<div class="at-above-post-arch-page addthis_tool" data-url="https://www.casagangotena.com/everything-about-destination-wedding-quito/"></div>Now, it’s not enough to simply select Quito’s Historic Center as your wedding destination. It really is important to pick the perfect wedding-related venue, and, in the heart of the Old Town, there is one hotel that truly stands head and shoulders above any other in the city. We invite you to read all about Casa Gangotena and why it is an ideal wedding venue for you.<!-- AddThis Advanced Settings above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings generic via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><div class="at-below-post-arch-page addthis_tool" data-url="https://www.casagangotena.com/everything-about-destination-wedding-quito/"></div><!-- AddThis Share Buttons generic via filter on get_the_excerpt -->
<div class="at-above-post-arch-page addthis_tool" data-url="https://www.casagangotena.com/what-can-you-do-at-casa-gangotenas-rooftop-terrace/"></div>Why is Casa Gangotena's rooftop terrace such a big deal? Unbeatable ambiance, sweeping views, delicious food, and signature drinks, to name a few...<!-- AddThis Advanced Settings above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings generic via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><div class="at-below-post-arch-page addthis_tool" data-url="https://www.casagangotena.com/what-can-you-do-at-casa-gangotenas-rooftop-terrace/"></div><!-- AddThis Share Buttons generic via filter on get_the_excerpt -->
<div class="at-above-post-arch-page addthis_tool" data-url="https://www.casagangotena.com/what-should-i-see-in-quito/"></div>Quito's Historic Center is regarded as one of the best places to visit in all of South America, but why? In this blog, we invite you to find out!<!-- AddThis Advanced Settings above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings generic via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><div class="at-below-post-arch-page addthis_tool" data-url="https://www.casagangotena.com/what-should-i-see-in-quito/"></div><!-- AddThis Share Buttons generic via filter on get_the_excerpt -->
<div class="at-above-post-arch-page addthis_tool" data-url="https://www.casagangotena.com/why-is-casa-gangotena-one-of-the-most-romantic-hotels-in-quito/"></div>Looking for one of the most romantic hotels in all of Quito? Casa Gangotena offers its enamored guests an experience that's unlike anything out there!<!-- AddThis Advanced Settings above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings generic via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><div class="at-below-post-arch-page addthis_tool" data-url="https://www.casagangotena.com/why-is-casa-gangotena-one-of-the-most-romantic-hotels-in-quito/"></div><!-- AddThis Share Buttons generic via filter on get_the_excerpt -->
Dining in Quito can be a marvelous experience, if you choose the right place. There are three options that, basically, encompass the dining options offered throughout the city:
The local lunch spot
In this blog, you’ll get to know more about each of these options: what they offer, how much they cost, and our personal recommendations. Each of these factors are things to keep in mind when seeking out the culinary experience you want to enjoy in a city like Quito.
The Local Almuerzo (or Lunch) Spot
Approximate cost: Ranges between $2.75 and $5.00 per person
For those folks looking for a casual and quick meal, which they can even take with them as they go about their way, Quito has exactly what they need at an affordable price. Generally, Quiteño’s most standard option for casual dining is the local almuerzo (or lunch) spot.
These spaces offer a wholly pragmatic experience. The menu typically only includes two or three traditionalmeal options. Usually, what arrives at your table is a hot soup to whet your appetite, a chicken or beef stew with a heaping pile of rice, and a juice or beverage prepared in house.
However, it is worth noting: you get what you pay for, these places don’t offer much beyond a full stomach. Service tends to be rushed, thanks to the high volume of customers. Also, during peak lunch hours, these tiny dives tend to get pretty full and different parties are often obliged to share the same table.
It is also important to consider your palate and your tastes. Given the nature of these traditional recipes, some ingredients and condiments could be not so well received by your stomach. These plates are rarely customizable, too.
The Food Court
Approximate cost: Ranges between $7.00 and $15.00 per person
When looking for a quick bite, another option is to visit the food court at one of the city’s many shopping centers. These places often feature a variety of fast food options. Also, they tend to be very similar to food courts located throughout the world, offering the usual fast food franchises. Also, the prices are relatively affordable.
These spaces tend towards having a crowded, chaotic, and noisy atmosphere, but they can be an easy option for those who work a hectic job and have a set lunch hour or for those with a full day of shopping ahead. For consumers who want to be environmentally conscious food courts are probably not the best alternative, given that utensils, plates, and cups tend to be single use, which can produce a large amount of waste.
Also, just as is the case in many public dining places, it’s possible you may need to tolerate settings that are disorganized and not at all intimate. Unfortunately, you’ll also have to deal with the lines, especially during peak mealtime hours. You’ll need to guard your personal items, as there are a lot of people milling about.
Approximate cost: Ranges between $7.00 and $15.00 per person
If you have time to enjoy something a little more elaborate. Quito offers a great selection of spectacular gastronomic options that invite diners to experience new flavors and sensations while enjoying a pleasant moment in the company of family or friends.
Diners will find lots of different cuisines; Italian, Asian, seafood, traditional Ecuadorian fare and various others throughout the city. Also, chefs from all over the world take advantage of locally-sourced fruits, vegetables, proteins, and spices with which to transform their creativity and passion into exquisite meals that are extraordinarily fresh.
Restauranteurs have selected a wide range of settings and locations that benefit from and highlight the beauty and historical importance of Quito. They have made it their mission to train their employees on how to provide customers with efficient and reliable service.
The average cost of the most elegant restaurants in Quito can reach around $60.00 per person.
What should I keep in mind before deciding where to eat?
