Two cities on the western side of South America, two countries that share a border, Quito and Lima both have good and bad sides. They are quite different cities despite being in neighbouring countries, and both offer quite a bit for the visitor.
Quito is the Ecuadorian capital. It’s at altitude – 2,850 metres above sea level, and it’s spread over many mountains, and is a short distance from the equator. Wiki gives it a city population of 2.67 million. Lima, with a population of nearly 11 million, is the Peruvian capital perched on the coast.
Quito is very impressive fly in or out of when you see the hills covered in houses and buildings. Its historical centre is well maintained and has some beautiful old churches to visit. However, the most interesting is the more modern Basilica of the National Vow. Its construction began in the 1880s, yet apparently it is not technically finished. It was consecrated in 1988.
What it is amazing about the cathedral is being able to climb up it. The views are amazing – and I didn’t get to the very top, owing to you know, being too scared – and you get to cross the top of the ceiling of the cathedral below. Its neo-gothic in style and it’s very worthwhile. From here you see how Quito spreads across the hills.
The old city is beautiful to walk around, and includes many squares. It’s a very European city, although the altitude does leave some breathless the best way to explore the old city is to walk around. For lunch the little restaurants offer filling multi-course meals for 4 dollars or less. Safety is considered an issue in Quito, but in the old town there is police posted on most corners and thus it’s pretty safe and you feel it.
There are historical buildings too. For example, the house of Antonio Jose de Sucre. One of the founders of modern Ecuador, this amazing house in the centre of the old town is beautiful and full of history – a great place to learn about colonial Quito, Ecuador and South America. There’s also the Presidential Palace, which you can take a (free!) tour of, if you prebook online.
Then there’s the equator, a short trip from central Quito. There’s a monument to ‘the middle of the Earth’ where you can get your photo taken, see a few statues and try a few tricks that happen when you go from one side of the equator to the other – like watch water spin the opposite direction. Which I still think is a parlour trick.
But – Lima! Well the history of Lima goes back a long time. There are ancient ruins of Huaca Pucllana appear to be the remains of a citadel hundreds and hundreds of years old. Worth a bit of time to walk around and hear the history.
Lima has plenty of colonial history too, with wide roads and tall buildings, and some amazing churches and convents. The Convent de San Francisco was highly worth visiting, with its own catacombs to explore and a wonderful library which looks like it was straight out of Harry Potter.
In Quito the squares are almost cute, in Lima they are grand. The size of Lima dwarfs that of Quito. Lima has the Miraflores district with swanky hotels and shopping full of glitz and glamour, which is lacking in Quito. You look down at the Pacific Ocean from high atop the cliffs as the waves crash down so far below. It’s an impressive location and no mistake. And there are plenty of chains like TGI Fridays. Lima is a modern city.
Transport. Well, Quito is small enough for the essentials in the old town that you may need nothing more than your feet, otherwise it’s buses or taxis. Lima has this sort of metro system where the centre of main arterial roads are reserved for these buses. But it’s not enough for the city. Taxis are everywhere, but the traffic is constantly at a snail’s pace in several areas, especially at peak times. Honestly, it’s one of the most congested cities I have ever seen!
Both are similarly priced – Peru has its own currency, Ecuador uses the dollar. A cheap meal for a few bucks can usually be found if you look where the locals go.
The air is cleaner in Quito. There seemed to be a lot of dust in Lima to me, but I’ve been told it’s actually smog. Neither are pleasant! And then safety. Well, I’ve heard stories about robberies in Quito and Lima. I didn’t meet anyone on my travels who’d had an issue in Quito – in fact I dropped some money and someone picked it up and ran after me with it. I heard first hand of a couple who had been robbed in a taxi in Lima. Man on a bike broke the window and grabbed a handbag and bolted. First night in South America, just off a plane. But that doesn’t mean Quito is safer than Lima or that Lima is a dangerous place, it could happen anywhere. Wrong place, wrong time.
And the winner is…. Quito! Well, it is the city slowly being discovered at the moment. It’s manageable, pretty, interesting and easy to walk around. I’m not sure I actually liked Lima to be honest. Too big, the traffic – oh GAWD! The TRAFFIC! But, well worth a visit.
Thanks for reading – what do you think? Next Monday (when I normally do ‘City Rumble’) I’ll already be off on my next adventure so it will be a while before I do another rumble. But please stay posted – and May the Journey Never End!