Quito’s Historic Center
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There are few places in Latin America as atmospheric as Quito’s Centro Histórico. The city’s colonial core is the largest and best-preserved collection of colonial architecture in the New World, and it is still the beating heart of Quito. The neighborhood was declared the first UNESCO World Heritage Site, and after visiting its narrow, hilly streets and regal plazas, you’ll understand why.
Any visit to the Centro Histórico, indeed any visit to Quito, should begin at the Plaza Grande. This is the city’s central square, and it is flanked by the city’s cathedral and presidential palace, both dating to the 17th century. It has been the location for many of the most important events in Ecuador’s history, but most days it’s just filled with strolling families and shoe-shine boys.
The cathedral is but one of the Centro’s many colonial-era churches. The most dramatic is the La Compañía church, located on Ca. García Moreno, about a block from the main plaza. This church is expertly carved from volcanic stone, but it is the interior décor, covered from floor to ceiling in gold leaf, that draws the most gasps. The Monasterio de San Francisco, dominating the expansive Plaza San Francisco, is a more austere example of colonial architecture, but wows visitors with its sheer size.
The Basilica del Voto Nacional, on Calle Venezuela, is the newest of Quito’s monumental churches. Consecrated in 1988, the church is built in a neo-Gothic style, with some distinctly Ecuadorian touches: the gargoyles are representations of sea turtles, iguanas and other wildlife from the Galapagos. The brave can also climb a series of staircases and ladders to reach the top of the church’s tower, where their daring is rewarded with a panoramic view across the city.
The Basilica is not the only place to take in a spectacular view. Topped with a giant statue of the Virgin Mary, El Panecillo is a prominent hill at the southern end of the Centro. If you want a bit of greenery, Parque Itchimbia is a tranquil spot overlooking the city.
Two museums also help to unravel Quito’s past. The Casa Museo Maria Augusta Urrutia (García Moreno N2-60) preserves the home of Quito’s greatest 20th century philanthropist, who also happened to be a great collector of local art. Quito’s Museo de la Ciudad (García Moreno S1-47 and Rocafuerte), filled with two floors of historic objects, is a must for anyone who wants to understand the city’s past.
WHERE TO EAT
For a delicious, traditional meal, head to La Ronda, a street on the southern edge of the Centro Historico. It is reputed to be the oldest street in Quito, and has recently has been spruced up to attract tourists. It is lined with restaurants serving classical Ecuadorian food, and at night they usually feature live music. For something more contemporary, Café Mosaico (Manuel Samaniego N8-95) is a popular choice. It has an innovative and international menu, but the real highlight is the view over the city.
WHERE TO SLEEP
Quito’s Centro abounds in good sleeping options. The top choice for many backpackers is The Secret Garden (José Antepara E4-60 and Los Rios), a sociable, lively hostel. The Hotel San Francisco (Sucre 217 and Guayaquil) is a mid-range choice with lots of colonial charm. At the high end, the Patio Andaluz ( Av. García Moreno N6-52) fits all the amenities of a luxury hotel into a 400 year-old mansion.
Trips to Quito and all of Ecuador’s other most important destinations can be arranged as extensions to Galapagos Island tours. If you are visiting Ecuador for a trip to the islands, contact your operator to ask about extension options.
The most popular extension are tours to the Galapagos and Machu Picchu.
More Info Here: www.detourdestinations.com/travel-guides/combining-galapagos-machu-picchu