Speed and Affordability: the Local Almuerzo (or Lunch) Spot Variety and Time Constraints: Food Court Complete Culinary Experience (food, service, ambiance): Restaurant
Why is it worthwhile to choose a restaurant?
Often, we avoid expensive restaurants and think that fine food “isn’t worth it” when we can find something less expensive and close by. However, high quality gastronomy is something that everyone can enjoy, be it on a special occasion or simply to break up the daily grind by enjoying a moment with friends and family.
Below, you’ll find a breakdown of the reasons why choosing a restaurant is the best option!
A really good meal requires a lot of patience and ingenuity, as well as passion for the art of cooking and a specific sense of creativity. Restaurant chefs focusing on haute cuisine are highly-trained professionals who have experience with a wide variety of ingredients, and they use this knowledge to create the best meals that are technically impeccable. They use special equipment and obtain the highest quality products and product from carefully selected providers in order to offer you not just the best food, but also the best flavors.
These culinary artists know the which combinations work best, the precise temperature at which to cook the ingredients, how long they need to cook, and all of the particular techniques to use to coax the exact flavors they seek. This is as much an art as it is a science. Haute (or high end) cuisine truly is worthwhile. It is what transforms any necessary and common activity, like eating, into an extraordinary and intimate experience.
Pistachio-crusted Andean rack of lamb at Casa Gangotena’s Restaurant
High-end restaurants devote weeks to training their servers in order to transform them into professional waitpersons, capable of creating a personal and enjoyable experience for their clients. At these restaurants, if you don’t enjoy the experience, you have a right to some sort of compensation.
Waitstaff ensure that the food is to your liking and that you have everything you need. They know what beverages or drinks best complement certain dishes and they can help you choose the best option according to your preferences and mood; all of this in order to offer you exactly what you may or may not have known you were looking for.
The waitstaff are the folks who will guide your gastronomic experience with impeccable service, charm, and warm hospitality in order to give you a well-deserved vacation away from home, and more so, they will treat you like a distinguished diner.
No more getting up from the table to refill your drink or get more napkins. No more waiting in lines or discovering another party suddenly sitting at your table.
No gastronomic experience is complete without the perfect ambiance. For some, this final element can even be the most important factor when considering where to dine.
Depending on your mood and interests, high-end restaurants in Quito offer a variety of settings, spaces, views, and sensations that will allow you to enjoy an intimate and relaxed experience that quickly vanquishes any distractions. This is when you can take a moment to appreciate the folks around you and their company.
There is a variety of factors that should be considered when seeking out the most appropriate setting: lighting, music, decor, and even the arrangement of seats and tables, which can vary drastically from one restaurant to another. It is important to keep these things in mind when selecting your culinary experience.
Why dine at a restaurant in Quito’s Old Town?
The answer is very simple: you can enjoy an immersive experience.
The Historic Center of Quito offers impressive views of churches, basilicas, colonial buildings, and surrounding mountains – which are things you can observe whenever you want at a number of dining spots located among the Old Town’s many rooftops.
Another factor is that these restaurants are an excellent place to take a break and relax in the middle of a day full of activities and excursions. Conversely, they can be an excellent spot from which to start off your night before heading off to explore the city’s famous nightlife.
Also, there are some gastronomic options available along the mountain slopes, with views of the city, where diners can appreciate the well-illuminated architectural gems that Quito has to offer.
Casa Gangotena’s Restaurant: Why is it the best dining option in Quito?
Casa Gangotena offers diners much more than a gourmet menu. Upon entering the building, you’ll find yourself immersed in a setting full of history, in the heart of Quito’s Historic Quarter, that is home to a modern take on the best of Ecuadorian cuisine.
The experience of dining at Casa Gangotena’s Restaurant doesn’t just involve food, per sé, it also focuses on satisfying clients through their:
Reimagining traditional Ecuadorian dishes by making use of internationally-inspired, modern techniques.
Our formal restaurant’s classic style, our elegant bar, the bright open space of our interior patio or loggia, and the majestic views of our rooftop terrace.
Enjoy your food with peace of mind that comes with not worrying about your vehicle; we’ll take care of it from the moment you arrive until the moment your experience with us is complete.
It is never too late or too early to enjoy our gastronomic offerings. With breakfast served daily between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., lunch from 12:30 to 3:00 p.m., and dinner from 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., you’ll always be able to enjoy a pleasant time at our restaurant.
Every day, we celebrate something different at Casa Gangotena! Be it a birthday or simply the joy of welcoming you to our establishment, you’ll always find a discount or special offer of which to take advantage.
Located along one side of the iconic San Francisco Plaza in Quito’s Historic Center, Casa Gangotena’s Restaurant allows you to enjoy a complete experience without leaving the city’s picturesque essence.
How do I get to Casa Gangotena’s Restaurant?
Though it’s fairly easy to get to Casa Gangotena from any point in Quito, here you can find directions that will help you reach our restaurant:
Bonus: How can I enjoy a memorable gastronomic experience at home?
Take out food generally implies speed and comfort. We don’t have to leave the house to enjoy a quick and easy meal. However, this is usually not the way to create a memorable experience. For this reason, Casa Gangotena presents Mikuy.
With the characteristic flavors of our Cocina Mestiza cuisine, Mikuy arrives at your doorstep, ready to accompany you on any occasion and treat your senses to delicious feast that you can enjoy as you’d like.
Order delicious dishes from our website, one day in advance. Feel the excitement as you assemble the meal of your choice with the final touches and creative instructions of our chef. Complement your experience with fresh infusions that will bring out even more of the flavors in your food.
