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Quito is the capital city of Ecuador. Nestled high in the Andes Mountains, it sits in a “bowl” of sorts—about 35 miles long and 5 miles wide. Navigating this beautiful city can be a bit tricky, depending on where you are. In “Old Town,” which has buildings dating back to the 16th century, the streets are narrow – often just wide enough for one vehicle – and most of them are one-way. They are quaint – most of them are cobblestone – and there are a lot of steep inclines, making driving interesting – especially if you are driving a stick shift!
In the newer parts of the city, the roads are wider and most run two-ways, but even that has its challenges. Drivers in Ecuador take stop signs and traffic lights as suggestions rather than laws, and it’s not uncommon to see drivers honk at each other to get them to go through the red light. I once saw a driver honking at the police car in front of him – the light was red and the driver didn’t want to sit through the light!
No one uses their turn signals – the accepted method for signaling your intentions is to stick your arm out of the window and flap it wildly. This translates to “I’m about to do something dumb, so please pay attention.” Drivers routinely make left-hand turns from the right lane, and vice-versa, crossing all lanes of traffic as they do so.
If you are visiting Quito and are looking for ways to get around without getting behind the wheel of a car, there are several options available to you. Taxis here are plentiful and relatively inexpensive, usually about $1 per mile or so. The taxi industry is heavily regulated and official taxis are yellow, with their registration number on each side of the vehicle. They are required to use their meters and all have security cameras in them (although there is some debate about whether or not the cameras are actually activated.)
When you are out and about at night, it is best to call a taxi company rather than hailing one off of the street. Reports of “taxi-jackings” are common, and most of the time the taxi driver is part of the set-up. Be wary of so-called “gypsy taxis” – these are private citizens who run a taxi service with their own personal car. They are legal, however there are no regulations for them. I’ve had friends who use them all the time with no problems, and I’ve had friends who have used them with disastrous results.
Quito is a wonderful place to visit, with a mix of old and new surrounded by the majestic Andes Mountains. Spending a bit of time researching your travel options before you go will help you to spend less time worrying about how you’re going to get around and more time enjoying the beauty of this lovely city!CM
Uber does operate in Quito, but it is almost unknown so hardly anyone uses it. There is a service called “Make Friends” that is basically the same thing, and there is also an app called “Easy Taxi” that you can put on your phone. The prices for taxis from these services are exactly the same as they are for hailing a taxi off of the street, and they are much safer.
Buses are an entertaining way to get around the city, and very inexpensive – about $.50 or so per trip. You’ll see entertainers and salesmen get on and off, making it kind of like a cross between “Ecuador’s Got Talent” and “Home Shopping Network.” Depending on the time of day and the route you’re on, they may be very crowded, and you could find yourself sharing your seat (if you get one) with chickens, small children or several people squeezed into one seat next to you. It’s just part of the experience! Keep an eye on your purses, wallets and other possessions – those sweet little old ladies and small children are very capable of making off with your stuff while they are smiling away at you!
There is a trolley system that runs north and south – it is also an inexpensive way to get from one end of the city to another. It is almost always very crowded, and it’s a very good place to get robbed, so be aware of your surroundings.
Quito has become a popular bicycling city and there are bicycles for rent in various places all over the city. On Sundays, from 8 am to 2 pm, the Avenida Amazonas is closed to vehicles and open for cycling, walking and rollerblading. It is a fun way to see the city and very safe.
Quito is a wonderful place to visit, with a mix of old and new surrounded by the majestic Andes Mountains. Spending a bit of time researching your travel options before you go will help you to spend less time worrying about how you’re going to get around and more time enjoying the beauty of this lovely city!
For more on Latin America, check out Medellin, Colombia.