Historic Quito   2 comments

Historic (Colonial) Quito is starting to be recognized for its architecture, culture and stunning scenery.


[MAP] Useful interactive Historic Quito map (in Spanish)

[MAP] Useful map in English

[TEXT & IMAGES] Overview of Quito & interesting points

[MAP] English map (interactive) of historic Quito

[TEXT & IMAGES] Overview of Quito & attractions

[MAP] Interactive map of historic Quito

[TROLE BUS INFO] Trole bus details & information


Explore the Old Town With its gorgeous colonial architecture, relaxing plazas and a stunning number of churches. If you happen to be there during Christmas or Easter, you’ll be amazed at the number of events, masses, and processions that bring out the crowds. You’ll find craft shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels across its grid of streets.

A recommended walking tour that could enhance your vision of the Historic Center is as follows. Take the trolley (watch your belongings) south until “Cumanda” stop. Get down, you are on Maldonado street. There you will have an impressive view of what once was the “Jerusalem” ravine, which stands between Panecillo and the core. Walk north past the trolley stop and go down a narrow stairway that brings you to La Ronda street, of Pre-columbian origins. Walk up picturesque La Ronda until you reach Av. 24 de Mayo. This boulevard was built on top of this section of Jerusalem ravine to connect the two sides of town. On Garcia Moreno Street turn north and you will arrive to the Museo de la Ciudad, which provides an easy and interactive history of Quito. Then walk on Garcia Moreno street until Sucre, which is a pedestrian street. La Compania is at the corner and if you go up Sucre street you will reach San Francisco. If you continue on Garcia Moreno you will reach the Main (independence) Square. If you go to San Francisco, then walk to La Merced and down to the Main Square. This itinerary follows a chronological and logical sequence of sites. Most people do it backwards, turning La Ronda and Museo de la Ciudad as distant points where you’re usually worn out by the time you get there. In any event, the Historic Center is so vast that you need more than one visit to see it all. The recommended walk provides you with a good overview if you’re short of time or want to see as much as possible on a first day.

Watch The old men play Ecuador’s version of bocce at Parque El Ejido. You can also see some serious games of Ecua-volley, the local version of volleyball, on a Saturday or Sunday.

The Middle of the World 45 mins from the capital Quito, you can go to see the Monument to the middle of the World. It’s a big monument with many events and things to do. For example, national indigineous music groups play different songs of their culture. There are museums with the history of the 0 latitud and history of Quito as well. There are many unique artworks and once you are there you can even weight your self and you will find out how you weigh less on the equator.

Bicycle Ride the Ciclopaseo takes place every Sunday. 30 kilometres (20 miles) of roads running north-south through the city are completely closed to traffic. People cycle, run and blade the route. Up to 30,000 people take part. Several bike shops rent bikes for visitors to be able to take part.

Cable Car There is a cable car ride up the side of Ruco Pichina. It’s called “Teleferico” in spanish. Ask your hotel about the special buses that run through the city taking people towards this destination. You can also find your own way there through taxi or bus.


San Francisco Church. The church dates back from the 1570s and was devoted to San Francis, since the Franciscan order was the first to settle in the area. Hence the city’s official name: San Francisco de Quito. The church contains masterpieces of syncretic art, including the famous “Virgin of Quito” by Legarda. The sculpture represents a winged virgin stepping on the devil’s head (in the form of a serpent) and is displayed in the main altar. The virgin would later be inaccurately replicated on top of Panecillo hill. The museum next door to the church is arranged through the monastic compound and includes access to the choir.

Museo del Banco Central. Located across from the Casa de la Cultura and adjacent to the Parque El Ejido, you’ll find perhaps Ecuador’s most renowned museum with different Salas, or rooms, devoted to pre-Colombian, Colonial and gold works of art, among other topics. Some of the famous pieces include whistle bottles shaped like animals, elaborate gold headdresses and re-created miniature scenes of life along the Amazon. The museum is well-organized, and it takes about 3-4 hours to see everything. Guides who speak several different languages including English, French and Spanish are available for a small fee.

