It’s a refrain I heard over and over again before I arrived in Quito. I’ve now had a month to think about my answer and I’ve decided I want to share my reasons with you. First, it’s a World Heritage City. Quito, where I currently reside, was declared a world treasure in 1978 so it has had some time to rebuild and preserve it’s very charming colonial section. It was built in 1534 on the ruins of an ancient Incan city. Quito boasts numerous baroque buildings and artworks that are all lovingly preserved. The most interesting thing about this city is that it feels like they rejuvenated it for themselves. Unlike Cusco (where I just vacationed) it’s not set up to appeal to Westerners. It is set up for the enjoyment of the Ecuadoran people. And it shows. It’s still a bit gritty and the streets are clogged with traffic. But in my opinion that just adds a “realness” that is so lacking in other South American capitals. Ecuadorans are a staunchly proud people who take their history seriously. The photo you see at right is the weekly changing of the guard at the Government building on the Plaza Grande in the middle of the Centro Historico.
One thing you learn fairly rapidly after touching down in a South American country is that the concept of “extranjero pricing” (‘foreigner pricing’) is everywhere.
You’re probably already familiar with this from Europe…the few extra euros non-citizens have to spend to get into a famous museum, for example. But here in South America, this is a plague, and I’m not talking about the taxi driver in Lima who doubles the price for the “gueros”. That little issue is easily taken care of with a little Spanish and a well placed, “…muy caro!?”
No…what I’m talking about is the outright soaking that I’ve experienced in both Ecuador and Peru at the hands of the local tourist boards. This is particularly prevalent in the popular tourist destinations like Cusco, Ollantaytambo, and Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu). Consider that, to get into the 4 most popular Incan archaeological sites around Cusco, you have to buy a $45.00 pass that, for the Peruvians, costs half as much. The pass does not include Machu Picchu (a separate very expensive ticket that is also double the cost for the foreigners). It does not include the two best museums in Cusco (just a bunch of crummy ones). It does not allow you multiple entry to any site—so if you’re on a tour and get rushed through…say…Sacseyhuaman, you’re out of luck. And, you cannot visit any of these sites/museums individually. Such tickets don’t exist.
Likewise, the airlines: LAN, Aerogal, and Tame all charge ‘extranjero prices’ that can range anywhere from 125% to 300% of the price for the locals. And don’t try to purchase a ‘boleto nacional’ just cause you’re flying intra-Ecuador or intra-Peru. If they catch you, they have the option of simply stranding you with no refund or charging you a penalty equal to 2X the cost of your ticket.
One of the reasons we (especially us Americans) travel to South America is the value, but when everything from food, to flights, to sights are subject to a sliding price scale that is designed to soak the Norte Americanos, the temptation to just stay home is great. If it weren’t for the fact that Ecuador (that also has 2X extranjero pricing) is so inexpensive to start with, I’d have just stayed back in the States. I mean, sure the entrance to that church in Quito is double, but when double is $2, I can handle it.
Hey all. I hope you enjoyed the post yesterday from the Travel Mooch. He’s going to be a regular here at Instant Native. I wanted to give him a quick introduction. You may have already guessed that he’s my husband (ergo Travel Mooch). He’s also a great travel companion. We figured since we’re on this adventure in South America together we’d take turns posting our observations on things that are weird, untrue or just plain unexplainable…and believe me there’s a bunch of them. I hope you enjoy his posts!
So I’ve been in Ecuador for a week now and the thing that has made the most unique impression on me is the sounds of this City. I’m an ex-San Franciscan so I’m used to traffic noise, fire engines (the city did burn to the ground in 1906), and people having conversations. In Ecuador what I hear are crowing (we have a rooster in the ‘hood), cannon fire which I’m told is part of the holiday celebrations, and fireworks, also celebratory I’d guess. The funny thing is the rooster crows at 2 a.m., the cannon fires at 5:30 a.m. and the buses run 24/7. All I can think is am I ever going to get used to this and get a good night’s sleep?
I know it’s a huge travel week for most of you, and the weather across the U.S. isn’t helping. I’m glad that I left early this year. I’m finding Quito a lovely city. Charming Colonial architecture, a bit crumbly and still somewhat rough around the edges. It’s filled with friendly people and lots and lots of sights. I’ll be exploring here for a while, so expect more posts on Ecuador. Until then, safe travels everyone!