When booking my tour, I was given the option of either departing at 9 AM or 11 PM. I HIGHLY recommend going with the much later flight if you ever have that option. Not being a morning person, I realized to make a 9 AM flight, I would have to leave the hotel at about 5 AM, which means that I would have been #teamnosleep. Yes, you may not have your hotel room until 12 PM because of checkout. However, hotels can hold onto your stuff while you explore. It is pretty much an extra day of exploration at your own pace. I liked having a day to create my own schedule and wake up at my own time, especially after having done a tour for 8 days that is more on a controlled time schedule.
Taking some tidbits from our tour guide and this website, here is how I spent my last day in Quito. 1. Changing of the Guards Every Monday morning at around 11 AM, the President of Ecuador and some of his ministers stand on the balcony of the Presidential residence on Plaza de la Independencia in front of the public. Several hundred people turn out for this (from my personal experience), so it is good to get there at least 30-45 minutes early if you want to get yourself a good seat in the public space with room to watch the whole ceremony.
ALL sorts of people come out for this, ranging from your hipsters to your nuns.
Police is on deck to ensure protection of the President.
Sometimes, they just roll through...
Guards of the parliament march in their colorful Ecuadorian colored uniform and perform the national anthem. There are even horses that go through the crowds!
To see the actual #changingoftheguards ceremony, look below.
You have to admit that it is pretty cool to be in the same vicinity as the President in a weekly basis! If only we could see U.S. President Obama in this way.
2. Visiting El Panecillo Statue
As we ventured around Quito before, we could see this statue of Mary hovering over the city from a distance. Now we had the opportunity to take a much closer look! The statue of the Virgin Mary (Maria) is called #ElPanecillo which means "small bread." The hill that it is sitting on divides south and downtown Quito. From the top, you can get a full view of #Quito and the valley.
The statue itself is an aluminum monument, made of 7,000 pieces. It represents a replica of the winged Virgin Maria of Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco on Plaza San Francisco. It was built with a crown of stars, angelic wings and a chained dragon atop of the world. It is a source of fame and pride for Quiteños because it is the only Madonna in the world depicted with wings. It is best to take a taxi from the old town, as we were told it is unsafe to climb up due to steepness and safety reasons (for example, high chances of getting robbed). We asked our cab driver to wait for us while we were taking pictures like typical "American tourists." However, there were also cab drivers waiting around or you could hop on a local bus and go back down the hill.
3. Cable Car Ride
Quito is the highest elevated capital in the world, located in the Andes Mountains, 2,850 meters above sea level. A fabulous way to see the extent of its elevation is through a cable car ride.
From El Panecillo, we asked our cab driver to take us to the cable car ride. Ironically, I knew more Spanish than the person I was with (who was European). However, neither of us knew how to say cab driver in Spanish. My tourist pal for the day had to draw on a piece of paper what the cable car looked like. This is how we discovered it was called "#teleferico."
Taxi rides were so cheap. It cost us $10 to be driven from old town Quito to El Panecillo. The driver then waited for us for a good 5-10 minutes and drove us back down to then take us deep into Quito to the "teleferico." He was quite patient! He even stopped once for us to take a picture of some gorgeous views that expanded miles. #cabrideforthewin
The cable ride itself was not expensive. It was simply breathtaking. Going up, you can see how massive the city of Quito was. From another direction, you can see how wide the valleys, mountains, and volcanoes spanned.
Up on the top, it was really chilly. There was an opportunity to go horseback riding or chill at a cafe. Going back down provided us with a different angle. I will say Quito has a very impressive, expansive #cablecar ride system - just considering how high up in elevation it goes and how many cable cars are connected in the system. We managed to pick up a random taxi in the parking lot and headed back to down Quito. I was happy that I was able to carry out an entire conversation with my broken Spanish.
Check out video views from the cable car!
4. Explore More Markets & Street Art
In search for last minute cheap gifts to take back home, we just wandered the streets in the area nearby leading from the famous "Market Place" to our hotel. I came across lots of street murals, which I have a lovely fascination for. We also came across a very tight market filled with tens of vendors. Maybe even 100! Many of them were selling the same thing. It reminded me of the Caribbean Marketplace in Flatbush Ave and Linden Blvd. in Brooklyn (for those who know about that vendor life...).
Of course, a big part of this day was trying a new place for lunch and dinner. For lunch, we ate at Mama Clorindo Restaurant and had a fabulous steak and fries meal with sweet empanadas for dessert (a classic in Ecuador). For dinner, we went to Fried Bananas restaurant. They had a really good rice and shrimp meal with plantains.
ONE TIP: Lots of places are closed on Mondays, so keep that in mind when searching for places to eat before you make a trip. On Sundays, places typically do not serve liquor because Ecuador is a fairly religious country practicing Catholicism where Sunday is the Sabbath. Some places will serve alcohol, but only if you buy with a plate for food.