Museo de la Ciudad. The Museo de la Ciudad is in the Old Town, on Garcia Moreno street, directly opposite the Carmen Alto monastery. A lovely museum with two floors encircling two quiet courtyards, the “Museo de la Ciudad” provides more of a social history of Ecuador than other museums in Quito. Re-enacted scenes from daily life of Ecuador’s citizens through the years include a hearth scene from a 16th-century home, a battle scene against the Spanish, and illustrations of the building of Iglesia de San Francisco church.

Teleferico. This is the world’s second-highest cable car. It’s located on the eastern flanks of the Pichincha Volcano which overlooks the whole city. It hoists visitors up to an amazing 4,000 meters (12,000 feet). On clear days, one can spot half-a-dozen volcanoes and spy the entire city below. You can also hike up from here to the Guagua Pichincha Volcano, which is active. See Teleferiqo website for details. It is $4 for locals, but $8 for foreigners. There is also an express lane option for more money.

Botanical Gardens. The Jardin Botanico is located on the southwest side of Parque La Carolina. It’s a wonderful escape from the city, with all of Ecuador’s ecosystems represented with a wide variety of flora. You can take a guided tour or just wander. The highlight for many people are the two glassed-in orchidariums.

Museo Mindalae. An extremely original project in the north part of the Mariscal District, this museum provides an ‘ethno-historical’ view of Ecuador’s amazingly rich cultural diversity. You can find out about the country’s different peoples, from the coast to the Andes to the Amazon, and their crafts in a specially-built and designed structure. The museum has a restaurant for lunch, a cafe and a fair-trade shop.

Itchimbia cultural complex and park. This hill lies to the east of the Old Town. It provides stunning views of central and northern Quito, as well as the distant peak of Cayambe to the northeast. The hillside was was made into a park and an impressive cultural centre established here in 2005. The centre holds temporary exhibitions. At the weekends, there are workshops and fun for children. A restaurant, Pim’s, opened at the complex in June 2007. The complex closes at 6 pm. Once it closes, you can head to the nearby Cafe Mosaico to watch the sunset until about 7 pm. It’s a great spot to watch the fading of the light on the mountainside with the floodlights of the Old Town’s churches.

Museo Guayasamin. This musueum houses the collection of Ecuador’s most renowned contemporary artists, Oswaldo Guayasamin. It has a fine collection of pre-Colombian, colonial and independence art, as well as housing many of the artist’s works. You can also visit the nearby Chapel of Man (Capilla del Hombre) which was built posthumously to house some of Guayasamin’s vast canvasses on the condition of Latin American Man.

Calle de la Ronda. This street in the Old Town was restored by Municipality and FONSAL in 2007. It was transformed with the help and cooperation of the local residents. It’s a romantic cobbled street just off the Plaza Santo Domingo (or it can be reached via Garcia Moreno by the City Museum). There are shops, patios, art galleries and modest cafe restaurants now, all run by residents. Cultural events are common at the weekends.

La Vírgen del Panecillo. Adjacent to the Old City, El Panecillo is a large hill on top of which is La Virgin del Panecillo, a large statue of the ‘winged’ Virgin Mary. She can be seen from most points in the city. Local legend has it that she is the only virgin in Quito. Never walk up the hill, always take a taxi or a bus as the walk up can be dangerous.

Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus. In the Old City, this church is regarded by many as the most beautiful in the Americas. Partially destroyed by fire, it was restored with assistance from the Getty Foundation and other benefactors. Stunning.

From La Compania, turn down Calle Garcia Moreno and you’ll pass El Sagrario (dating from the mid-1600s) and, next door, the Cathedral Metropolitana (where independence hero Antonio Jose de Sucre is buried).


Mitad del Mundo. Just outside of Quito is where the measurements were first made that proved that the shape of the Earth is in fact an oblate spheroid. Commemorating this is a large monument that straddles the equator called Mitad del Mundo or middle of the world. Note, however, that the true equator is not at the Mitad del Mundo monument. Through the magic of GPS technology, we now know that it is only a few hundred feet away — right where the Indians said it was before the French came along and built the monument in the wrong place. The entrance for the park is $1.50 and for most of the attractions you have to pay extra. The Intiñan Solar Museum is right next to the Mitad del Mundo monument on the other side of the North fence. For two dollars you can have a tour of this little museum. They demonstrate the Coriolis effect and several other interesting things. The place looks like a total dump and is at the end of a dirt road, but is much more interesting and informative than the Mitad del Mundo. When you go to the middle of the world, it is best to go with a tour, or hire a taxi driver by the hour. The hourly rate should be in the $12 or less range. Buses leave from the Occidental or Av. America for $0.40.