Upon receiving your order from Mikuy, you’ll find easy step-by-step instructions and tips for decorating your table, lighting, and even setting the mood with our playlist, specially designed to accompany your meal.
If you’re unsure about wasteful packaging, fear not! Everything you order from Mikuy will arrive in environmentally friendly packaging that you can reuse or recycle with easy. You can read more about our new service, check out the menu, and place your first order here.
[Please note: Though the Mikuy ordering platform is currently provided in Spanish, it includes easy-to-understand images and intuitive buttons. Site support is provided in both English and Spanish.]
Nestled near the middle of Ecuador, Quito is an ideal jumping-off point for short trips to the surrounding provinces. Rather than spending a week in one place, explore some of Ecuador’s nearby cultural and natural attractions on the following day trips from Quito.
Note: When you’re planning your trip, consider staying in a central location. The boutique hotel in Quito, Casa Gangotena,is perfectly situated to explore Quito’s Old Town and access the main highways that would take you around and beyond the city.
Casa Gangotena can arrange day tours for you leaving directly from the hotel!
Half-day trips from Quito
Mitad del Mundo
Distance from Quito: 1 hour by car
What’s a visit to Ecuador without a visit to the actual equator?
Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) complex right on the Equator
Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World) is located just north of Quito and is best known for the enormous monument that sits (approximately) on the equator. The monument commemorates the French Geodesic Mission that came to study the equator in the 18th century and, at the time it was built, was thought to sit directly on the equatorial line. With the development of modern GPS technology, however, the equator was found to be about 240 meters (787 feet) north of the monument. Oops!
While you’re at the Mitad del Mundo complex, you can visit the Ethnographic Museum, showcasing the territories and traditions of Ecuador’s indigenous people. At the nearby Cacao Museum, you can learn some cool facts about Ecuadorian cacao and the chocolate-making process.
You can also visit the arguably more fun visitor complex called Inti Ñan, located on the road that leads west from the large roundabout. This more down-to-earth and quirky attraction does in fact lie right on the equatorial line and includes more hands-on experiments that illustrate the physics at work here in the middle of the world.
The area around Mitad del Mundo is known for its staple dish, the fritada, or fried pork meat with a side of potatoes, corn, and cheese, which you can try at any nearby restaurants. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you’ll also find many restaurants serving roasted guinea pig – a local delicacy!
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Pichincha at dusk, seen from the east.
Teleférico and the Pichincha Volcano
Distance from Old Town Quito – 20 minutes by car
Looking northwest from Quito’s Old Town, you’ll notice an imposing mountain that rises above the rest. You’re looking at the Pichincha Volcano whose two summits, Guagua Pichincha and Rucu Pichincha, reach 4,794 meters (15,728 feet) and 4,698 meters (15,413 feet), respectively.
The TelefériQo cable car was built in 2005 and is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world. The cable car takes you up to 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) above sea level. Up top, you’ll find an information center, a chapel, and a small complex with small restaurants offering coffee, lunch, and a spectacular view of Quito’s valley.
From here, you can follow one of the hiking paths and get a feel for the paramo (the high-altitude ecosystem above the treeline), which is characterized by shrubs and grasses. Numerous bird species can be spotted here, including the Ecuadorian hillstar hummingbird and raptors like the Caracara. As you wander around, you might see a few llamas with their handlers. If you ever wanted a selfie with a llama, now’s your chance!
For avid hikers, a well-marked trail will lead you to the summit of Rucu Pichincha in about four hours. The fog begins to roll in at around noon, so make sure to start early and take plenty of provisions, especially water. To cope with the altitude, a few sugary snacks might ward off the dizziness.
The easiest way to escape the buzz of the city is by visiting Parque Metropolitano, a 750-hectare (1,853-acre) park, popular among locals due to its numerous hiking and biking paths, viewpoints and public BBQ areas. On a clear day, expect to get a view of the Cayambe volcano from the appropriately named Mirador Cayambe, one of four look-out points found in the park.
Nearly the whole of Parque Metropolitano is densely forested, providing shade from the sun’s aggressive rays at 2,988 meters (9,803 feet) above sea level. Within the park, there are a few smaller areas and playgrounds designed specifically for children, and stalls closer to the main entrance offer traditional snacks such as chochos (Andean lupin beans), ice cream, and freshly squeezed juices. For a larger meal, walk down from the park’s main entrance to Calle Guanguiltagua where you’ll find a number of restaurants and snack bars.
When you visit Parque Metropolitano, remember to apply sunscreen and take plenty of water.
Opening hours: Open all day, every day. Note: Walking in the park after dark is not recommended.
Parque Arqueológico Rumipamba
Distance from Quito: 15 minutes by car
Within the valley of Quito, and only a short distance away from the historic center, lies an archeological site called the Rumipamba Archaeological Park. The ruins and artifacts at Rumipamba date back to a period estimated to range from 1500 BC to 1500 AD and belong to civilizations like the Quitu-Cara – the pre-Columbian founders of Quito. The name “rumipamba” is Kichwa for rocky plane or field, and it is believed that the Quitu-Cara settled here, above the lake which once spread over the valley below, where the present neighborhood of Iñaquito is located.
The Rumipamba ruins are still being excavated today and the park takes a rather hands-on, participatory approach to excavation. Groups of school children are often seen at the site, learning about the history behind the objects that are being uncovered. As a visitor, you may find small remnants of pottery along the path.
