I had the wonderful opportunity to do some freelance writing for the Miami Herald! It’s in todays newspaper, if you get the Miami Herald go to the Today in Ecuador section to view my article.
When I handed my final draft to the editor of this column he mentioned that it was too wordy (and it was). It was so hard for me to be precise in my points and tips, since it was an article geared towards parents who are traveling with kids, I wanted to be as informative as possible.
As a mom, this is what I wished I had known before I got in the car and headed for our adventures. Below is one of my unedited versions and you can find the final version here at Today In Ecuador or in todays paper 8/11/2012. All of the places mentioned below we have visited and there are more that were not included like Mitad del Mundo, Mitad del Mundo Musuem, La Granja del Tio Mario, Mini City, Bosque Mall outdoor playground (the only mall with a playground)….. It would be a shame not to enjoy the breathtaking beauty that is filled with rich history found in Ecuador and awaiting to be discovered by you and your family. The picture below is from our ruta de las cascadas trip.
Some of the differences from my version below and the published version is our introductions are different, the descriptions are longer (mine here are a bit more informative and personal) and I have a couple of places added that didn’t make it in the paper.
We are that family … we pack our bags and we don’t let having kids keep us from discovering this beautiful world that is surrounds us. We want to encourage you to experience the sights and sounds that are distinct to Ecuador with your children and hopefully these tips prepare you for your outings.
Though I must admit there is some rocky territory that comes with being that family. Sometimes we are the family that has the crying baby who can’t be bribed, but (yes, there is a but otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this) the fun memories we have made far surpass the not so pleasant moments. We live and we learn what works, and what doesn’t. As you set out to discover the world around you here in Quito and the surrounding area keep these tips in mind:
1. Guayllabamba Zoo
“Home to the famous Galapagos Tortoise, the rare Andean or Spectacled bear, the stealthy Jaguar and an incredible aviary, Quito Zoo provides a chance to see the best of Ecuador’s wildlife all in one place.” Quito Zoo Ditch your Spanish course and go out and experience Ecuador’s animal wildlife in español. The zoo is large so make sure you give yourself a couple of hours to enjoy it. Stop by the petting zoo where there are guinea pigs, llamas, donkeys and other animals that you can feed. There are picnic tables where you can stop and take a break and grab a snack (vendors are irregular). It’s about a 40 minute drive outside of Quito without traffic in a car or taxi. The weather in Guayllabamba is hotter than Quito for the most part, so make sure to dress accordingly. We made the mistake of going on Monday when it was closed and had to ride back with a car full of very disappointed children. Price: Kids $3 and adults $4. For more info and how to get there, visit their website at www.quitozoo.org
2. Aviation Musuem or Museo Aeronautico de la FAE-
My kids were mesmerized by the old planes displayed in the outdoor exhibitions. It’s small but a great little trip to take with the kids. The museum is on a military base so make sure you take some form of I.D. The museum has both indoor and outdoor exhibitions. The indoor exhibition has model type planes and it also has a small interactive play area.
3. Science Musuem- Museo Interactivo de Ciencias:
This is a fun interactive museum that will keep your kids entertained for hours. There is a section called Guagas for the little ones, but my 8-year old still likes it. They also have a Condor zipline inside. There is another educational interactive area, but geared more for older kids and adults. Recently, they’ve added a giant board game that teaches safety during natural disasters and the kids get to be the play pieces and roll a very large die. Check out their website for more information: http://www.museointeractivodeciencia.blogspot.com/ I didn’t add this part in any of my edited versions but I will here on my e-zine: We waited and waited for a whole group of 6 year olds to ride the Condor zipline and when the museum staff person left we proceeded to take our turn. Immediately, a staff person came in and he was upset and he asked us to get our children off of it because they were not 5 and under. I told him that the children that were on the ride, met the rules that they have displayed on their wall and either way one of their staff just walked out of this room with 15, 6 year olds. And that staff should be consistent with the rules.” He got upset that I contradicted him and threaten me with “I am going to have to ask you to leave the museum”. I told him “that I have not once raised my voice at him and that if they have rules than their own staff should follow them.” Other then this rude man, the rest of the staff was very kind and friendly. I did report him and now a month into it, I have yet to hear back from their education director.
4. Changing of the Guards
This may seem like a boring thing to experience, but my kids, as well as my husband, were quite fascinated with the whole process. There are soldiers, horses, drums, the President, a band…. It’s an essential part of your visit to Historical Quito and takes place every Monday at 11 a.m. at the Plaza Grande. Free.