DATE: JULY 18, 2009

Quito, Ecuador

Hanging lanterns illuminate La Ronda Street, a cobblestone walkway dating back to the colonial era, where couples and children stroll past coffee shops and courtyard restaurants, and pots of red and pink flowers rest on wrought-iron balconies overhead. A woman stands in an arched doorway, stirring a spoon in a big wooden jar of hot orange juice for canelazo, a local warm beverage made with cinnamon and sugar-cane alcohol.

Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, is trying to revamp its image from stopover into a destination in its own right, replete with new boutique hotels to entice travelers.

Perched at 9,000 feet on a narrow Andean plateau, Quito was one of the first cities to be designated a World Heritage site back in 1978. Unesco calls its Old Town section, filled with ornate Spanish-colonial churches and monasteries from the 16th and 17th centuries, the “best-preserved and least-altered historic center in Latin America.” But until recently, crumbling buildings, diesel-fuel pollution and a high local poverty rate outshone the city’s charms. Most visitors in Quito were simply stopping over on their way to the Galapagos Islands or elsewhere in Ecuador, and many tour books and guides deemed the historic section too dangerous for tourists after dark.

What to do: Local police, including some who speak English, give free tours of the Old Town, starting at the Visitor’s Center on Plaza de la Independencia (www.quito.com.ec). Take the Teleferiqo cable car up Guagua Pichincha; at the top are hiking trails, cafés and an oxygen bar, for those bothered by the 13,000-foot altitude.

Where to stay: Hotel Patio Andaluz, in a historic Old Town building, is built around a blue-tiled courtyard. The staff wears colonial-era costumes and local artwork decorates the rooms—large wooden rosaries hang over the beds. Rates start at $200 a night (Tel.: 011-5932-228-0820; hotelpatioandaluz.com). In Quito’s modern section, Le Parc Hotel has 30 rooms, a L’Occitane spa and a champagne bar on the roof; from $280 a night (Tel: 011-5932-227-6800; leparc.com). The NuHouse Boutique Hotel is in the Mariscal nightlife section. Weekends can be noisy; ask for a room facing the back; from $109 a night with breakfast. (Tel: 011-5932-255-7845; nuhousehotels.com.)

Where to eat: La Choza serves traditional Ecuadorean fare such as locra soup (with potato, milk, cheese and avocado) and Patito de Chancho Emborrajada (pig’s feet in Andean spices). Entrées start at about $8 (Tel: 011-5392-223-0839). Alkimia, new in Quito’s La Floresta neighborhood, has a young Peruvian chef who prepares Latin dishes with local ingredients, like seared tuna with quinoa. A seven-course tasting menu is $44. (Tel: 011-5932-252-7855.)

“It was like adventure tourism to go to the Old Town,” says Patricio Gaybor, marketing manager for Ecuador’s tourism ministry. Street gangs controlled the chaotic markets, and pickpockets were common. Even locals venturing there would leave purses and jewelry at home.

Hoping to overcome its rough image and draw more international tourism, Quito has spent hundreds of millions of dollars cleaning up the historic center, restoring plazas and centuries-old landmarks and beefing up lighting and security. The rehabilitation accelerated in 2003, when Fonsal, Quito’s municipal cultural-preservation agency, began working with illegal street vendors—Quito calls them its “informal sector”—to move them peacefully into smaller markets created outside the district.

The efforts have helped revive tourism in Ecuador, where the industry’s revenue grew to $766 million in 2008 from about $400 million in 2000. Much of the gain, tourism officials say, has come from Americans, who seem to find Ecuador exotic yet accessible. Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar, it operates on Eastern Standard Time (though not daylight time) and there are direct flights from a few U.S. cities, including Miami, Atlanta and Houston.

Ecuador’s best-known attraction, the Galapagos Islands, with their blue-footed boobies and Darwin history, have limited growth prospects; because of overcrowding, they made Unesco’s 2007 list of endangered World Heritage sites. Quito is emerging as an urban alternative. A new international airport is set to open next year about 12 miles to the east. Boutique hotels are opening, and cutting-edge restaurants are serving upscale versions of locro, a thick potato soup, and ceviche, a cold fish dish often served with popcorn in Ecuador.