As you explore the park, you’ll see circular, thatched houses and adobe homes that once belonged to the Quitu-Cara. You’ll also see mossy tunnels built out of tree roots which were made by the Yumbos, another civilization that once lived in the area. For more on the Yumbo people, check out our next Day Trip below.
The Rumipamba Archaeological Park is open from Wednesday through Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and the guided tour takes about 90 minutes to complete. We suggest having your hotel concierge call the park beforehand to double-check opening hours and whether English interpretation is available when you want to visit.
Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., ask hotel to double check opening hours.
Tulipe Site Museum
Distance from Quito: 2 hours by car
The Tulipe Site Museum is an archaeological site and museum that gives you a glimpse into the daily life, history and traditions of the Yumbo civilization. The Yumbo were a nomadic tribe that lived in the area between around 800 – 1660 AD, up until the majority were killed by a volcanic eruption. Those that survived, fled.
The ruins at Tulipe are thought to be sacred water temples that were once used by shamans for their purification rituals pertaining to the sun and moon. The pools may have also been used as mirrors to observe the night sky and its constellations. Unfortunately, the pools have since dried out due to volcanic alterations in the area.
Tulipe is located two hours outside of Quito in the cloud forest that spreads out along the western flank of the Andes. The vegetation here is incredibly lush and you can learn more about the native, medicinal plants and trees on a short walk through the museum’s garden. If the cool, cloud forest air entices you to extend your visit, consider staying at Mashpi Lodge, an award-winning and exclusive ecolodge that just two hours northwest from the museum.
Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., ask hotel to double check opening hours.
Full-day trips from Quito
Train Ride to Cotopaxi
Distance from Quito: 15 minutes to the Central Train Station by car
Tren Ecuador gives visitors the chance to explore the country aboard heritage tourist trains. There are over eight available routes that take you across Ecuador’s Northern, Central and Southern Andes, as well as one route that takes you all the way to the Pacific Coast. The train tracks are in excellent condition and the main train station in Quito is located only 15 minutes from Casa Gangotena by car.
As one of your day trips from Quito, we recommend taking the Train of the Volcanoes, or Tren de los Volcanes, which takes you from southern Quito to El Boliche, Machachi, and then back to Quito. This route winds through a network of valleys, past a number of dormant volcanoes like Pichincha, Atacazo, Pasochoa and Rumiñahui and brings you that much closer to the splendor and enormity of the Cotopaxi Volcano. The sweeping views of Ecuador’s lush landscapes alone are well worth the $39 train ticket.
And there is so much more to see! As part of the Train of the Volcanoes route, you’ll stop at Tambillo and Machachi, two small towns where you can get a taste of some local dishes, appreciate the chagras’ (Ecuadorian cowboys’) traditional dance and song, and buy souvenirs.
Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 08:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. | Saturday, Sunday & Holidays from 08:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Papallacta Thermal Baths
Distance from Quito: 1 hour 40 minutes by car
A Quiteño favorite, Papallacta is a small, high-altitude (3,250 meters / 10,663 feet) village located between the Andes and Amazon, best known for its healing and incredibly relaxing hot springs.
Visit any of the numerous spas and pools that have opened over the years to offer local and foreign tourists alike the chance to unwind in the thermal water that springs from the surrounding mountains. The water is known for its rich minerals which are said to be beneficial to the skin and internal organs.
The Termas de Papallacta is the most popular baths, located at the top of the hill above the village. You can either visit their upscale spa to access exclusive pools, massage, facial and aromatherapy services, or you can opt for the regular pools at the Balneario. At both locations, you’ll find pools of varying temperatures, including a pool filled with frigid water from the adjacent mountain stream. A dip in this pool is sure to get your blood pumping!
If you’re planning to go on a full-day trip from Quito, we suggest leaving early to experience the cool, mountain mist, and spectacular views of Volcano Antisana. Once the late-morning sun appears, the baths start to feel a little too hot and sunburn becomes a risk. After an hour or two in the baths, you can enjoy local delicacies such as smoked freshwater trout or a warm locro de papa (thick potato soup). If you’re feeling energetic, there are also a number of hiking paths in the area that take you along the nearby mountains.
When planning your trip, keep in mind that the baths tend to get crowded on weekends! Monday to Wednesday is the best time to visit Papallacta for some well-deserved rest and relaxation.
Opening hours: Opening hours will vary depending on which baths you choose.
Las Termas de Papallacta Spa is open Sunday to Thursday: 09:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. Friday, Saturday & Holidays: 9:00 am – 9:00 pm. The Balneario is open every day from 6:00 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Distance from Quito: 1 hour by car to the entrance
Pululahua is a magnificent volcanic crater or caldera, that formed 2,500 years ago when the volcano collapsed. Located just north of Quito, a trip to Pululahua can be easily combined with a stop at Mitad del Mundo.
Although not nearly as impressive as the Quilotoa Crater (located a three-hour drive southwest of the capital), Pululahua is much closer to Quito and offers numerous outdoor activities, like hiking, horseback riding, and birdwatching. Due to its unique ecosystem, Pululahua was named a Geobotanical Reserve in 1966.
There are two ways to get to Pululahua: You can either get a ride to the Café Mirador, a small café with a breathtaking view of the crater from its rim, and hike down into the crater itself. Alternatively, you can get a ride that takes you directly into the crater.
There’s a small population that lives inside the crater that depends predominantly on agriculture for subsistence. There are also a few hostels and restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat. While hiking the crater’s trails, birdwatchers should keep their eyes out for the Rusty-breasted Antpitta and the rare White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, as well as other wildlife, like foxes, deer, and rabbits. According to locals, even pumas prowl the crater.
