Quito: Vignettes from the first few days

The primary goal of our posts is to update family and friends on our whereabouts. However, we have gained so much knowledge reading fellow nomad and long-term traveller blogs that we will include a few details that might seem inconsequential to some readers, but which we hope will provide practical information to those on a similar path.

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¡Hola, all! We are now in Quito, Ecuador. Here are a few of our first experiences as we find our way in this country and continent that we have never visited before.

Customs and immigration

We did not require a visa to come into the country and getting through both customs and immigration was a breeze. We were not asked for an exit ticket, as we had been warned might happen, but we were ready with our proof of exit from Return Flight Tickets, just in case.

Altitude sickness

Just last month, we started reading about the effects of altitude sickness on visitors to Quito. We knew that Quito was very high (9350 feet), but thought we had an edge coming from Calgary, which sits at about 3400 feet. We didn’t factor in our visit to Vancouver, at sea level, for more than a week before we travelled, which eliminated our advantage. For the first 3 days we experienced symptoms that included headaches, fatigue, body aches, confusion, and lack of coordination–all standard symptoms of altitude sickness, according to WebMD. We drank lots of water, took slow walks, and didn’t overdo it. By Friday, our fourth day here, we were both feeling much more ourselves.


When we arrived at our AirBnB apartment, there was a 6L water bottle waiting for us in the fridge, and the host’s notes indicated that we should drink bottled water. Though many expats living in Quito are comfortable with drinking tap water, even the official visitor guides recommend drinking bottled water only.

Our current water management system goes like this:

  • Buy 6L water bottles for drinking (~$1.20 each–just requires a cab if we want to bring more than one home from the store).
  • Boil water and keep it in an empty 6L jug for washing vegetables and fruits.
  • Use the Grayl water filter system we brought to filter water for making coffee.

We could use our Grayl system for everything, but there is a filter lifespan and cost. Given the very cheap price for large bottles of water, the only drawback to using it for everything is the burden of getting them home. So, the above is a compromise that is working for now.

Grocery stores

We have been to two major supermercados here, both within walking distance. Comparisons with our Canadian stores:


  • Prices are cheaper for local goods like produce.
  • Milk is sold in either Tetrapaks or in jiggly plastic bags stacked on their backs on the shelves. No milk in the fridge.
  • Cream and whipping cream are sold in jiggly plastic bags in the fridge or in little containers like margarine or soft cream cheese.
  • Yogurt is all drinkable and sold in bottles of many colours. The yogurt display looks like a dairy section full of milk bottles.
  • There is almost no spoonable yogurt except for little snack packs with cereals and other add-ins on top in the cap. We have not yet been able to find plain yogurt, other than a very tiny bottle of plain yogurt drink. Nor have we been able to find sour cream.
  • Lots of different fruits and vegetables that we will begin to try soon using a great article about Ecuadorian produce as our guide.
  • No whole-grain pastas, but we did find quinoa!
  • Meat and poultry look fresh, well-packaged, and plentiful. In one of the supermercados, I noticed a surprisingly large section of wiener-type products, and large display cases filled with chicken feet are common.
  • Bulk bins contain fresh prepared produce such as shelled broad beans and peas, and huge kernels of corn that we have seen roasted until they are crunchy and then added to hot dishes or eaten as a snack.
  • Lots of shelf-stockers and cleaners throughout the stores. Staff is everywhere, which is probably really helpful if you have the language skills to take advantage of their presence.
  • When you buy your groceries, you bring your shopping cart up to the cashier, empty it onto the counter, and then leave your cart there. The carts stack up creating a bit of chaos among those waiting in line until someone comes by to whisk them all away. When you have paid for your groceries, there are outside carts if you need help taking bags to your car. Most people seem to be walking or cabbing, though, which makes sense since we are living in the downtown area.

Yesterday we made a quick trip through a huge produce market, but I will wait to write about it until we go back and experience it fully.


Apparently there are safe cabs (orange license plates, number on door, meter inside) and not-so-safe ones. For our first cab ride on Thursday, we found one outside of the Supermaxi that checked all of the boxes. The starting meter price was 50 cents, and it likely would have cost us about $2 except that the driver misunderstood/misread our address and headed for el Pinto and not la Pinta street, a difference of about 13km (a common confusion according to our host, who had warned us ahead of time). Luckily Ken noticed very quickly that the driver was going too far, we reminded him of our address (por favor, LA PINTA, ¡no EL PINTO!), he laughed and agreed that he was going the wrong way, and he got us home safely–without stopping the meter, of course. Final cost: $3. We have taken two other cabs that looked right on the outside, but had either no meter or no working meter. They both only cost us $2. The host of an event we attended on Friday night called another cab for us (something restaurants and hotels will gladly do for you). No markings, no meter, and we were told the price would be $3.50. Had we taken care of it ourselves, we likely would have paid $2!


Twice now we have been delighted to stop and watch intersection hijinks. In Calgary and Vancouver, we are used to squeegee kids or other street folks walking through cars that are stuck at lights and begging from the drivers. Here commuters are entertained rather than pestered. On Friday, we saw a juggling clown duo park a chair in the crosswalk and toss bright red pins up in the air and to each other until, with just a few seconds of light left, they took a synchronized bow and then wandered past the front rows of drivers, bowler hat outstretched. Yesterday, it was a fire juggler, tossing and spinning a triangular frame contraption, flames glowing in the dusk. As his act ended he blew out the flames and quickly gathered coins from the arms extending through car windows just as the light changed.


One of the cross streets at the end of our block is called Avenida Rio Amazonas (Amazon River Avenue), which runs roughly north and south through much of the city. This street is part of Ciclopaseo, a Sunday-only on-road bicycle path where an 18 mile stretch of road is closed to motor traffic and bicycles fill the streets. There are free water stations along the route that travels through several parks. We walked alongside part of the Ciclopaseo today and were really impressed to see all the side streets blocked and how well used this path is. Along the route there are also several stations to pick up and drop off BiciQuito bikes from the city’s free bicycle program. If my knee can handle it, we hope to take part on the next Sunday we are free.

Parks in Quito also come alive on Sundays, which is traditionally family day. We walked to Parque Elejido, which was full of large and small family groups enjoying the many play structures and ride-on toys available for kids, BBQing, playing games, and eating food from the many vendors along the pathways. In the same small park, were artisan kiosks, and the sidewalks and some of the pathways near the entrance were lined with large displays of paintings and other artwork.


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