One could be forgiven to imagine Ecuador as a country of extreme humidity and heat given its position right on the equator; after all ecuador is Spanish for equator. However much of the country, including the capital of Quito is situated high in the Andean Mountain range. While in the United States cities that are high up, such as Denver, get nicknames like the mile-high city, many of Ecuador’s cities are even higher in altitude.
For Quito its position at 2,800 meters ( or 9,300 ft for any imperial system users) makes it one of the highest capitals in the world and certainly the highest city on the equator. The capital’s surroundings of majestic green mountains and volcanoes helped to create a city with a unique shape; stretching northwards and southwards in a narrow corridor Quito occupies the valley at the base of Pichincha volcano. Due to Quito’s elevation, the weather here is an often confusing mixture of extremely bright sun that will sunburn you and weather that is relatively cold especially during the rainy season.
For people who are not used to high attitudes, arriving in Quito can result in a very difficult period initially. Altitude sickness caused by the lower levels of oxygen and the strain on the body by having to go up and down steep inclines can be very draining. For many of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers headaches, diarrhea and sore muscles were common symptoms in the first week after arrival. For others the coldness of Quito affected them after coming from the humidity and heat of sunny Miami, Florida.
The weather in Quito often fluctuates and in particular during the rainy season but in general the weather is quite cold, making it a necessity to wear sweaters and jackets or at least carry an umbrella. A seemingly sunny day can quickly turn into torrential downpour or if cold enough it can bring hail all-the-while that can blanket streets to look like snow.
If Quito showed us anything in those first few weeks and months in the country is that Ecuador is a land of immense diversity and extremes. In addition to this, things change constantly and quickly making the necessity to be adaptable and resourceful all the more important.