Pululahua offers a dazzling escape from Quito and can easily be visited over the course of a day. If you have the time, make sure to add this one to your bucket list!
Opening hours: Every day, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Pasochoa Forest Reserve
Distance from Quito: 1 hour 40 minutes by car
After the Pichincha Volcano, Pasochoa is the nearest volcano that you can summit close to Quito. Located only 40 km (25 miles) away from the city, a visit to Pasochoa is ideal for hikers and nature lovers and is an excellent climb for mountaineers preparing to summit higher peaks (dare we say, Cotopaxi?).
Pasochoa Volcano, now dormant, is 4,200 meters (13,780 feet) high and hosts one of the last high-altitude inter-Andean cloud forests around Quito. This unique ecosystem, home to over 100 bird species and 50 native tree species, provides an interesting window into what Quito’s original forests might have once looked like.
Pasochoa is also one of the best places to spot the Andean Condor – Ecuador’s national bird and one of the largest birds in the world. Exceptionally striking in flight, the Andean Condor takes full advantage of the thermals above the volcano. Keep your eyes open to see if you can spot one of these spectacular birds soaring overhead.
A hike to the summit and back takes around three to five hours. The journey will take you through stunning paramo grasslands and humid mountain forests. Depending on how high you want to climb, we suggest taking provisions and starting early in the day. Get in touch with us for further information!
Opening hours: Every day, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Cotopaxi National Park
Distance from Quito: 3 hours 25 minutes
Cotopaxi National Park, one of Ecuador’s main highlights, is only a short drive away and the perfect destination for a full-day trip from Quito.
Among the world’s highest volcanoes, Cotopaxi Volcano reaches 5,897 meters (19,347 feet) and is Ecuador’s second-highest summit after the Chimborazo Volcano. On a clear morning, the conic, snow-capped Cotopaxi Volcano is truly a sight to behold.
Cotopaxi is an active volcano and came back to life between 2015-2016, leading to a temporary park closure for safety reasons. Once experts determined that volcanic activity had diminished, it was reopened in 2017 for visitors. Park officials carefully monitor the situation and a warning system is in place to ensure that both visitors and the local population are safe.
While the main incentive for visiting Cotopaxi National Park is seeing the volcano itself, summiting the volcano may be the ultimate outdoor activity you’ll do during your entire Ecuador adventure.
Hundreds of visitors attempt to summit Cotopaxi on a monthly basis, but only half of them succeed. The climb takes around six hours and is non-technical, though you’ll need to pass a glacier skills class before attempting the climb. If you’re seriously considering the climb, we suggest attempting one of Ecuador’s smaller peaks first and, when you’re ready, you’ll need to hire a guide. Inquire at your hotel or one of the numerous tour operators in Quito for more information.
For those of you with no interest in gasping for breath at 5,000 meters (16,404 feet) on an active volcano, there are a number of easier outdoor activities to enjoy in Cotopaxi National Park, like horseback riding, hiking, and birdwatching. If the volcano beckons you closer, you can drive to a parking lot and continue on foot up to the refuge. At this elevation, altitude sickness is a risk. Be sure to walk slowly and have a sugary snack at hand in case you begin to get dizzy.
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., though hours may vary between the different entrances to the park. Ask your hotel to double-check or go with a touring agency.
Most tourists that travel to Ecuador will typically only stop in Quito to give themselves a bit of time before heading off to other destinations like the Amazon or the Galapagos Islands. If only they knew just how much there was to see in and around this incredible city!
Take advantage and add a few extra nights to your Ecuador journey at a conveniently-located hotel and venture out to one of these nearby destinations to experience the city’s surroundings in a less conventional way. And if you have even more time to spare, well, keep an eye out for our upcoming post on 2-day trips from Quito!
The best way to discover Quito is by walking around. As you explore on foot, you’ll get to absorb the city’s atmosphere, history, traditions, and people. Picturesque squares, baroque churches, and snow-covered peaks form the backdrop to this vibrant city. You’ll see indigenous people wearing delicately embroidered shirts and traditional hats cross paths with tourists amid the shouts of street vendors and shoe-shiners. All of this as whiffs of delicious Andean cuisine and its aromas spill out through the windows of restaurants that line the streets of Quito’s Old Town. Due to its excellent location in our boutique hotel in Quito, Casa Gangotena is the ideal place to begin your walk to encounter the best activities to do in Quito and start exploring thousands of years of history.
Explore the wonders of Quito’s Old Town all within walking distance from Casa Gangotena!
Before venturing through the city, make sure to visit Calle Cuenca, an iconic street that best represents traditional Quiteño life. As soon as you step out beyond Casa Gangotena’s garden, you’ll begin perceiving an aroma of herbs and you’ll see colorful piñatas decorating the street. It’s impossible to ignore the scents emanating from the spice store facing Casa Gangotena. With spice-filled jars and wooden boxes brimming with delicacies, you won’t be able to avoid stepping in every time you leave the hotel.
Only a few meters from the hotel entrance you’ll find the Museum Casa del Alabado, which hosts an impressive collection of pre-Colombian pieces representing various Ecuadorian ethnic groups. Originally a Colonial house, the museum was built in 1611 and has been beautifully restored. It includes a patio where you can order a cappuccino and a delightful treat: chocolates made from figs that were harvested from the very trees that adorn the patio in the upper part of the museum.
Exit towards Calle Rocafuerte and you’ll come to the Santa Clara Plaza, where you can visit the monastery and church. Keep walking downhill along the street to reach the Museo de la Ciudad’s ancient walls. Instead of exhibiting archaeological pieces or works of art from a number of different time periods, the Museo de la Ciudad reveals the story and everyday Quiteño life from its aboriginal origins until the 19th century.
