On our first day in Quito, we book a walking tour of the Old City through ToursByLocals.com.
He is an older gentleman, pleasant enough, but he is neither a local (he’s American, transplanted here), nor does he take us on a tour. He’s terribly disorganized. For two and a half hours, we wander from place to place with no discernible agenda. Many destinations are closed and inaccessible. Our walk has no structure, no story to bring the sights to life.
In the end, we thank this guide and end the tour early, opting to continue our own tour with Google Maps and the Trip Advisor app. (Out of kindness, I will not print the gentleman’s name here, but if you are going to Quito, drop me a message, and I will be happy to help you avoid him.)
On our second day in Quito, we book a tour to the cloud forest of Mindo — a day trip, with lots of driving. Based on advice from Mario, our host at the Casa el Eden B&B, we contact Dante, with Latin Adventures Tours. Through Dante, we’re introduced to Diego, a quiet, gentle fellow who turns out to be a remarkably talented guide.
(Right up front: if you’re looking for a guide in Quito, contact Dante at Latin Adventures and book a tour with Diego right now — because once the word gets out about Diego, his tour calendar will be very solidly booked. Once that’s done, come back here, and I’ll tell you why you’ve made a great choice!)
Unlike those guides who spout memorized speeches, Diego simply talks with us about the sights and neighborhoods our drive takes us by. We have a real conversation; the exchange feels natural, as though we’re on a road trip with a friend.
Diego does as much listening as he does talking. He lists the things to do in Mindo, and he does a good job of matching us up with the attractions we’ll like (the hikes to the waterfalls, the butterfly garden, the chocolate factory) and steering us away from the attractions we won’t (ziplines, for example). When I describe the kind of food we enjoy (“Take us somewhere you and your friends would go”), he nods and smiles. “I know just the place.” (And he does.)
Diego is easy to be with, and we’re happy we have him booked for the next day, too: a tour of daily life in the Old City’s Rocafuerte Street and a visit to La Capilla del Hombre (the Chapel of Man, or the Guayasamin home and museum).
On the way back to our B&B for the night, I mention to Diego that we had tried to book a culinary tour for that day, but everything had been booked up.
“What is a culinary tour?” he asks.
“You know,” I say. “You go from place to place, eating a little bit at each place.” As an example, I tell him about Peachtree Food Tours in Atlanta.
He nods, and I can tell he’s taking mental notes — but I don’t yet know why.
The next day, Diego shows up for our tour of Rocafuerta Street. Rather than make us climb hills in our oxygen-starved state, he explains he’s going to drive us up to where the tour begins, so that our walk will always be downhill.
Once we’re in place, Diego tells us about the history of the street and gently guides us to take note of the stores and shops along the way. Diego pauses to buy us a little bag of crunchy, nutty toasted fava beans from a street vendor:
A few feet further down, he steers us to a candy shop, where he treats us to candied peanuts and colaciones, a crispy, velvety candy made with honey and nuts:
As we continue, we stumble on a neighborhood Carnivale parade. While Diego runs off to move the car closer to us, he steers us into an amazing little bakery on La Ronda — La Reina de la Paz.
There, while we wait, we have an amazing ham sandwich on bread baked that morning, plus some tasty little cookies:
Diego picks us up, but before we go to the museum, he drives us to the Santa Clara Market, a lively spot packed with locals buying fresh fruit, vegetables, and meats.
He introduces us to colada morada, a hot, spiced fruit beverage made with purple corn. It’s thick, hearty, and tastes a bit like a blueberry-corn chowder:
We try several fruits we’ve never seen before, including the uvilla (also known as the Inca berry or cape gooseberry), which Mother Nature wraps in a papery skin:
It’s slightly sour, but it’s packed with antioxidants and anti-cancer compounds (and is speculated to be good for hypertension, too). I scarf several down, and make a note to look for them at home.
After an intriguing stop at Capilla del Hombre (where no photos are allowed — boo!), Diego whisks us to a local joint serving amazing seafood from its open kitchen:
And this is where it dawns on me: having heard we wanted a culinary tour, Diego, in his quiet way, arranged one for us, integrating stops for delicious treats into our existing plan for the day. So we saw amazing sights … and sampled amazing food … with a young man that felt more like a good friend than a tour guide.
Diego made it possible for us to see more, do more, and taste more than we could ever have arranged on our own — and that, in the end, is why you want to hire an excellent guide. When time is limited, a guide like Diego help you make the most of every second — and surprises and charms you along the way.
Diego is no Chatty Cathy. He’s quiet by nature. But when he does talk, what he has to say is worth hearing, and he is always, always listening … and thinking about what he can do to help you enjoy your time in Ecuador as much as possible. Highly recommended.