Quito - View 1

Medellin Colombia – to – Quito Ecuador – Journey


JULY 2018:


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OVERVIEW:

PLEASE NOTE: The official exchange rate at the time of writing was US$1 = C$2,875 (Colombian Peso / COP); for simplicity, I use US$1 = C$3k. Ecuador uses the US$.

Our journey starts in Medellin (where I stayed 15 nights in the Posada Casa Santa Fe)I paid under C$24k / US$8 per night for a small Fan Double Room that included Cable TV (no English Speaking channels), wardrobe, fridge, and (small) hot water ensuite.Medellin - Casa Santa Fe - Room Entry

I enjoyed my 2 weeks in Medellin. City-loving GRANDPAckers should definitely come and have a look.

… It was time to move on to Quito, Ecuador via Bogota …


GETTING TO BOGOTA:

You can fly from Medellin to Bogota reasonably cheaply on airlines like WINGO and VIVA AIR. I chose to catch the night bus.Medellin to Bogota Map

The road to Bogota crosses the central mountains. The road has been upgraded and the bus trip is now easy and comfortable. The bus is scheduled to cover the (less than) 300kms distance in 10 hours.

There are 3+ bus companies that service this route. Some get better reviews than others. I chose a lower level ‘luxury’ seat on a Double-Decker Rapido Ochoa night bus at C$80k / US$27. I booked my ticket on their website.

The Rapido Ochoa Bus leaves from the Northern Bus Terminal (NOT from their offices nearby).Medellin Bus Terminal Map

My hotel was kind enough to let me stay in my room (free) until 7pm. I caught an UBER Taxi from there to the Northern Bus Terminal at a cost of C$9,254 / US$3.30. The Terminal is big and modern.Medellin - North Bus Terminal

The Rapido Ochoa kiosk was easy to find (on the 2nd floor). I showed them my e-Ticket on my smartphone. The check-in process was fast and friendly. I found my gate and waited for the bus.Medellin - North Bus Terminal Waiting

The lower level seating is better than the upper level seating … it is like Business Class on an airplane. We left on schedule at 10pm.Medellin - Rapido Ochoa Seating

Many people complain about the aircon being too cold on these buses. You need to bring something warm to wear. I had my Silk Sleeping Bag Liner that I bought in Hoi An … I jumped into it … it worked perfectly. I slept easily and well (the bottle of wine that I brought with me helped :-)). The seat was very comfortable. We arrived in Bogota 1 hour early at 7am (a 9 hour journey).

The only disappointment was that the man behind me stole my e-Cigarette out of my carry on bag. Alas, yet another reminder to be very careful with your luggage when travelling in these countries (even when travelling ‘Business Class’).

From the Bogota Bus Terminal, I caught an UBER Taxi to my hotel for C$14,900 / US$5.35.


ABOUT BOGOTA:

Bogotá is the capital and largest city of Colombia. It has a population of nearly 7 million. It is the political, economic, administrative, industrial, artistic, cultural, and sports center of the country.Bogota - Square 1

Bogotá was founded as the capital of the New Kingdom of Granada on August 6, 1538. The Muisca were the indigenous inhabitants of the region and they called Bogotá ‘Bacatá’, which means “The Lady of the Andes.” Further, the word ‘Andes’ in their language means “shining mountain” … so, Bogotá is literally “The Lady of the shining mountain.”

In 1819, Bogotá became the capital of the independent nation of Gran Colombia.Bogota - Square 2

The city is located in the center of Colombia, on a high plateau known as the Bogotá savanna. At an average of 2,640 metres (8,660 ft) above sea level, Bogota is the third-highest capital in South America (after Quito and La Paz). Bogotá is responsible for 56% of the tourism that arrives to Colombia.


WHERE TO STAY:

Most tourist stay in La Candelaria. The hotels in the historical center of La Candelaria and its surrounding areas ‘cater to lovers of culture and the arts‘ (I don’t know who writes this crap … but, they must get paid well).

La Candelaria has the bulk of the hostels in the city. In La Candelaria, there are many museums which you can reach by cable car or funicular.Bogota - Historical Centre Street 2

The hotels located near Ciudad Salitre are intended for visitors who make short stops in Bogotá and near El Dorado International Airport.

