Neighbourhood Life: San Blas, La Tola and San Marcos

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There’s much more to Quito’s Old Town than churches and museums. Rather than being a relic of a former way of life, the Historic Centre is a hub made up of a network of buzzing neighbourhoods home to thousands of people, each with their own distinct identity and atmosphere. Below are three of the most iconic neighbourhoods in Quito that sure to pique your curiosity and open a door into local life in the jewel of the Andes.

Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) in Quito
This amazing place is used for various exhibits and cultural events.

San Blas

The low-down

For one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, San Blas still has an “up-and-coming” edge to it. From the 16th century until the early 20th it was considered the entrance to the Historic Centre of Quito and marked the northern limit, its slope-slide location giving it some of the best views in town. Now, with its remodelled Plaza alongside its 16th century church, the neighbourhood has attracted new bars and restaurants among the traditional eateries and general stores.

San Blas neighborhood
Each neighborhood in Quito’s Old Town is unique!
Why should you visit Quito’s Old Town?
This is one of South America’s most well-preserved historic districts and the first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enjoy its ornate churches, buzzing plazas, and cobblestone streets lined with flower-filled balconies against the backdrop of the surrounding Andes Mountains. If you’re looking for where to stay in Quito, many structures have been refurbished, restored, or remodeled and transformed into boutique hotels in Quito. In fact, Casa Gangotena, the only one endorsed by Relais & Châteaux, has been named the best downtown hotel in Quito thanks to its unbeatable location and excellent service. Take a look at our rooms and suites!

The must-see

No longer used for bullfights after a referendum led to their ban, the bullring is used for cultural activities like concerts, especially during the vibrant Fiestas de Quito in December. The 1960 structure offers an insight into pastimes of yesteryear.

The bar

A relative newcomer to this vintage barrio, La Oficina offers its own San Blas-branded craft beer, as well as frequent live music and movie nights, making it a cultural hub for the community.

La Tola

The low-down

Neighbourhoods don’t get much more traditional than La Tola. Home to some 5,000 residents, the area is rife with its own legends (like the jilted bride in her wedding dress said to wander Don Bosco street at night) and even has a cock-fighting arena where in the past youths would box rivals from other communities. It’s here that you can find Mercado Central, a bustling market where locals from all over the city come to buy their groceries.

The must-see

La Tola backs onto Itchimbia, a glorious park with incredible views over the city. Sometimes a venue for concerts and festivals, the park has a restaurant, Pimms, located within, or check Café Mosaico on the street below, for one of the loveliest terraces around.

The Bar

The original micro-brewery that sparked off a massive craft beer trend across the city, Bandido Brewing is still the leader of the pack. Any night of the week you’ll find the 1850s church-turned-bar full of both locals and foreigners, merry with pints of pale ale, stout or honey ginger saison and unexpectedly good pizza.

Café Mosaico in Quito
Amazing view of Quito from Café Mosaico.

San Marcos

The low-down

Set all along Calle Junín, San Marcos is a cultural hub where you could happily spend a day dipping into its restaurants, galleries and museum, wandering along the sloping street bordered by quaint coloured houses adored with balconies bursting with flowers. Just blocks away from the city’s most famous sites like Plaza Grande and Santo Domingo, the neighbourhood maintains its laid-back, residential feeling making it a welcome escape from the buzz.

The must-see

It’s difficult to single out one attraction in this rich neighbourhood. There’s the Manuela Sáenz Museum, Santa Catalina convent, and Casa de la Danza, home of modern dance in the city. Don’t miss Museo de Acuarela y Dibujo, a gallery showcasing beautiful drawings and watercolours from Quiteño artists.

The bar

Once again, this barrio is not short on watering holes, all of them eccentric and quirky in their own ways (See Café Dios No Se Muere, Octava de Corpus and La Piedra Cantuña) but Sirka merits a mention for its live music and DJs as well as light shows and movies.

Beer from a pub at Quito's Old Town
There are plenty of unique bars to enjoy at Quito’s Old Town.
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