5. Carolina Park
This is one of our weekly outings as a family. Carolina Park is the biggest park in Quito, with a perimeter of nearly 3 miles. On the south end of the park near mall you can find a pond with paddle boats for you and your family to enjoy. There is plenty to do: bicycle and running paths, bike mounds, skate ramps and much more. If you visit over the weekend there is a variety of food and toy vendors, as well as pony and horse rides bordering Avenida Amazonas on the west side of the park. Other parks with a playground and stroller/bike paths: Parque Metropolitano, Itchimbia and Elejido.
6. Instituto Geografico Militar: Planetarium and museum
You will enjoy this trip to the planetarium. There is an exhibition area with a guided tour available and a variety of shows like the solar system among others. Make sure you check out the viewing times before you set out so you can watch one of the shows. Entrance $1.50 www.igm.gob.ec
7. Sunday Bike Day- Ciclopaseo
On Sundays, Quito blocks off over 20 miles of roads to allow pedestrians and cyclers to enjoy a day on the road, car free. The streets are filled with toddlers in strollers, kids, adults and senior citizens on their bikes, all out enjoying a family day. It ends at 2 p.m. and is free. Visit here to get the routes: http://www.ciclopolis.ec/root/
8. Cotopaxi Volcano
Need to escape and enjoy nature? At Cotopaxi National Park you can enjoy breathtaking views, wild horses, ruins, ponds, birds and much more. There is no hiking needed to enjoy the beautiful scenery from the refuge parking lot. However, if you want to get to the refuge you will need to hike a steep climb up in very thin air. We did the hike with our kids, it was definitely strenuous but doable. It can get cold, so make sure you dress accordingly. At the refuge you can find snacks and warm soup and coffee. One of our Christmas traditions, is to drive to the refuge parking lot and make snowmen, our own little “white Christmas.” It’s about a 45 minute drive by car or taxi to the entrance of the park and another 30 minutes to reach the parking lot 200 meters below the refuge. Free (recent changes in the law eliminated fees) for a list of all the national parks in Ecuador: http://www.ambiente.gob.ec/?q=node/60
On your trip up, on these gondolas you will enjoy the magnificent view of our beautiful city. Make sure to take your warm clothes, even if it’s warm below. You will also need your cedula or censo if you live here in Quito, to ensure you don’t pay the tourist fee. At the top you they have a snack shop with hot chocolate and coffee being served. If you walk up farther there is horse back rides available for a small fee, but I wouldn’t go much farther with little ones. At the bottom of the cable cars entrance you can also find an amusement park called el Vulqano. http://www.teleferiqo.com/
10. Vivarium Reptile Museum
Experience snakes, iguanas, tortoise, frogs and other reptiles that are unique to this area at the Vivarium. A small non-profit organization that strives to protect endangered species. Staff often give close demonstrations of the snakes. It is located on the west side of Carolina Park. You need a couple of days to discover and enjoy the entire park. There is a fee for the Vivarium. Tues-Sun 9:30am-5:30pm. http://www.vivarium.org.ec/
11. Botanical Gardens
This is a great trip to take with the family to retreat and take a nice stroll in well designed green space. You will enjoy the native flora of the Andes, orchids, pond and much more without having to leave the city. It is located in the center of Carolina Park. Fee: $3 adults, $2 children checkout their website for hours and directions: http://www.jardinbotanicoquito.com/
12. Yaku Water Museum
This museum is located on the hillside of Pichincha Volcano with breathtaking views of the city. Your kids can enjoy a short educational tour from a cultural perspective on how we get water from the mountains. It’s an interactive demonstration and there are other interactive rooms for the kids, including a bubble making room. They have an outdoor area with fountains and beautifully landscaped green space. We always pack a small lunch and enjoy it in the outdoor area. If you are not familiar with this part of the city I highly suggest you take a taxi or have a map with you. Fee: $3 adults, $1 children http://www.yakumuseoagua.gob.ec/
13. Chimbacalle Train Station
Discover one of the 7 wonders of the world, Ecuador’s Train system. There is a museum at the Chimbacalle train station with old locomotive trains, interactive games and educational exhibits. To actually ride the train which is really more of a trolley on tracks you will need to plan ahead, this attraction usually has a waiting list. Note that the train has several routes you can take so make sure you ask how long their stop is for and if it’s a round trip. Check out their website for fees, schedule and routes. http://www.ferrocarrilesdelecuador.gob.ec/ferrocarriles_en/
14. Service outreach opportunities
There are many organizations in Quito with programs for the homeless, street kids, orphans, soup kitchens, visit the children’s hospital….. If you are looking for a less structured way to get your kids involved in hands on outreach, just make some lunches before your outing and give them out to the kids on the street selling candy or doing tricks for money. Our family calls this Operation Brown Bag, we have been doing this since our kids were 18 months. This is a practical way to help a person in need without having to actually give them money, that may not even go directly to the children or their families.