If you want to travel back to Quito in the 1800s, one of the best activities to do in Quito is to walk down La Ronda. This bohemian neighborhood winds its way along a pretty street lined with geraniums and colorful flags that hang from old, ornate balconies. Along the street, you’ll find an array of stores that display the essence of Quito cultures, such as the Zabalartes toy store, where you can find spinning tops, yo-yos, and wooden dolls. Enjoy a delicious plate of typical Ecuadorian food and warm canelazos in the bars that resonate with live music every night. Don’t miss visiting the República del Cacao and Chez Tiff stores to buy chocolate made from Ecuadorian cacao, the finest in the world.
As you leave la Ronda, via Calle Guayaquil, keep walking toward Plaza Santo Domingo, and continue left toward Calle Flores, where you’ll find a series of stores specialized in candle making. Since you’re already here, buy a set of hanging candles in the shape of a bouquet of flowers, available in a variety of colors.
When you reach the corner café, Dios No Muere, turn right on Calle Junín. Walk along a huge white wall belonging to the Santa Catalina Monastery, one of the five oldest female cloistered convents in the city. Before reaching Plaza San Marcos, you’ll come across many places to dine, such as Café Khipus (they make tequila and piña colada flavored chocolates) and the “hipster” bar, Sirka, which showcases murals and paintings by local artists.
From Plaza San Francisco to the Basílica
Exiting Casa Gangotena, a perfectly situated Quito Old Town hotel, you’ll find yourself before Plaza San Francisco, with a background of the majestic Pichincha and the massive stone bell towers of the oldest church in Ecuador. Under the arches of San Francisco’s atrium, you find Tianguez, a terrace café overlooking the domes of the surrounding churches. Tianguez means “market” in the ancient dialects of Quito and, as its name indicates, the café also contains a museum of handicrafts. In the tunnels built under the church of San Francisco, you can find all kinds of crafts, such as jewelry made out of tagua seed, detailed ceramics, and colorful animal masks.
As you walk downhill on Calle Sucre, you arrive at the Numismatic Museum, the former building occupied by the Central Bank of Ecuador. The museum recounts the story and evolution of Ecuador’s currency, the sucre, including periods in pre-Hispanic aboriginal societies, its impact on the colonial period, and the issuance of banknotes until dollarization.
On the opposite side of Calle Sucre, you reach the imposing façade of the Church of the Company of Jesus (Compañía de Jesús), made of Andean volcanic stone. Every surface of its interior is bathed in gold leaf and decorated with paintings by artists from the Quito School of Art and beyond. The church is considered the most beautiful in the country. Among the activities in Quito that you shouldn’t miss is climbing to the top of its dome.
Take a short break and sit on one of the stone benches in the Plaza Grande to catch your breath. In the center of the plaza stands a monument in honor of Ecuador’s Independence Day –
August 10, 1809. On the periphery of the plaza, you’ll see a series of historic buildings. To the North is the Archbishop’s Palace, where you can have lunch in one of the cozy restaurants. The Cathedral of Quito, one of the oldest churches on the continent, is located on the south side of the plaza. You can also admire the Government Palace, a white building crowned with a huge Ecuadorian flag. If you happen to be here on Monday at 11 am, you will catch the change of guards, a popular activity in Quito.
Continue north along with Calle Venezuela, where you’ll spot the silhouette of the Basilica’s gothic towers in the distance on the hill. A few steps away lies the Carmen Bajo Monastery. Be sure to admire its marvelous front door, carved by one of the few female artists of Quito’s Colonial period: Mother María Magdalena Dávalos. Up ahead, you come to the colonial façade belonging to the house of the Camilo Egas Museum. Here, you can enjoy the works and legacy of Ecuador’s forerunner of modern and contemporary art.
Façade of the Basílica
Continue along this street until you are at the foot of the Basilica, the largest neo-Gothic church in Latin America. What sets it apart from other churches of this style is that, instead of traditional gargoyles, this Basilica is decorated with turtles, iguanas and other creatures endemic to Ecuador. Inside, its gray walls are illuminated by the sun’s rays that shine through the stained-glass windows. The legends that surround the Basilica add intrigue and mystery to its history. The church isn’t yet finished, and there are many who believe that when the building is finally completed, the world will end. Many locals also believe that the heart of ex-president García Moreno lies within the corridors of the Basilica’s adjoining convent.
If you like adrenaline-filled adventure, the Basilica is the perfect place for one of the best activities to do in Quito. For the brave among you, make your way up the church’s northern towers. You’ll first have to navigate across a small wooden bridge before climbing steep metal steps to reach a platform on the tower where you can enjoy a 360 degree view of the Ecuadorian capital from a height of 79 meters (260 feet).
From Plaza San Francisco to the Central Market
Ecuador boasts an abundance of brilliant colors and exotic flavors. One activity you can’t miss is exploring a locals’ market; truly one of the more fascinating activities you can do in Quito.
Along the periphery of Plaza San Francisco, you will find a variety of shops. The Nua Ami craft shop sells Ariu jewelry that combines mystical and contemporary elements. Nearby, the Homero Ortega store has dedicated itself to making famous toquilla (straw)
“Panama” hats for more than five generations.
