10 Nuances of Living in Quito

I have been abroad in Quito, Ecuador for just over 2 months now and have put together a comprehensive list of occurrences that are definitely different here. These are general differences between Quito and the United States; ones that anyone from someone looking to move here or a tourist may be interested in, especially women.


Quito Rooftops

1. Shorts: In general, people do not wear shorts here unless they are playing a sport. At that, many women do not play soccer here, so they especially are not seen wearing shorts. In Parque Carolina, shorts are more acceptable as it is the main park to go running in and for soccer practices. So if you decide to wear shorts in Quito, expect catcalls and odd looks, especially if you’re a girl.

2. Quitenos like to dress up. Generally sweatpants are completely unacceptable outside of the house and sometimes even jeans are not dressy enough. For instance, I went to the grocery store with my host mom and not only did she appear to be in her Sunday best, but everyone else at the store was as well. Sloppy dressing is really just uncommon in Quito.

3. Shoes. This goes along with the previous point, but especially women tend to wear very dressy shoes. All the time. Shoes that you would normally see at a Prom or wedding are seen all over Quito on a daily basis. I’m talking about strappy shoes with 3-4 inch heels on women who are riding the bus.

4. Another note about the bus: the punishment for petty crime, such as pick-pocketing is really very low here, so on the bus, watch your things. It is very common to be unaware as someone either slides your cell phone, camera or wallet out of your back pocket while you’re unaware on a crowded bus, or they may simply slit your bag and slide whatever contents they want out of it. For this reason, if you have somewhere safe to store the things you really wouldn’t want stole, I highly suggest keeping your ID, credit card and passport there. There is no reason to consistently carry your passport around: just bring a copy.

On the same note, violent crime is pretty rare in Quito, so pick-pocketing is more what one would need to worry about.

5. Blondes, but more generally whites: Quito and Ecuador in general has a high indigenous population and an even higher mestizo (mixed indigenous and European) population. Therefore, anyone that is blonde or very European-looking easily stands out. If you don’t mind catcalls, it’s not a bad thing at all as I have found some Quitenos want to talk to the foreigners. Many more want to date foreigners, so be careful of who you give your number, email, ect. out to as they will most definitely contact you. The fact that European-looking people stand out also can make you more of a target for pick-pocketers as it is assumed that you have something worth stealing.

Almuerzo: This lunch is the biggest meal of the day. It’s generally around 1-3 in the afternoon. Restaurants are open earlier for lunch, but there are generally not many Ecuadorians in the restaurants, so if you want to choose where you eat based upon how many Quitenos are there, then you will need to wait.

7. The climate changes so quickly. Because of how high up Quito is the air is pretty thin and therefore it doesn’t hold water, meaning that temperature does not hold very well in Quito. So during mid-day it can be up to 70 or 75 degrees F, but during the evenings as low as 40s. Just be prepared and have a jacket with you if you think you will be out late.

A note about the ‘cold’ weather here. Quitenos overestimate how chilly it gets. It is not at all uncommon to see people walking around in the morning or evening with full winter jackets and scarves and hats on. I guess if you really wanted to fit in, you could do the same.

8. Altitude in general can mess with your body, especially if you’re coming from somewhere that is close to sea level. So give yourself a few days to get accustomed to the altitude and I suggest going on a walk each day and not doing any other form of exercise. A walk, especially uphill, will help your body get its heart rate up somewhat so that you can more easily acclimatize.

9. Eggs are a huge thing here. Quito is one of the few places in South America that actually does breakfast, so you can go get eggs in a restaurant (or my host mom cooks them for me) for breakfast. Also, eggs can be fried and put on about anything from spaghetti to steak. Don’t underestimate how foreign that may sound-it’s delicious.

10. Quitenos are very proud of their country. I personally, have only been asked once why I came to Quito to study because most people assume that you wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. Ecuador is rich in natural resources and beauty, so talk about it if anyone asks you. Never complain or talk badly about a country that is not your own-especially in one with such pride in it.

Overall, I have absolutely loved living in Quito and look forward to the rest of my months here. Just take these suggestions as little things to know or be aware of to help you not look as much like a foreigner when in Quito.

2 Comments on “10 Nuances of Living in Quito

  1. Hey! I am travelling to Quito for 8 months to study, beginning next September. I am wondering if you have any more tips about how to dress… I want to avoid looking like a tourist. I would have thought that it would better to dress down, and try not to look like you’ve got any money, but it seems like you think I should be dressing up? I don’t normally wear high heels… and I wish I could bring my sneakers! What about tight, skinny leg jeans? And colours? I don’t think I have many business like clothes…

  2. Dear TaraLyn,

    I apologize for not getting back to you sooner!! I hope that you are enjoying your time in Quito so far and that my comments on living there were helpful-even if my response time was dismal.

    Jeans are good for everyday wear, but sweatshirts I think were generally not worn. A sweater or v-neck shirt would be good. (However, if you are fairly light-skinned like me, you will stand our regardless.) Tight, skinny-leg jeans would fit right in, but generally of jean-ish colors (so not orange for example, but blue or black instead).

    I would suggest you wear high heels only if you want. I do/did not, but my host mom and sisters did. However I walked much more than they did and really enjoyed traveling the city on foot. You may consider wearing them when going out, but wearing a rather comfortable pair.

    I definitely noticed that many women did not wear bright colors. Some wore muted oranges or reds, but yellow or tie-dye were not seen on Ecuadorian women. They just tended to stick to more muted colors.

    In all, I think it will be incredibly difficult to not look somewhat like a tourist. Lighter skin, somewhat of an accent, and if you are at all tall you may well stick out as such. But not drawing more attention to yourself by wearing flashy (or much of any) jewelry or obnoxiously bright colors will generally keep you out of the center of unwanted attention.

    I hope that you are enjoying your studies in Quito, please let me know if I you need more info. or anything (I will get back to you in a much more timely manner-promise!)