Changing of the Guard in Quito is a fantastic spectacle that takes place every week at the Plaza Grande in the Old Town. Read on to learn about the origins of this traditional Ecuadorian ceremony.
On a gloriously sunny Monday morning – just as every Monday before or since – a large crowd has gathered on Plaza Grande, the most iconic square in the Old Town of Quito.
Suited and ear-pieced officials usher a mixture of locals and tourists into designated standing spaces as street sellers hawk their wares: hats, water, umbrellas – all ready for the big event. Then suddenly on the balcony, flanked by palm trees and lush mountains, appears the star of the show, smiling, waving, gesturing to his adoring fans.
This is none other than the president of Ecuador, here at the Palacio de Carandolet to oversee the Changing of the Guard, a ceremony that sees the military squadron guarding the presidential seat for the past week pass the baton to the next group. With much pomp and solemnity, the Changing of the Guard is a fantastic spectacle and a great honor bestowed on the most senior and loyal soldiers.
At 11 a.m. sharp the ritual begins, as the guards dressed like brilliant blue Nutcracker swings open the main doors to the palace, and a full-scale marching band strikes up, playing the sort of music that might begin a Laurence Olivier movie.
Out the guard parade, made up of the Granaderos de Tarqui, stepping all the way out around the square, joined by drummers and cavalry, the horses’ manes adorned with colored pom-poms.
The soldiers form a guard along a pathway between the crowd, tilting their spears to form an archway. The national anthem is sung with much emotion by soldiers and onlookers alike before the climax of it all: the handing over of the sword from the old to the new guard.
The former proclaims:
“I deliver the service of guard
With the special role
Of safeguarding the security
Of the Carondelet Palace
And the integrity of the constitutional president
Of the Republic of Ecuador
And the integrity of Mr. Economist Rafael Correa Delgado
Complying with the slogan of the Grupo Escolta Presidential
Granaderos de Tarqui
‘Loyalty up to sacrifice.’”
As the latter responds:
“I will complete this sacred mission with honor, discipline and loyalty.”
The origins of the custom can be traced back to the early 19th century when Ecuador gained its independence from Spanish colonialists after the Battle of Pichincha in 1812. To this day, the soldiers wear the same uniform as their predecessors on that fated hillside two centuries ago: a tall blue helmet is known as a morrión, with a metallic crest of Ecuador, brilliant blue dress coat with golden chords, red epaulets, white trousers, and black boots.
Having distinguished themselves in the battle, the Granaderos de Tarqui was called upon by liberator Simon Bolivar to be his personal guard. In 1952, the Ecuadorian government of that time asked the soldiers to reprise the role, this time to protect the vice president and to honor foreign dignitaries, with all the flourish that such an occasion would merit.
Indeed, today when watching the event, looking up to the presidential balcony one will often see a smattering of ministers, diplomats, and representatives from across the globe.
The Changing of the Guard ends much as it began: the band, the marching, and then the closing of the great doors. With the Ecuadorian flag waving against a brilliant blue sky, this is Quito at its finest.
Arrive in good time to bag your place. You want to be able to see the balcony and the path through the middle of the square, and ideally under shade. It’s worth bearing in mind that once you have found your spot officials will not allow you to move.
11 a.m. may well be the most scorching hour of the day in Quito, so bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat.
The palace itself is worth a visit, but on Mondays, you will unlikely be allowed in until the mid-afternoon due to the volume of people and security logistics. On other days the palace opens at 9 a.m. to the public.
If you’re not tempted by the coffee shops scattered around Plaza Grande, head down Chile street and into Cafeto. Not only is it beautifully decorated with tiled floors and frescoed ceilings but it has a view onto the tranquil patio of San Agustin, a functioning convent with its own museum.