We took the Free Walking Tour about 2 weeks into our visit to Quito, Ecuador. In retrospect we wish that it would have been our first stop. Here’s why . . .
This is as comprehensive a city tour as I have taken and paid handsomely. For those that haven’t done a “free” walking tour before, the guides work for tips. So they tend to put more effort into entertaining you. This was is provided by the Community Hostel and guided by one of the experienced staff. In our case, that was Ovi.
The walking tour lasts about 3 hours and is an easy walk through Old Town with plenty of stops.
Quito Central Market
Ovi started us off at the Central Market where he described the typical dishes of Ecuador. He also pointed out the fruits from the region and the the role exports play in the Ecuadoran economy. Surprise fun fact: the biggest export is not fruit but is actually oil. We then sampled some fresh juice from a vendor inside the market which can be blended to taste. Our pick – mora (blackberry) with coconut milk – delish.
Quito Historic Center
We moved on to the historic city center where we were given a brief history of Ecuador, learning how it gained its independence from Spain. Ovi pointed out specific buildings and explained their significance. We also learned about Ecuador’s decision to move to using the US dollar as its currency and the implications for life in Ecuador. According to Ovi, those Ecuadorians who left during the devaluation of the currency prospered in countries such as Spain and Italy. They sent money to their relatives who remained in the country. Now returning to Ecuador, many of these people were able to construct huge homes. This explains why we saw mansions in the midst of impoverished areas in the countryside.
From there we visited a candy shop where we were given an explanation of each kind and invited to purchase what we wanted to sample.
Not finished yet. We were given a tour of the interior of the San Francisco Church and were told about the artwork inside.
Tasting Ecuador’s Chocolate
This was followed by a trip to a chocolate shop where Ovi gave a presentation about how chocolate is made.
Important Safety Tips About Quito
We were shown the area where the black market had been ousted from several years ago. We were told that the climb to see the La Virgen de Quito statue at the top of the hill above was not recommended. The thieves that were moved out of the black market apparently wait for tourists to make the climb and are ripe for mugging. Tip – take a taxi to the top if you want to see the statue. We had been planning to hike the stairs in 2 days. Scratch.
Can you believe this is a free walking tour?
He ended the tour with a trip to a few artisan shops and an invitation to Almuerzo (lunch). There are several restaurants dotted throughout the City who serve a typical Ecuadoran lunch. This is typically of a glass of fresh juice, salad or soup, rice, fried plantains, beans and most commonly fish, beef or chicken. Always accompanied with a sauce called Aji (mildly spicy creamy condiment with fresh onions).
As a bonus we got to meet some interesting people and were given additional recommendations about Quito and other places that we were planning to visit. The tour in sum was fantastic and well worth the price tag of “free”. But don’t worry, we did give Ovi a tip to show our appreciation. If you go, we recommend you do the same.
Read more about the Ecuadorian Economy Here: Wikipedia