The city is a popular starting point for trips to Mitad del Mundo, or “Middle of the World,” the equatorial marker just outside the city, and to Cotopaxi National Park, home to an active volcano. Some travelers take excursions to accessible parts of the Amazon jungle and to Ecuador’s famed cloud forests, where an almost constant mist creates dense, lush greenery and diverse animal species including hundreds of types of birds. Hot springs, like Papallacta, are a short drive away, as is Otavalo, the huge outdoor market where local entrepreneurs sell everything from alpaca sweaters and beaded jewelry to livestock. The drive from Quito takes you through small towns where the local delicacy cuy (aka guinea pig) can be found roasting at the side of the road.

La Iglesia de San Francisco, a massive 16th-century cathedral in Quito, Ecuador is undergoing a multi-million dollar restoration. But among the Incan and Catholic iconography, forensic archeologists made a few grizzly discoveries. Candace Jackson reports.

Most visitors tour at least one of Quito’s baroque churches. Among the oldest and largest is Iglesia de San Francisco, which Spanish conquerors built on the site of an Incan palace over the course of a century, starting in 1535 and adding the main cloister in 1605. (Parts of it are closed during a $2 million renovation, but the church’s museum and choir are open.) At the dome-ceilinged Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, from 1605, ornate gold leaf covers almost all the interior, filled with detailed carvings and statues of angels and religious figures.

Early evenings are the liveliest, and loveliest, time to explore. Along the Old Town’s cobblestone streets, women prepare empanadas and fried corn in doorways. In the Plaza de la Independencia, candy sellers in felt hats with peacock feathers and boys with shoe-shine kits wander among pink-flowering trees. Overlooking the Old Town is the winged Virgin of Quito, the city’s signature statue, built on a hill that was considered sacred in pre-Incan times.

Quito can be difficult to navigate on foot. Cars and motorcycles often make blind fast turns, zooming inches away from narrow sidewalks crowded with pedestrians. Taxis are plentiful and cheap, though they sometimes double their rates for tourists. Quito is working to become more pedestrian-friendly; within the next few years, it plans to close several streets in the historic center to buses and cars.

Gail Fisher and John Kane, a couple from Alexandria, Va., recently spent three days in Quito before heading into Ecuador’s northern highlands to vacation at a hacienda, where they planned to hike and ride horses. “It’s beautiful,” Ms. Fisher said, resting on a bench in one of Old Town’s plazas. “It reminds us of Mexico City but smaller…and with more parks.”

Amid all the old-world charm, there are signs of the “informal sector.” Vendors wander the Old Town hawking everything from toilet paper to trembling puppies, scurrying away only halfheartedly when police approach. In Itchimbía Park, with a glass cultural center offering some of Quito’s best views, a small shack is home to several squatters; a line of colorful laundry swings in the breeze.

In Quito’s modern New Town, many of the concrete-and-glass structures—many built during the oil boom of the 1970s—are today blemished with graffiti and soot. Sections here also are targeted for renovation. In La Mariscal, Quito’s main nightlife area, the Plaza Foch has outdoor cafés with heat lamps for al fresco dining during chilly mountain evenings.

Old Town residents say it would have been hard to imagine all the tourists even a few years ago, when La Ronda Street (also known as Calle Morales) was rife with prostitutes and thieves. Vieres Caterine, who has lived and worked there for 48 years, says he used to close his small snack shop before sunset , and sometimes got into fights with thieves who entered the shop in broad daylight. Today, he stays open until 2 a.m. on weekends.

Some projects are still waiting their turn. Quito’s overcrowded jail is set to become a repository for historical documents, and the main bus station is set to become a parking area. Speaking through a translator, Carlos Pallares, the director of Fonsal, says, “We have been restoring [Quito] not just for the next generations, and not just for the aesthetic conditions, but to improve life conditions in the area. The way to improve that is to bring tourism.”

Write to Candace Jackson at candace.jackson@wsj.com

Map of tourist attractions in Old Colonial Quito

2 responses to “Historic Quito

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  1. Pingback: Historic Quito « Galapagos Islands and Ecuador Travel Blog | Ecuador Today

  2. breath taking sites

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