First, an announcement: if you’re only just looking into studying Spanish in Quito, this blog telling you to bring a flashlight probably won’t do much in the way of convincing you. But if, however, it’s all you need, then keep reading to discover our list of do’s and don’ts for survival in Quito, Ecuador — much easier than you might think!

Bring a torch, a flashlight.

Quito Historic City Center at Night — © Nino Müns.
Quito Historic City Center at Night — © Nino Müns.

Give it whichever name you like: when you’re in the dark it won’t matter what it’s called! Parts of Quito — which ironically is also known as the City of Light — can be quite dark. What’s more, with its cobblestone streets it’s not a bad idea at all to have a little torch on you to make sure you roll no ankles and stub no toes, while you’ll also find it handy when you visit other parts of the country where we have Spanish schools, like Otavalo or the Amazon.

Watch the water.

Many Ecuadorians will show no qualms in gurgling down a glass of local tap water in Quito. You, however, shouldn’t be so excited! The city’s water supply is technically potable, but with old pipes its quality is somewhat questionable. While bottled water is readily available, a great way to help the environment (and in megadiverse Ecuador this matters!) is to bring your own stainless steel or re-usable plastic drinking bottle. This way you can buy bigger bottles of water and simply refill, instead of constantly throwing away plastic.

Pack your warm clothes.

Pack warm clothes when visiting Ecuador — © Janine Reichel.
Pack warm clothes when visiting Ecuador — © Janine Reichel.

Scraping the 10,000-feet-above-sea-level mark, Quito is big on many things and short on…. well, warm nights. While the city’s pleasant climate during the day makes it one of the most liveable cities in the region, its night-time temperatures can drop to chilly lows, sending many visitors indoors and under the blankets. To avoid this unfortunate — and boring outcome! — pack some warm clothes with you so you can enjoy Quito after dark! (And go easy on the good-time juice, as well, as high altitudes can also cause hefty hangovers.)

And your sunscreen.

Ecuador is a cost-effective destination in many ways…. except when it comes to sunscreen! This bright white cream can be surprisingly expensive in South America, so hunt down your favorite brand and your ideal SPF level and bring a bottle with you. With the same logic as before, close-to-the-heavens Quito will take you much closer to the sun and — you guessed it — nasty sunburn!

Avoid ‘linguistic panic attacks.’

Not a disease of the tongue, or some sort of horrendous consequence of long-distance flying. We’re of course referring to those initial minutes, hours, or days that you spend in Quito in which you also realize that the locals are speaking another language. (Spanish for those of you just joining us.) Of course, you’ve got those horrible false friends (e.g. actual means currents, embarazada means pregnant), money issues (tres dolares con veinte is not two plus twenty = $23, rather it’s $3.20), etc. Our best advice is that you relax, make mistakes, and laugh at yourself a little! You’ll get there eventually!

Money matters.

Speaking of that little thing we call cash, in Ecuador you’ll be using a lot of it. Like your passport — which you just need a copy of — you should leave large amounts of money locked up in a safe location and become accustomed to taking out precisely what you need, and perhaps a little more as a precaution. Ecuador is a cash country, which — while we’re on the topic — will help you understand that when you pay for something in cash, vendors will often disappear with your money! But don’t fret, they’re just around the corner asking their friends at the pharmacy, shoe shop, kiosk or restaurant to break the note for them.

Watch out for yourself and friends!

South America has for the past few decades been battling a bothersome reputation for petty crime and insecurity, one which still rings true for some destinations in the region! For its part, Quito has been upping its game when it comes to the safety of its visitors and citizens, which is why you should take the anecdotes and tales of others about Quito with a grain of salt, and live by one basic rule: common sense! This includes not accepting drinks from people you don’t know, keeping your valuables at home when possible, not drinking too much, and taking a cab home or walking home with a group of friends — you know the drill!

Take a registered yellow taxi!

Registered yellow taxi in Quito — © Philip Schilling.
Registered yellow taxi in Quito — © Philip Schilling.

Of pop-song fame, the big yellow taxi is your best friend in Quito! Aside from its color, you’ll also see a number on the vehicle’s windshield, which many people say you should text to a friend (or at least pretend to) to prove that you’re a street smart new Quito-ite. That said, trusty taxi drivers are usually just that — trustworthy — and you’ll likely have no problems with them. But if you’re particularly nervous about getting out and about to places like the La Mariscal party zone, you could also ask around for a taxi driver’s number to organize a pick-up!

Originally published on Ailola by Jayson McNamara on February 21, 2014.