. She had got drunk in one of the party hostels and only realised that she had no money, no cards and no documents when she tried to cross the border to Peru.

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