Quito, is not this the city with one of the most dangerous airports in the world, that sloping field between mountainside and residential area, feared by pilots of all countries because of its extremely short runway? The question comes straight to mind when one thinks of the capital of Ecuador. But there is no reason to panic: the airport is closed. Since 2013 there is a new one.
Then you arrive at the new Mariscal Sucre Airport, arrived in a land where the earth so often trembles and lava spits like hardly anywhere else. In Ecuador, sandwiched between Colombia and Peru, many immediately think of the Galapagos Islands off the coast.
But the mainland is exciting, especially Quito and its surroundings are full of surprises. The metropolis, located halfway between the Amazon and the Pacific coast, lies in a valley bottom, but extends up to 2850 meters above sea level, it adorns itself with the title of “highest capital in the world”.
Nearly two million people live here in the thin air on the slope of the local mountain Pichincha, which sometimes spits ash. The old town belongs to the world cultural heritage, it is one of the best preserved colonial city centers of Latin America. And if you make a detour to the city gates, you will find yourself in a breathtaking volcanic landscape.
Ecuador's capital, Quito, looks almost pompous
As befits a colonial city conquered by the Spaniards and newly founded in the 16th century, churches are the image of the city center. On San Francisco Square, on whose 500-year-old cobblestones children throw excited pigeons to corn, the most splendid are gathered: the Franciscan Church, which sparkles as mysteriously as a treasure chest under its Arab-style Mudejar decoration.
The Compañía de Jesús, a baroque palace lined with so much gold leaf that your eyes hurt. The basilica, whose neo-Gothic flanks are copied from Cologne Cathedral – except that it is not demons looking down on the viewer, but monkeys carved in stone, iguanas, turtles and an anteater.
Quito thrives on a provincial charm in the best sense of the word, it's a neat, almost Latin American capital. Pastel-colored colonial houses with stucco facades that glow in the intense light of the plateau, characteristic sidewalks with patterns of burned brick, and up the mountainsides are colorful houses that seem like stacked star boxes.
In some corners hides the traditional crafts, shops such as the operation of Luis Banda, where on the edge of a steep alley, a typical dessert. Banda, a small man with mustache and turned-up baseball cap, shakes a huge brass bowl dangling from two cords above a coal fire.
Inside, hundreds of white globules jump up and down: Colaciones, heavenly sweet peanuts. With a tin cup Banda draws a little bubbling molasses on the nuts. The procedure lasts three hours and lime juice is added at the end.
The gondola takes you to the volcano Pichincha
The most impressive effect of the city from above, which means: 18 minutes gondola ride over dizzying gorges and slopes, until you stand with wet hands on the 4100 -meter-high Pichincha.
From here, Quito looks like a long tongue nestling in the valley. The city is 30 kilometers long, but only three kilometers wide. Fluffy clouds lie on the Andes like the milk foam crown of a cappuccino, from the ceiling here and there protrude individual volcanic craters.
Such a spectacular surrounding area has hardly a big city to offer, and since a dozen volcanoes is virtually on the doorstep, you can explore one or the other fire mountain in the context of a day trip. You just drive on the Panamericana south.
The mountainous landscape is reminiscent of the gently rolling hills of the Allgäu, then looks like a desert like heaps of sand. Finally, the top sugar loaves emerge, littering the slopes with a patchwork of fields.
Indians in the poncho breed sheep and alpacas, the women wear felt hats, skirts and boots. They are the descendants of the Incas who live here in crouched mud huts, wheat and the potato-like Oca tubers grow and on the roadside hawked giant guinea pigs hawk.
From Quilotoa Lake to the excavation site of Tulipe
800 years ago, the volcano Quilotoa erupted here, lava spilling into the Pacific Ocean. Inside the crater formed a nine-kilometer-diameter lake – the Quilotoa Lake, which today is one of the most beautiful volcanic lakes on earth.
The descent from the crater rim takes half an hour, cold winds whistle over the slopes of mustard-colored limestone. Bubbles gobble down to the emerald green water surface – a sign that the volcano is still active. There is no fish, no life here, just a 180 meter deep jacuzzi in the Andes.
For those who find the way back to the top too cumbersome, they can either rent a mule or have their tea made from coca leaves: the stimulating effect completely eliminates the effort of climbing.
Quilotoa Lake is the highest point in the district of Quito, the lowest point at the excavation site of Tulipe at 1500 meters. Tulipe is halfway between the capital and the Pacific coast, with every drop of altitude less gaining the landscape splendor. Bamboo, sugarcane and banana trees are growing along the roadside, and villages with pickled wooden huts exude an almost Caribbean flair.
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The descendants of the Yumbos live in the cloud forest
The Yumbos once lived here, an indigenous merchant folk who worshiped a small red bird and left strange spiral patterns on the surrounding stones. In the shadow of a sophisticated trench system, they transported grain and seafood between the coast and highland settlements.