I decided to stay in La Candelaria. It is more expensive than other districts, but I wanted to enjoy the atmosphere of the ‘Historical Centre’.Bogota - Historical Centre Street 1

Alas, as ‘Historical Centres’ go, I have seen better.


ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS:

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what we find online … this is for 1 night at the end of July 2018:

HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):

BOOKING.COM:

Bogota Booking 1 Bogota Booking 2 Bogota Booking 3

AGODA.COM:

Bogota Agoda


PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites usually display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. Also, some of the cheaper rooms have a Shared Bathroom … so, check the details first. In Colombia, only Colombian Nationals pay the 19% tax … Tourists (surprisingly) are exempt from that tax.

VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):

If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.

Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … Please Note: these prices are in US$s and display the average price per night

TRIPADVISOR:

Bogota TripAdvisor

AIRBnB:

Bogota AirBnB


PLEASE NOTE: Vacation Rentals are usually displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any ‘Security Deposit’ (if required). BUT, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of ‘Cleaning Fees’ and the host site’s ‘Service Fee’. The Service Fee can add as 16%. Watch out for the Cleaning Fee – some can be more than 1 day’s rental!

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.

IN SUMMARY:

GRANDPAckers have lots of options within their price range. Expect to pay US$20+ / night for something decent.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


TRANSPORT:

Bogotá is a congested city but, since 1998, significant effort has been put in to upgrading the transport infrastructures. Buses remain the main means of mass transit. There are two bus systems: the traditional system and the TransMilenio.

The traditional system runs a variety of bus types, operated by several companies on normal streets and avenues: Bus (large buses), Buseta (medium size buses) and Colectivo (vans or minivans).

The TransMilenio system is a form of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that was deployed to compensate for the lack of a subway or rail system. TransMilenio combines articulated buses that operate on dedicated bus roads (busways) and smaller buses (feeders) that operate in residential areas – bringing passengers to the main grid. Although the Transmilenio carries commuters to numerous corners of the city, it is more expensive (US$0.80 / C$2,300) than any public transport (except, of course, taxis).

In addition to TransMilenio, there are travel restrictions on cars with certain license plate numbers during peak hours. There are segregated bicycle lanes forming one of the most extensive dedicated bike path networks of any city in the world (with a total extension of 376 kilometres).


MY ACCOMMODATION:

I knew my exact dates for my stay in Bogota weeks in advance; so, I created a shortlist and kept an eye on prices.

I finally chose a Double Room at Hotel Manila Plaza for 3 nights that was discounted down to C$50k / US$17 per night. It was on the edge of La Candelaria.Bogota - Manila Plaza - Room Entry

The room was large and included a Double Bed, a Single Bed …Bogota - Manila Plaza - Room

… Cable TV (with several English speaking channels), (poor) in-room WiFi, and a Hot Water Ensuite.Bogota - Manila Plaza - Ensuite Entry

It sat on a very ‘average’ and ‘un-picturesque’ street.


INTERNET / WIFI:

Your accommodation should provide free WiFi – bt, don’t expect it to be any good. The wifi in the Manila Plaza was poor.

I bought a Claro SIMcard in Cartagena. Claro is said to offer the best overall coverage and service. The SIMcard was C$3,100 / US$1 and I purchased a 2GB Data Package for C$42,900 / US$15. This data package came with a few minutes of call time and a few free SMSs. I topped it up in San Andres before my arrival and this lasted me in Medellin and Bogota.

I got a 3G / 4G signal around town most of the time.


EAT:

This is a big city. You have many options in all price ranges.

IN SUMMARY:

Expect to pay an average of C$7,500 / US$2.5+ for a cheap Breakfast with coffee / tea.

Expect to pay an average of C$7,500 / US$2.5+ a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.

Expect to pay an average of C$15,000 / US$5+ for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.


BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:

There are no Money Exchanges.


HEALTH & SAFETY:

In the 1990s, Bogota was known as being one of the most violent cities in the world. Bogotá has gone to great lengths to change its image – with increasing success.

In 1993, there were 4,352 murders at a rate of 81 per 100,000 people. In 2007, there were 20 per 100,000 inhabitants. In 2017, there were 14 per 100,000 inhabitants. 1.2% of street addresses account for 99 percent of homicides.

