Walking around in Quito’s old town

with 12 Comments
The journey from the airport to the center of Quito’s historical district makes the city’s 9000 foot elevation apparent to even the most tired traveler. Dense clouds shroud rural neighborhoods and tall tree intersperse with homes of various sizes. Streaks of color from the occasional graffiti lined wall are hard to miss too. Our stay in the old town, a UNESCO world heritage site, made it easy to explore the city’s main sights. Starting with this view of the city.

Quito

Quito

 

Once a part of a giant empire spanning Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Colombia, Quito is often referred to as the ‘The light of America’ for being the first city to rise up against Spanish rule. Like in other historical conquests, the influence of power, in this case the Incan and Spanish, has left a deep impression on the physical and mental makeup of the city. The Spanish built intricate basilicas and plazas but also trapped and killed native revolutionaries, a fact that is not easily forgotten.

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Ovi of Free Walking Tour Ecuador navigates us through old town’s undulating lanes towards the town center called Plaza Grande. The plaza is a free, open space with benches, a place for locals to relax in the sun. Surrounding the plaza are some of Quito’s primary landmarks – the president’s office, the town hall, the main cathedral and Palacio Arzobispal which was once home to the archbishop. Further down the street is La Compañía de Jesús, an astonishingly beautiful church and the Banko Central, which is a numismatic museum. Outside the president’s office, Ovi tells us about the historical streak of bad luck among Ecuadorian presidents (many of them have been killed at this square) and laughingly mentions that the current president chose not to live on premises!

Quito

Our visit falls on a weekend and people are out in their Sunday best. Street performers, local artists and curio sellers display their bearings outside Compañía de Jesús. We walk towards the second most popular Plaza- San Francisco, where hawkers sell meringue and children chase pigeons, making the most of the ample space. What was once a bustling square for trade and commerce is now a vacant spot for tourists to catch their breath and for locals to idle about.

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Quito

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Mass progresses inside the church of Plaza San Francisco and we are asked to wait to take photos. Ovi tells us about the techniques used to create the statue of Jesus displayed on the left side of the entrance. He points out to the hair and the blood and mentions that those are real. Unsettled, I try to distract myself by looking at the ornate gold leaf work on the ceiling. Around me, I see a steady depiction of faith – in the mannerisms and expressions. My mind momentarily switches back to the temples of India. Back then, I never quite imagined that I’d be witnessing a similar sight millions of miles away in a country so far removed from my own. Perhaps that’s what unites us, as humans.

Church San Franscisco

Walking through old town’s checkerboard streets we find ourselves at a panoramic spot behind Museo de la Ciudad, but not before picking some plantain chips and my local favorite homemade sauce, aji. At a distance we could spot the Virgin of El Panecilo, the statue of Quito’s Madonna. We hear the sounds of an orchestra and find an organized crowd gathered next door. This square was once Quito’s black market, shared Ovi. Today, a free musical performance organized by the city’s tourism board was underway. The artists put up a string of performances including a Colombian dance called Cuyamba, an act that I had to tear myself away from.

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Every guidebook, blog and travel magazine talks about Quito’s La Ronda, a narrow street with little boutiques and cafes on both sides. What makes the street special is the Spanish style architecture in pastel hues. Ovi points towards the balconies on both sides and tells us about the wooing ritual of the past. Men would walk on the street, play the guitar and ladies would have a field day being picky. That sounded familiar. We grab some local gelato at Dulce Placer and go gaga over never heard of flavors like cuba libre and colada morada, the latter made of exotic tropical fruits including the local famous naranjiila. I spent a few moments regretting missing out on a chocolate workshop at Chez Tiff but Ovi pulled us into a traditional craftsman’s workshop next door. The craftsman gave us a live demonstration of his work, an ancient form that involves hammering and painting techniques.

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Enjoying these delish flavours with Ovi 🙂

Our tour ended at Compañía de Jesús, the stunning church that finally let us in once the crowds had dwindled. Work on this church continued for one sixty years and today it is thronged by visitors who walk in to admire its perfect symmetry and moorish elements. The Compañía boasts of gold-leaf work on its ceiling as well, and the interiors are every bit as dramatic as described by locals. After three hours of walking around, the quiet surroundings were just what we needed to recharge. Sitting on one of the benches, surrounded by finery of the past, we took the time to reflect upon all that we had seen since morning. We also visited Basilica del Voto Nacional, the largest neo-gothic basilica in the Americas, and took an elevator up-to get a view of the city and its nearby mountains. Our day had only begun, but the city’s friendliness gave us a strange sense of déjà vu, reminding us of the warm feeling of kinship in an unknown but fascinating part of the world.

Quito-basilica
One of the entrances to the Basilica.

 

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Supriya
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As a kid, Supriya had to be brought back to reality from her daydreaming excursions. A digital marketer by profession, she enjoys reading, writing and photography. Her wanderlust list changes each week, but she's strongly eyeing countries in South America and the Middle East as destinations for her journeys :)

12 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Kaley
    | Reply

    What lovely photos! I think you’ve really managed to capture the spirit of the place.
    Kaley recently posted…Why Everyone Needs to be Un-SettledMy Profile

    • Supriya
      Supriya
      | Reply

      Muchas Gracias Kaley 🙂 . Contrary to what we read about it’s safety, we found this city to be quite warm and charming. Have you been to any South American country? We can maybe compare notes!

  2. Avatar
    Elaine Masters
    | Reply

    So enjoyed seeing parts of the city of Quito and old town. I hope to visit when I finally get a chance to visit the Galapagos and spend time in the country.
    Elaine Masters recently posted…Tested! Banish jet lag on your long haul flightMy Profile

    • Supriya
      Supriya
      | Reply

      🙂 Galápagos is lovely Elaine. You must plan it. We were there for five days and felt we could have stayed longer. Old town is very charming too. Have you been to other parts of South America?

  3. Avatar
    Terumi
    | Reply

    Those gelato flavors sound amazing! And your pictures are gorgeous:)
    Terumi recently posted…San Diego trip planning in Seattle because of LegolandMy Profile

    • Supriya
      Supriya
      | Reply

      Thank you 🙂 even the thought of those flavors makes my mouth water! What’s been your favorite gelato experience?

  4. Avatar
    The World Pursuit
    | Reply

    I went to Quito about a year ago and honestly didn’t love it. Had a much better time in Banos and Mindo. That being said your photos are great and I’m happy you got to explore the old town!
    The World Pursuit recently posted…What To Do In Belgrade: Experience The Best of the Serbia’s CapitalMy Profile

    • Supriya
      Supriya
      | Reply

      Glad you liked our photos!

      Btw sorry to know that Quito did not live up to your expectations- I guess our walking tour just set the day on the right foot for us. Banos and Mindo are very much on our wishlist 🙂 .

  5. Avatar
    Monika
    | Reply

    I also visited the city at the weekend and I was surprised how lovely it was. Usually there isn’t much going on in a city at the weekend, but Quito was a different story 🙂
    Monika recently posted…There are no boring places, it’s only a traveller who might be boringMy Profile

    • Supriya
      Supriya
      | Reply

      Hi Monika,

      You got it right. We were quite smitten though I can imagine weekdays might be a different affair. We simply loved the bustle, the vibe and the experiences over the short stay 🙂

  6. Avatar
    Sonali chauhan
    | Reply

    What lovely photos.. Those gelato flavors sound amazing. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Supriya
      Supriya
      | Reply

      Thanks a million Sonali 🙂

      Are you heading there soon?

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