The hashtag #WheninQuito has not quite caught on in social media channels yet, but one of the places that is "high" on that list should be Al Teleferico.
Imagine a city center at 2800m (9200 ft) above sea level, surrounded by steep hills, jutting mountains, and active strata volcanos. Of course the most logical attraction would be a cable car that takes you above the city to offer you a perspective is unmatched anywhere else in the world.
Already another 300m (1000 ft) above the city's low point (Carolina Park) the entrance to Al Teleferico is a beautifully maintained, mostly glass building of modern architectural design. The lobby is bright, open and inviting.
Like most tourist attractions in the city, Ecuadorians get a nice discount; but don't be discouraged by the higher charge for tourists; at a cost much less than 10 USD for a round trip ride, it is quite affordable. Make sure to bring your ID, and hold onto your ticket because you will need it for the lift back. This is a secure way of letting the operators know if you're still up there or not. While that may seem a bit intrusive, know that it is for safety reasons as Teleferico is also the gateway to climbing Mt Pichincha volcano. More on that in another post!
A quick tour of the 'ground level' is a bit disappointing as there is a lack of information on what to expect above, few food options, and a host of unoccupied buildings that housed retail shops in years past. While the grounds are well maintained, the empty buildings are quite the eyesore. Don't get me wrong, they are beautiful buildings that match the ticketing office in design, but the emptiness does not inspire confidence in this attraction.
Depending on the day, you can sometimes find local vendors selling handmade crafts, music and art. Definitely take a look at what they have to offer, but also know that there will likely be more options at the top as well.
Once you've got your ticket in hand, fall into the queue, and wait for your gondola to arrive. You can avoid the crowds by visiting on weekdays. Even though there will be an increased number of both domestic and international tourists on the weekends, the place never gets too terribly crowded, and the wait for the ride up never takes too long.
By the time that you have reached the top, you will have survived a nearly 1000m (3000 foot) climb in just about 15 minutes. There are friendly staff members to help you in and out of the moving gondolas on both ends of the ride. Its certainly comparable to an amusement park experience. Note: I also did a photo story on the ride up elsewhere in this blog.
Now at 4100m of altitude (13,400 feet) you will most likely begin to feel the effects of the noticeably thinner air, if you did not already in Quito proper. Take it easy, move around slowly and you should be just fine. Inside the main building, you will find a few snack shops, a (paid) bathroom, a souveneir shop, and an oxygen bar, which is said to help the efects of altitude sickness. There is also a medical assistance center, for those having trouble adjusting.
The "Money Shot" from Teleferico is downtown Quito from a condor's eye view. There is a (paid) pair of binoculars, but looking through the glass window is not the best way to see the city. Just outside the main building is an observation area that will offer you the best photo opportunity from this area. Your best opportunity for getting a great photo is a 50mm lens with a UV filter to cut through the haze.
Elsewhere up top, you will see a handful more of unoccupied buildings, the worlds highest Catholic Church, several more observation points, and the gateway to hiking Mt Pichincha volcano.
Teleferico, despite its shortcomings is an absolute MUST SEE when visiting Quito!