Visiting Quito: A Latin American Melting Pot

Thinking about visiting Quito?

Among all of the cities that claim to be the center of the world, Quito is the one with the most arguments to affirm this.

Geographically it is in the middle of the planet, it’s latitude 0-0-0, this has been confirmed by the Geodesic French Expedition of 1736.

This little metropolis tries to continue the development of a mixture of races that has been cooking for hundreds of years, adding ingredients of the world in it’s daily life.

Quito is the second largest city in Ecuador with a population of more than two million people. It is south of the Equinox, at the feet of the Atacazo mountains and the Guagua Pichinca and Rucu Pichincam volcanoes.

Old Town

We arrived in Quito on Sunday and the first thing we noticed was the strong presence of the mountains in the city. The first time we went for a walk in the Old Town we ended up very tired because it consists mainly of up and downhill roads. The Old Town (known in spanish as Centro Histórico, which means Historic Center), is one of the best preserved barrios in Latin America. In 1978 it was the first city declared as Cultural Heritage of Manknid by UNESCO, due to its historic value.

The Old Town has many churches, many of which are made out of gold inside with the exception of the Cathedral. The weather treated us fairly well, considering that we came from Bogotá. The mornings were sunny and the afternoons were rainy, therefore, our activities took place during the day and we worked on the videos in the evenings.

Some highlights of Quito Old Town include:

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.

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 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.

Nightlife in Quito

We spent most of our nights in a barrio called La Mariscal, where most of Quito’s nightlife happens. Here, Quiteños, tourists, backpackers, and Costeños (people from the coasts of Ecuador) all come together in bars, karaokes, discos and salsa clubs.

At these parties we discovered Quito’s hospitality and kindness, most people are easy to talk to and like having conversations. We would love to show you some pictures, but since we don’t party with cameras, we’ll leave it to your imagination.

Food in Quito

We became a little bit obsessed with the Ecuadorian ‘menestras’. This is a very simple and delicious recipe: meat, rice, beans, and fried bananas. Speaking about bananas, we learned something here in Ecuador, you can eat bananas with everything, sugar, salt, dinner, and as an appetizer.

Another thing that also impressed us was the bread. Having a French person on our team, we feel we have the right to say that we have high standards in this particular area but we really feel that they have great bread in Quito.

Guaranda, Carnaval

In Ecuador, every year at the end of February / beginning of March many small towns celebrate Carnaval. Many of Quito’s inhabitants leave the city to go to these small towns for Carnaval in quest for some distraction. Some go to Montalvo, others to Guaranda. We went for one afternoon to Guaranda along with José a young “Quiteño”. During the day all kinds of parades are happening all over town, and at night concerts are in full bloom.

Carnaval is full of traditions and symbolism. This symbolism is reflected in many games and activities people are playing. For example, water represents purification and this is why during the festivities people throw water onto each other and themselves. One can walk quietly on the street heading to the main plaza and suddenly be attacked by water balloons. Another example, as we were on the road riding in the back of a pickup truck we were doused with water each time passed a bridge because people waited there to spray us from above. We were completely soaked by the end of the festival; Joanna even had eggs, foam, and flour on her.

Take a walking tour through Quito

  • A recommended walking tour when visiting Quito 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.

Visiting Quito was a major highlight on our tour of Ecuador.

Thinking about doing something a bit more adventurous when in Ecuador? Why not go climb Chimborazo, just four hours from Quito.

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