Quito lies in a valley surrounded by mountains, most of them volcanoes. The western edge of the city wraps around the base of Pichincha, an active volcano that had a major eruption as recently as 1999. Ecuadorians seem completely unfazed by the volcanoes, and have built a gondola – the TelefériQo – up the side of one of the dormant parts of Pichincha.
The TelefériQo, which climbs partway up the mountain, is clearly set up for masses of tourists, and we’ve heard of multi-hour queues to ride on weekends and holidays with good weather. We had good luck and were able to go up with no waiting on an overcast midweek afternoon. The TelefériQo climbs almost 3000 feet above the city, to an elevation of 12,943′ (3945m). Or maybe 13,287′ (4050m). Or is it 13,451 (4100m)? None of the signs agree with each other, or with the internet. In any case, it’s high enough that we noticed the change in altitude.
The temperature at the top was probably 15F colder than the base, and there’s some wind. Good thing we came prepared with fleeces and windbreakers. A hat and gloves would not have been out of place.
Despite the overcast skies we had a good view of Quito, which is quite large. On a clear day it’s possible to see some of the other nearby volcanic peaks such as Cotopaxi and Chimborazo. We were unable to see these peaks due to the cloud cover. Fun fact, thanks to Earth’s equatorial ‘bulge’, the top of Chimborazo is closer to the sun than the top of Mount Everest!
A hiking trail continues up from the top station of the gondola toward the peaks of the mountain. Along the trail there are some lookouts and – strangely – a set of playground swings about a quarter-mile from the station, so we slowly made our way in that direction.
Though we’d acclimatized reasonably well to the altitude in Quito, we certainly felt the extra elevation and exertion of the hike. We also made a surprise stop. Partway up a couple of enterprising locals brought a pair of llamas to the trail for photo ops. Nate leapt at the chance to take a photo with the llamas, so we obliged. Best $1 we’ve spent in awhile!
I’ve been informed that despite the encouragement of the proprietor, Nate did not in fact kiss the llama. Nor did he let the llama kiss him. I will leave the post title as clickbait.
For completeness I will also note that the boys were thoroughly amused that one of the llamas relieved itself in their presence.
After the llamas we continued our slow hike upwards. Both boys got to try the swings, which are quite the novelty. Somehow I managed to forget to try them myself!
After the swings we turned around and headed back down, taking the gondola back to the base station. Just below the base station there is a small amusement park, VulQano Park. Since there is no entrance fee (you pay per ride) we wandered in. The park was open but nearly empty. We didn’t partake in the rides, but perhaps we should have to say that we did so.
The boys have desperate for hamburgers, so we wrapped up the day at Bandido Brewing, a brewpub that wouldn’t have been out of place in the US. The beer and food were excellent. The pub attracted a very diverse clientele, including local businessmen, expats, backpackers, and at least one other family. Would love to spend some more time there someday!