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Quito Local Attractions – Quito, Ecuador

Quito Local Attractions
Quito, Ecuador

When I think of Quito, I think of a great chaotic blend of humble abodes and towering financial structures and apartments built atop uneven contours of a verdant valley. I think of a city walled-in by abrupt mountain walls and snow-covered volcanoes in the distance. I think the Otavaleõos, and their beautiful navy colored wool and gold-beaded necklaces sparkling in the sun. All of these things are pieces of the Ecuadorian terrain you are sure to come across. But for that cosmopolitan tourist in you – that one that yearns to set eyes on international works of art, walk through grand archways, and steal photos of cobbled colonial streetscapes – there is a lot to be seen in this great city. What follows is an introduction to Quito’s cultural and art attractions.

View of San Francisco Church
View of San Francisco Church
The city lies at a north-south position, and almost all things modern are in the northern half. In fact, this is probably where your accommodations are located, as most hotels and restaurants are situated there (also where you will most likely do your late-night reveling). But this is not a place where ancient architecture and narrow streets will bring you back to the colonial days of yore. These buildings are to the south, which make up the old town and have been declared an UNESCO world heritage site. But since we are already here, let’s begin with the northern end of town.

New Town

The tourist area of the new town is called Mariscal Sucre or Gringolandia, if you prefer, as some locals have christened it. Aside from internet cafés and hip restaurants, this area is filled with museums. There is the Museo Amazónico, where you can check out a selection of indigenous artifacts from the jungle, and the Museo de Ciencias Naturales, where you’ll find a good cross section of the country’s diverse flora and fauna. And just farther to the northeast in Bellavista, is the Museo Guayasamín, featuring the named artist’s internationally renowned works. This guy’s stuff is ubiquitous in Ecuador and if you’re fond of it, you will definitely not want to miss this place. It is also possible to buy many of his pieces here. Still, some of the more widely visited museums are to the south of Mariscal Sucre adjacent to the park El Ejido. Aside from being a popular public gathering space where you’ll see people lounging about under trees or pounding the grass in a heated soccer match, the north end of El Ejido is used by artisans to sell their paintings and crafts on the weekends. Across from Parque Ejido you’ll see the eye-catching Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana. This sphere shaped glass structure is home to, not one, but two museums: Museo de Arte Ecuatoriano and Museo del Banco Central. The first carries pieces from as far back as the 19th century and as new as modernist and contemporary works. The canvases of many of Ecuador’s most famed artists can be viewed here. Inside the other one is an abundance of pottery, golden ornaments, a deformed skull, and other notable artifacts from Ecuador’s past. And a bit farther to the south is another park called Alameda. While there are no museums, there are many statues and sculptures of the country’s heroic figures, including a monument to Simón Bolivar. There’s also an 1800s observatory in the middle that is still in use for those craving an equatorial glance at the sky.

Old Town

View of La Plaza de la Independencia
View of La Plaza de la Independencia
The most famous and busy place here is Plaza de la Independencia, which is where the presidential palace is located as well as a cathedral that holds the remains of Ecuador’s cherished liberator, Mariscal Sucre. If you are interested in colonial art, close to the museum is the Antiguo Cuartel de la Real Audencia. Here you will find rather lofty religious and political art. Also near the plaza is the church with the highest tower in Quito, La Merced, built around the turn of the 18th century. The inside is adorned with fascinating artwork and stained-glass windows depicting colonial figures. Another old town gem in is Plaza San Francisco. Build in the 16th century, this cathedral and monastery is seen through the vast openness created by the cobblestone plaza. This is perhaps one of the most delightful churches in Ecuador with its exterior framed by tall bell towers on each side and its interior exhibiting fine baroque carving and Moorish ceiling details. A visit here, to the oldest cathedral in Ecuador, is a must on any visit to old town. Still, any trip through this area would be incomplete without a visit to the Church of Santo Domingo as well. The plaza out front of this church is inhabited by street performers and magicians attracting large crowds, and in the evening the domes are illuminated, imbuing the ambient sky with a glow of ancient splendor. But be careful, being here at night comes with risks, so definitely bring few valuables and a friend or two. I guess it is impossible not to mention the Panecillo simply for its landmark fame. This is the hilltop site of the crowned and winged virgin of Quito, and offers pleasant views of the city. Just be sure to take a taxi here because – as all the guidebooks will undoubtedly warn – muggers may lurk near the climbing staircases and neighboring districts for the wondering, weary tourist.

After a long day of diligent site seeing, I say head back to Gringolandia for some good eats and a few cocktails is next on the agenda. But you already know where that is.

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