Cobblestone streets, whitewashed houses adorned with intricate balconies and grand plazas are quintessential features of Quito, forever under the gaze of the winged Virgin statue that sits high up on the Panecillo Hill.
The Old Town invites you to explore its streets, plazas and passageways that are steeped in the history and culture of the city, to peep into the darkened shops selling traditional hats and chocolates, and to pause on street corners to taste the snacks that Quiteños have enjoyed for generations.
Quito’s Old Town ranks among one of the largest and best-conserved historic centers in all of the Americas. It is a preserved wonder from a bygone era, brimming with museums and exhibitions that help piece together the larger picture of the city of Quito – a jewel on the crown of the Andes.
Peek into a Quiteño home at 6 p.m. on a chilly afternoon and you might behold a family assembling around a steaming pot of hot chocolate. Remarkably, this delicious drink is accompanied by fresh farmer’s cheese (queso de hoja or queso fresco), which is dropped into the mug and melted down into a delicious mixture of sweet and salty. The sweetness is not derived from just any chocolate…Quiteño hot chocolate is made with chocolate de hoja, which is combined into the milk using a traditional wooden molinillo.
Available on: Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday
Very few have access to this iconic church’s interior treasures. We are hosted on this visit by a Franciscan priest from the monastery, who takes us around the innards of the edification. At San Francisco, the courtyards bring together the church’s many altars, hallways, and galleries to retell centuries-old stories and showcase a historic beer-brewing process. While here, discover the rustic machinery and techniques employed by the Franciscan monks in the brewing of beer in the 16th-20th centuries. Later, we can relive the magic by sampling delicious, present-day craft beer from one of Ecuador’s famous breweries. Bottoms up!
Available on: Tuesday and Friday
The choir of San Francisco Church, above the high altar, smells of wood and mysticism. It is an example of the diverse architectural styles that influenced, over time, the construction of the church, boasting even Middle Eastern iconography on the ceiling. After a visit to the choir, follow us through the narrow, wooden stairs to the bell tower, which could easily be the setting of a novelesque scene written by Victor Hugo. The San Francisco bell towers await to show you stunning panoramic vistas of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Revel in this small intrusion, as this spot is accessible to virtually no one. If Ernest Hemingway ever wondered for whom the bells toll, here they toll for you.
Available on: Thursday and Saturday
In the late afternoon, this abbey and museum opens its doors to guests of Casa Gangotena only. Built in 1653, the mysterious convent is home to an order of Carmelite cloister nuns who lead a life of agency and work, making some of Quito’s most delicious traditional treats. On our visit, we discover beautiful religious paintings, antique architecture, whole-room replicas of the nun’s living quarters, and the silent traces of their presence. Curiously, the abbey was once home to the late Marianita de Jesus, (1618-1645), Ecuador’s first saint.
Available on: Wednesday and Sunday
Ecuador has fantastic year-round weather. In Quito and the highlands, the dry season tends to last between June and September, with daytime temperatures hovering around 21 °C (70 °F). The rainy season lasts from October to May, with March and April typically being the wettest months. During this latter season, guests can expect clear skies in the mornings and showers in the afternoon, followed by intermittent bursts of sunshine. Average temperatures during the rainy season tend to hover around 19 °C (67 °F).
The highlight of any trip to Ecuador is the Galapagos Islands. The archipelago is full of fearless and fantastic creatures that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Whether aboard an expedition vessel (such as the Santa Cruz II, Yacht La Pinta or Yacht Isabela II) or from the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel on Santa Cruz Island, the Galapagos won’t fail to impress.
Aside from its impressive cultural treasures, Ecuador’s natural riches are staggering and amazingly diverse. Head north of the capital to experience volcanos, historic haciendas, lakes and Indian markets. Head east to discover the mighty Amazon, where the concentration of flora and fauna is truly remarkable. Venture south for the mighty “Avenue of the Volcanos.” Casa Gangotena is only the beginning of the adventure!
Mashpi Lodge is the ultimate cloud forest destination for those who want to encounter hundreds of species of birds, trees and frogs found nowhere else in the world, complete with crashing waterfalls and incredible flora. Trek down hidden paths, splash through rivers, rise at dawn to spot rare birds, or fly high above the canopy aboard the Dragonfly gondola.