Most remarkably, Quito sits up high at 2850 meters (almost 9,000 feet) above sea level in a valley bordered by mountains. This position means Quito is spread out over 50 kilometers from north to south, but only eight kilometers wide. There is a mix of old and new in this city of 1.6 million. The Centro historico (historic center) is a trip back into colonial times, with narrow cobblestone streets, ornate plazas, and old, but spectacular churches.
The newer part of town, called New Town, nicknamed unimaginably, gringolandia, is more cosmopolitan, like the magazine. The area has a lively cultural scene, active nightlife, and newer hotels, and from what I read, the best restaurants in Ecuador. Most of the people live in barrios or shantytowns, up the slopes of the mountains, or north and south of the city center. It reminds me of Rio, but much nicer here. And people here are quite conservative, clinging to traditional values.
The proud residents of Quito hold the distinction of receiving the very first World Heritage Site status from UNESCO in 1978. Through upkeep problems, the city has invested in increased police and cleaner streets. Old town sits at the northern flank of “Little Bread Loaf”, or El Pan
New Town is a world away from Old Town, with the Mariscal Sucre serving as the hub of gringolandia. I am certain we will find some bars, internet cafes, and restaurants here. It is also the city’s main area for nightlife. It still remains one of the diciest areas, despite increased police presence. Among the issues are unmarked cabs, pickpockets, bag-slashers, and soccer referees (just kidding). The trolley is the worst for pickpockets, making a taxi the best alternative.
Old Town is much safer and cleaner. It sounds like Mike can amble and ramble safely here. Traffic is restricted by license plate numbers at peak hours (great idea). Cars are prohibited on Sundays from 9am to 4pm, making is the best day for sightseeing. The focal point is Plaza Grande with a surrounding park. Very nice with lots of people and shoe shine stands in every nook.
Meanwhile back in New Town, home to backpackers, the main street is Avenida Amazonas in this internationally flavored area. Along with the usual bars and restaurants are the ubiquitous 24 hour coffee shops for night owls. To get above it all, the Teleferiqo or cable car, climbs up the slopes of Pichincha. It is a ten minute ride, resulting in breathtaking views at slightly over 4000 meters. It looks much like an urban ski lift to me.
So far, Quito has been very relaxing. Traveling with two old pros like Mike and Barry make it easy. I think it also keeps us safe, though panhandlers still come up to us. The stories will start to come in a day or so, things are quite vanilla for now.