When you arrive at the intersection with García Moreno, turn left until you reach the Independence Square (Plaza de la Independencia), which is a shining example of the social and cultural pulse of the Andean capital. If you are impressed with how beautiful everything looks from below, you can’t leave without first venturing up to the ceramic domes of the Cathedral; the Old Town is best viewed from the domes of its churches and convents. Also, it’s fun! Dare to venture into the darkness of the church’s secret passages, where the stone stairs are very narrow and the corridors can be uncomfortable to navigate. It’s worth it. Once on top, you will be rewarded with an amazing view, where you can observe how colonial architecture and Andean nature merge.
Follow Calle Chile downhill from the Archbishop’s Palace, and turn left onto Calle Guayaquil. Enter through Heladería San Agustín’s wooden doors, the same doors that you would have entered back in 1858. You will be greeted by the delicious smell of homemade food, prepared with ancestral recipes that continue to delight palates of both locals and visitors down the years. The atmosphere is quite unique: old radios and telephones are scattered around the red-walled premises, adorned with newspaper clippings that tell the Parlor’s story, as well as gold-framed mirrors. One glance toward the fresh humitas, giant empanadas, and figs, and you won’t be able to resist the temptation to taste a little bit of everything. It is, however, the artisanal ice creams that give San Agustín its name. The ice cream is completely handmade and all ingredients are directly sourced, from the harvest of the fruit to the ice collected from the mountains.
Following these traditional delicacies, go down Calle Mejía to reach Plaza Huerto San Agustín, an oasis of modern architecture in the middle of a Colonial world. The square, renovated in 2016, incorporates manicured green areas and pools of water with black, volcanic stone floors. Around these pools, you’ll find several wooden lizards representing an old legend about the square. It is said that, despite locals’ claims that there were thousands of lizards under the land of San Agustin, the owner refused to sell it. However, when a lizard appeared in his bed, he didn’t hesitate another moment to sell the land.
Finish your tour by walking down Calle Flores and then Olmedo Street. Once you reach Pichincha Avenue, go straight and cross underneath to reach the Central Market, one of the most visited markets in Quito since 1950.
If you enjoy tasting exquisite and exotic food, a visit to the Central Market is an activity in Quito that is not to be missed. There is no better way to discover the delights that define Ecuadorian cuisine than to explore the market and the plates served at the dozens of tables, brimming with traditionally prepared dishes. You can find all kinds of food, from llapingachos (stuffed potato patties), hornado (slow-roasted pork), and a variety of ceviches. Also, the fruit stands are impossible to ignore. Each one is a mosaic of colors and textures, with endemic fruits decorating the tables and the market’s cement floor. Thanks to Ecuador’s diverse climates, all kinds of fruit are grown here, from watermelon and pineapple to the more exotic naranjilla, taxo, and salaak, an Amazonian fruit known as “snakeskin”.
Here, Ecuadorians and tourists alike can explore decades of culinary tradition amidst brilliant colors and flavors.
One of the first things to do in Quito when you have arrived at Casa Gangotena is to explore its surrounding neighbourhood. The historic mansion isn’t just a luxury hotel, but an integral member of a buzzing and vibrant community, which happens to be one of the most fascinating and idiosyncratic ones in the Ecuadorian capital.
San Roque is one of the most traditional neighbourhoods in Quito’s Old Town. Here, you’ll find practitioners of traditional medicine, the last miller in the Historic Centre, fruit and chicha pedlars, all sorts of religious trades that you didn’t know existed, and makers of century-old sweets. Many of these colourful characters are part of the Guardianes del Patrimonio (Heritage Guardians) project. This project aims to preserve the customary trades that are dying out across the rest of the modernised country, all while introducing travellers to old Quiteño ways.
The beauty of this San Roque Walking Tour is that you barely need to set foot out of the hotel to begin. For guests of Casa Gangotena, it is one of the most rewarding things to do in Quito with minimum effort.
Before you begin:
Rise early and begin your tour in the morning – rain is more likely in the afternoon, making it more important to tick off your outdoor things to do in Quito before lunch
Wear comfortable shoes and get ready to walk
Bring a bottle of water
Put on plenty of sunscreen and wear a hat
Keep a rain mac or small umbrella in your bag
Bring small change to buy the herbs, juices, and treats you encounter along the way
Away We Go!
Setting out from Casa Gangotena’s garden, take some time to explore Calle Cuenca, inhaling the rich aroma of spices coming from the shops opposite the hotel. On this historic side street, you’ll find the Casa del Alabado museum of Pre-Columbian art – worthy of a couple of hours of exploration in its own right.
As you arrive at Calle Rocafuerte, across the road you will notice Santa Clara, a beautiful temple with altars from the late Renaissance and early Baroque period and an unusual number of sculptures from the Quito School of Art. Unfortunately, it remains closed most of the time (catch it open on Sunday mornings for mass).
Turning right and heading up the hill, you suddenly have the sensation of having stumbled into the real Quito, where day-to-day normalities for the residents might seem charming and exotic to visitors. This is the street on which Quiteños come to buy their groceries and necessities, to eat and socialise, and to run errands that are often dictated by the depth of their Catholic faith.
You’ll pass shops stuffed with herbs, tufting out as if they were growing from some inner forest. Colours are rich: purple amaranth, bright green lemon verbena, white and yellow chamomile, golden mashua (a wrinkly tuber in the same family as the potato and is beneficial for the prostate gland, as locals will often inform you), the deep green of guayusa leaves (a plant that from the Amazon which is traditionally made into a tea and acts as a stimulant).
The scene is clustered with meat in cabinets, puffed up empanadas, and a seafood café with fresh clams on a counter waiting for a scrub.