As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.

The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in these countries. Don’t leave anything unattended. Lock up your hotel room.

Don’t drink the tap water.


WHEN TO GO:

Bogotá has a temperate oceanic climate (Köppen Cfb). The average temperature is 14.5 °C (58 °F), varying from 6 to 19 °C (43 to 66 °F) on sunny days to 10 to 18 °C (50 to 64 °F) on rainy days.Bogota Climate Chart

Dry and rainy seasons alternate throughout the year. Fog is very usual in the early mornings (220 days per year); clear skies and sunny days are quite unusual.


WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:

Bogotá has many cultural venues including 58 museums, 62 art galleries, 33 library networks, 45 stage theaters, 75 sports and attraction parks, and over 150 national monuments.

Important landmarks and tourist stops in Bogotá include the botanical garden José Celestino Mutis, La Quinta de Bolivar, the national observatory, the planetarium, Maloka, the Colpatria observation point, the observation point of La Calera, the monument of the American flags, and La Candelaria (the historical district of the city). There is also Usaquen, a colonial landmark where brunch and flea market on Sundays is a traditional activity. The city has numerous green parks and amusement parks like Salitre Magico or Mundo Aventura.

Green areas surrounding Bogota are perfect locations for eco-tourism and hiking activities, in the eastern mountains of the city (just a few minutes walking from main roads) there are Quebrada La vieja and Chapinero Waterfalls, two of many green spots for sightseeing and tourism with clean air.

There are also several areas of the city where fine restaurants can be found. The G Zone, the T Zone, and La Macarena are well known for their gastronomic offerings.


GETTING TO QUITO:

Before entering Colombia, I bought a flight on WINGO from Bogota to Quito. An ‘exit ticket’ is a requirement on entering Colombia. The ticket cost me US$98 and included 20kg of stowed luggage, 10kg of carry on luggage, and one ‘personal’ bag (which, for me, is my laptop bag).

As usual, I got out my digital travel scales and made sure that all of my bag weights were correct before going to the airport. You pay significant charges if your luggage is over weight.

I caught an UBER Taxi from my La Candelaria hotel to Bogota International Airport. The cost was C$26,000 / US$9.30. It is over 20kms.Bogota Airport Location Map

I arrived at the WINGO desk 2.5 hours before my flight. The queue was small and I was checked-in in less than 10 minutes. 

Our flight left on time and we landed in Quito at about 11am.Quito Airport Location Map

As you board the plane you are given an Ecuador Immigration / Customs form to fill in. You are best to complete this before you land. The queue at Immigration was long and slow. It took nearly 40 minutes to get past Immigration.

The first thing that I did at the airport is search for an ATM. I found 2 in the arrivals hall 2nd floor. They both had a maximum withdrawal of only US$300 and a US$3 fee. If your home bank charges a Foreign ATM Transaction Fee, US$300 is too low. I exited Arrivals and crossed the road into the Shopping Centre. There I found a Banco Guayaquil ATM which allowed me to withdraw US$500 with a US$1.50 fee.

Quito Airport is quite a way out of town. A taxi to the City Centre costs about US$25-30.

A white ‘Luxury Bus’ takes you to the Old Airport in the north of the City for US$7.

Alternatively, you can catch a normal ‘Green Bus’ to either Rio Coca Bus Terminal (north of city) or Quitumbe Bus Terminal (south of city) for US$2. I took the Green Bus to Rio Coca.

From Rio Coca, I caught an UBER Tax to my hotel for US$4.10. In hindsight, I could have walked 50 metres down the road to the Rio Coca MetroBus Terminal and caught a trolley bus into the city (to the Hermano Miguel bus stop next to my hotel) for US$0.25c!


ABOUT QUITO:

Quito is the capital city of Ecuador and, at an elevation of 2,850 metres (9,350 ft) above sea level, it is the second-highest official capital city in the world (after La Paz, Bolivia) … and the one which is closest to the equator.Ecuador Map

According to the last census (2014), Quito has a population of 2.7m which makes it the second most populous city in Ecuador (after Guayaquil).

The historic center of Quito has one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centers in the Americas. Quito and Kraków, Poland, were among the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO in 1978.