Narrated are the purification ceremonies of the Yumbos, which they performed in special swimming pools. In Tulipe you can visit a few of them.
Behind a stream, on an extensive palm grove in an opulent tropical garden, they are embedded in the ground: six winding pools of volcanic rock, crescent and Puma modeled after. At night, when the moon and stars were reflected on their water surface, the Yumbos climbed into the cool waters, uniting their souls with the universe.
After a devastating volcanic eruption, they retreated to higher ground. There, in the so-called cloud forest, their descendants live until today. The Comunidad Yunguilla is a village community dedicated to ecotourism, located on one of those spectacular slopes where the clouds pass through the treetops.
For a long time people worked here as charcoal burners, living off the clearing of the cloud forest where spectacled bear and hummingbird are at home. In 1995, they set up their first guest rooms in their homes.
“In the beginning we still had doubts,” admits Raúl Torres, a squat man standing in rubber boots under a papaya tree in front of his house. “We thought: Why should tourists come to us? There's nothing here. “He laughs. “Then came a group of Dutch and could not get enough of the look and the heavenly peace.”
Today, nearly every one of the 55 families on the slopes of Yunguilla has their guest room. They also produce cheese and gooseberry jam, and on the highest hill of the settlement, a dining room was built. Overlooking the Andes, you can sip a delicious quinoa soup, the ingredients of which are sourced from the vegetable aperitif on your doorstep.
All Ecuador in a cup of chocolate
On the way back to Quito, tour guide Daniel Maldonado tells of the curse and blessing that comes with life on rumbling tectonic plates. The volcanic soil is so rich that the land can largely live on what the soil gives off.
Main exports are bananas and flowers, but also petroleum. And of course cocoa. The is grown for 3000 years; At the end of the 19th century, huge haciendas were built around Quito, with around six percent of the world's cocoa production coming from Ecuador today.
In the meantime, the country has not only made a name for itself as the source of the raw material, but also as a producer of first-class chocolate. This can be tasted wonderful in the chocolate shop of Pacari in a colonial building just opposite the National Palace in Quito.
There are, for example, chocolate with chili, with fig or with Andean blueberry. In recent years, Pacari has earned a lot of trophies at the International World Chocolate Awards, an award that has long been only for European producers.
Behind the bar, Ana Solís is stirring a hot chocolate. For this she heats milk in a saucepan, add orange peel, star anise, a stick of cinnamon and a handful of chocolate balls. Then she roasts some barley in a pan, grates the grains in a clay bowl and carefully lifts the flour under the liquid.
The result is stunning and tastes everything in the shade, what has been served as cocoa. The description is correspondingly opulent: this drink is as light as the clouds in the Andes, as rich as the black volcanic soil at the foot of the Quilotoa, as sweet as the chirping of birds above the treetops of the cloud forest. You can also say it shorter: all Ecuador in a cup.
Tips and information
Getting there: Lufthansa, for example, flies daily from Frankfurt to Quito, KLM via Amsterdam and Iberia via Madrid.
Accommodation: In the “Hotel Carlota” in French colonial style blows the noble charm of the turn of the century, double room with breakfast from 185 euros (carlota.ec). The charming guesthouse “Hotel de la Rabida” is centrally and idyllically, double room with breakfast from 60 Euro (hostalrabida.com). In the cloud forest at the foot of the Cotopaxi volcano two hours outside of Quito lies the hacienda “El Porvenir”, a lovingly furnished farmhouse. Simple sleeping chambers from 30 euros, comfortable double rooms from 120 euros (tierradelvolcan.com).
Eat: In the hotel “Casa Gangotena” directly at the Plaza San Francisco you can feast like a cocoa baron during the colonial period. Only the dishes are adapted to the 21st century – serving modern Ecuadorian fusion cuisine (casagangotena.com). In the narrow streets of the artists' quarter La Ronda in the south of the old town, the restaurant “Altamira” serves typical Ecuadorian dishes – simple but good (facebook.com/altamirarestaurante/).
Further information: quito-turismo.gob.ec; ecuador.travel/en
Participation in the trip was supported by Quito Turismo. Our standards of transparency and journalistic independence can be found at axelspringer.de/unabhaengigkeit.
Ecuador (t) Country portraits (t) Quito (t) City portraits (t) City trips (t) Volcanoes (t) Chocolate (t) Andes Mountains (t) World heritage (t) Lufthansa (t) Moon (t ) Galapagos (t) Iguana (t) Journey (t) Hotel de la Rabida (t) Quito Turismo (t) Artists' quarter La Ronda (t) Pacific (t) Puma (t) Latin America (t) MAN (t) Quilotoa volcano ( t) Ecuador (t) local mountain Pichincha (t) highlands