The central square of Quito is located about 25kms south of the equator; the city itself extends to within about 1km of zero latitude.2018 Shaun Equator 1

A monument and museum marking the general location of the equator is known locally as la mitad del mundo (the middle of the world). It is, actually, in the wrong spot and has been set up for the Tourists … the actual equator is a small marker several kms further north.


WHERE TO STAY:

As usual, I wanted to stay in the ‘Historical Centre’ to experience some of Quito’s ‘ambience’.Quito Historical Centre Map

I booked myself into an hostel near the Hermano Miguel Bus Stop situated on the northern edge of the ‘Historical Centre’. It was a mistake. This area is dangerous at night and socialising was a problem.

My friend (who comes from Quito) said that my hotel was actual ‘down town’ and not in the ‘historical centre’ … she said that I should have gone to the La Mariscal (Mariscal Sucre) area near to Plaza Foch / La Zona.Quito Where to Stay

Oh well, I will know better next time! 🙂

Even in this area, you are advised to be careful at night in the ‘historical’ streets. They had a bad reputation for many years, became run-down, and attracted some unsavoury characters.

But, the government has invested heavily in improving the area in recent years and encouraged a tidy up and investment in restaurants and cafes … some bad elements remain, but the locals try hard to protect their ‘tourist trade’ and to keep tourists safe.


ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS:

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what we find online … this is for 1 night at the beginning of August 2018:

HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):

BOOKING.COM:

Quito - Booking 1 Quito - Booking 2 Quito - Booking 3

AGODA.COM:

Quito - Agoda


PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites usually display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. Also, some of the cheaper rooms have a Shared Bathroom … so, check the details first. In Ecuador, taxes can add another 12% to the displayed price.

VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):

If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.

Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … Please Note: these prices are in US$s and display the average price per night

TRIPADVISOR:

Quito - TripAdvisor

AIRBnB:

Quito - AirBnB


PLEASE NOTE: Vacation Rentals are usually displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any ‘Security Deposit’ (if required). BUT, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of ‘Cleaning Fees’ and the host site’s ‘Service Fee’. The Service Fee can add as 16%. Watch out for the Cleaning Fee – some can be more than 1 day’s rental!

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.

IN SUMMARY:

GRANDPAckers have lots of options within their price range. Expect to pay US$20+ / night for something decent.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


TRANSPORT:

The MetrobusQ network is the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system running in Quito, and it goes through the city from south to north.

It is divided into three sections—the green line (the central trolleybus, known as El Trole), the red line (the north-east Ecovía), and the blue line (the north-west Corridor Central).Quito - View 1

In addition to the BRT system, there are many standard buses running in the city. The buses have a fixed route. Alas, their route numbers are not always displayed on the front window … so, it can be hard finding the bus that you want.

Taxi cabs are all yellow, and they have meters that show the fare. There are nearly 8,800 registered taxicabs. If you use one, make sure that they turn the meter on!

UBER taxis operate in Quito. I prefer to use UBER when I can. You know that you won’t get ripped off.

In August 2012 the Municipality of Quito government established a municipal bicycle sharing system called Bici Q.


MY ACCOMMODATION:

I knew the exact dates for my stay in Quito months in advance; so, I kept an eye on prices.

I finally chose a Double Room at Hostal Mediodia for 4 nights that was discounted down to US$10 per night. It said that it was in the ‘historical centre’! … Yeah, right!

The room was an average size with a Double Bed:Quito - Mediodia - Room Entry

It included Cable TV (with several English speaking channels), (poor) in-room WiFi, and a Hot Water Ensuite.Quito - Mediodia - Bed Quito - Mediodia - Ensuite Entry Quito - Mediodia - Room Quito - Mediodia - Shower

It was next to the Hermano Miguel Trolley Bus Stop which made it VERY noisy. As trucks and buses passed by, the windows shook and reverberated. This calmed down at midnight and started again at about 5am in the morning.

The streets around the hotel were very ‘uninspiring’ … there were no nice cafes nor bars to while-away-the-time in. I found myself getting away from the area and being back home in my room before 8pm (for safety).


INTERNET / WIFI:

Your accommodation should provide free WiFi – but don’t expect it to be any good – especially not in the cheaper hotels (where you will be staying). The wifi in the Mediodia was very poor and I found myself using my own smartphone plan most of the time.Quito - View 2

I bought a Claro SIMcard at the Quito Airport. Claro are the only company that have a shop at the airport. No problem … they are meant to have the best coverage in Ecuador so I wanted Claro anyway. Their store is located in the shopping centre across the road from the Arrival Terminal.

The problem was that, when I first went into the shop, the only man there was busy with a group of 5 locals. He asked me to return in 15 minutes. When I returned, there was a queue of 8 tourists in front of me … all wanting new SIMcards. It took me 2.5 hours to get set up with my new SIMcard!

Claro do a prepaid Tourist SIMcard that lasts for 1 month with 4GBs of data (double the normal 2GB plan) for US$27 (US$20 for the plan and US$7 for the SIMcard).

However, I told the man that I was staying in Ecuador for 3 months. He advised a postpaid plan. He set me up with a ‘Plan Conexion 15’ 1 month 2GB plan with over 100 talk minutes and unlimited messaging. The price was US$16.80 (US$15 for the plan and US$1.80 for the SIMcard). Each month I could renew the plan for US$15 … and buy extra GBs at any time. For example, Claro were offering an extra 10GBs for 1 month at US$10. The internet was so bad in Quito (and, later, Banos) that I decided to buy that extra 10GBs (so that I didn’t have to rely on my hotel’s wifi).Quito - Church 1

I got a 3G / 4G signal in the towns most of the time and, usually, H / H+ on the road.


EAT:

This is a big city. You have many options in all price ranges.

IN SUMMARY:

Expect to pay an average of US$2.5+ for a cheap Breakfast with coffee / tea (Desayuno Completo).Quito - Desayuno Completo $1.75

Expect to pay an average of US$2.5+ a cheap Lunch with fruit drink (Almuerzo Exejetivo).

Expect to pay an average of US$7.50+ for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.


BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:

There are no Money Exchanges.


HEALTH & SAFETY:

Petty Theft is the most common crime against tourists: “Pickpocketing, purse snatching, robbery, bag slashing, and hotel room theft are the most common types of crimes committed against Tourists”.Quito - Street 1

As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.

Don’t leave anything unattended. Lock up your hotel room.

Don’t drink the tap water.


WHEN TO GO:

Quito has a subtropical highland climate ... its elevation and proximity to the equator means that it is fairly constant and cool.Quito Climate Chart

The average afternoon high temperature is 21.4 °C (70.5 °F) with an average night-time low of 9.8 °C (49.6 °F). Quito has only two seasons: dry and wet.

The dry season, June through September (4 months), is referred to as summer; the wet season, October through May (8 months), is referred to as winter. Annual precipitation, depending on location, is about 1,000 mm (39 in).


WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:

The La Mariscal area is Quito’s entertainment center. It is the meeting point of local people and tourists.Quito - Square 1

It has a large number of hotels / inns, travel agencies, language and dance schools, stores, bars, and discothèques that light up come night-time.

Plaza Foch is considered to be the zona rosa of the city. It has various night clubs / bars and has a great night vibe. Plaza Foch is busiest Thursday through Saturday, and gets tourists from all over the world. For this reason, prices for liquor and beer are expensive compared to other places in Quito.

In addition to these ‘Tourist Hubs’, you have a plethora of parks, museums, and places of interest … all easily accessible on cheap public transport.

AND, don’t forget to straddle the equator.Quito - Equator Street2018 Shaun Equator 2 2018 Shaun Equator Monument 1


GRANDPAcking COSTS:

GRANDPAckers can afford to HOLIDAY in Bogota and Quito to GRANDPAcking standard.

However, I have not bothered to produce a detailed cost breakdown.


RETIREMENT:

THE GRANDPAcking ACID TESTCan a retired couple with no assets live easily, comfortably, and happily here with their only source of income being a standard NZ Married Couple’s State Pension? YES.


CONCLUSION:

I didn’t think much of Bogota. I found it very disappointing. But, there again, I am not a fan of big cities anyway.

I thought that Quito was much nicer.Quito - Archway Quito - Street 2 Quito - Street 3

I will be returning to Quito in a few weeks. Next time, I will stay in La Mariscal. I expect my 2nd visit to be a totally different (and better) experience. I will tell you more about that later.

TTFN


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