There’s a clutch of herbal pharmacies, shops set up like normal chemists, except that instead of pills and chemicals, the treatments for ailments are plants. The entrance displays bunches of flowers and herbs that you can buy to take away and make your own tea with, or drink there. Agüita de la vida, or the ‘water of life’ is a beverage made of 25 medicinal plants including linseed, oregano, valerian and “horse tail”. The innumerate health benefits listed on a shiny placard include soothing inflamed kidneys and the liver, purifying blood, and calming nervousness and stress. Imbibing one of these miracle drinks is a traditional and widespread thing to do in Quito – give it a shot and feel the healing effects.
Passing the party shops, selling unicorn piñatas and garish party decorations, step into El Buen Café, one of the most beloved traditional coffee shops, for a quick caffeine hit – you’ll need it to continue up the hill.
The Last Traditional Miller
Upon heading up the hill, you’ll reach Molino San Martin – the last traditional miller in the Old Town. The mill is a neighbourhood stalwart that has occupied the same spot for over 50 years and its customers include local families, bakeries and even Casa Gangotena (the hotel acquires ground maize and various flours for its daily baked bread from here).
The twin Calvopiña brothers – both grey, bearded with mischievous and twinkling eyes – are third generation millers, whose grandparents began the business in the middle of the last century. The great slab of a stone of their traditional mill machine is from Denmark. The motor is from Germany, a relic of World War II.
“It’s tricky to maintain antiques like these, but luckily my son is an electronic engineer who keeps it all running smoothly,” explains one of the twins. “But he’s pushing the family to update the equipment in line with technological advances. We’re going to have to modernise.”
One popular, exceptionally Quiteño product is machica, which consists of a mixture of ground barley and panela, traditionally given to children in milk and juices or on bananas to help with digestion. It’s also packed with calcium and iron for growing bones and, not to mention, incredibly delicious.
Quito’s First Covered Market
Up the street we go, pausing at the big beautiful roses that are worthy of any grand gesture and sold for a pittance, until you finally arrive at the market. Built in 1893, Santa Clara was the city’s first covered market. Its original roof, designed by Gustave Eiffel’s company, is now the striking art deco roof of the glass palace at Itchimbia park
San Francisco market might be one of the most eye-opening things to do in Quito for visitors, but it’s very much a functioning marketplace, where locals come to pick up their essentials and grab meals on the go. Here, vendors wear smart uniforms and the space is kept rigorously clean. Signs are trilingual: Spanish, English and Quechua. Many of the buyers and sellers are indigenous.
Like alien pet shops, there are stalls of fruits of all textures, shapes and colours: spiky soursop (guanabana), hairy coconut, papery melon and golden taxo (banana passionfruit), shaped like a little banana.
You’ll find a beaming vendor standing on a podium behind her shrine of fruit. Opposite that, a woman stands behind a counter of chicken placed with their feet up in the air, a trick that local folklore suggests will make them taste better. It might even be a legend you yourself can put to the test as one of your things to do in Quito.
You might well bump into Pati, a sparky tour guide for Guardianes del Patrimonio. “There’s pretty much nothing going on in this neighbourhood that I don’t know about!” she says with a chuckle.
On the frontline of the battle to protect traditional jobs and crafts, she runs a stall selling juices and chicha de jora, a customary drink containing seven types of grains. The recipe and process, learned from her grandmother, involves leaving the mixture of ground grains in a dark, humid place to ferment, and then boiling it for six hours with roots, spices and herbs. This one’s not alcoholic (nor does it contain the saliva of the maker, unlike in the Amazon Basin) but there are dozens of variations of chicha found across Ecuador.
Love Potions and Medicinal Eggs
On the far side of the great hall, you find the Ancestral Medicine section of the market, a row of stalls bursting with bushy herbs that are often found competing with each other with their neon disco lights and dubious-looking love and heartbreak potions. At Mama Rosita’s stall, a baby is being cured of espanto, a state of shock and fear that the Andean indigenous community says is brought on by bad energies and spirits. Except that the baby doesn’t look very shocked or fearful, gurgling and bouncing as Mama Rosita runs a bunch of specially selected herbs and flowers over its chubby, little body.
A fourth-generation healer, Rosita makes a living from ridding people of all kinds of bad vibes via a process called a limpia, or spiritual cleansing. Helping with ailments that range from stress to envy, the process begins with being hit or brushed with stinging nettles. Then, bitter herbs such as Santa María and flowers like rose petals are used. Sweet herbs like mint and lemon verbena often conclude the session. Sometimes, she even uses eggs on older people.
“My limpias have an instant effect, people sometimes even get dizzy and start crying,” she says.
You can have your own limpia either here in the market or in the privacy of your bathroom at Casa Gangotena. It may very well be one of the things to do in Quito that will manage to connect you to local spirituality and beliefs. Tuesdays and Fridays are the most popular days, as the process is said to be most powerful on these days in particular.
Patience, Sweet Patience
With your alien fruit and love potions purchased, head back out into daylight and down the hill, cutting across Calle Chimborazo until you reach Calle Simón Bolívar. As you descend, stop at Colaciones Cruz Verde. Here, Luís Banda stands in the doorway of the shop that his family has owned for 103 years, his large copper pan hanging by a rope from the ceiling. In this great cauldron, peanuts and sugar roast over red hot coals, as is the process of making a favourite Quiteño snack, colaciones. It will take three hours to make a decent batch, but Luís is patient and has nothing he’d rather do than stand at his doorway, watching neighbourhood life go by. Behind him, a row of framed newspaper articles from the last century lines the walls.
A little way down, turn right onto Calle Imbabura, where you’ll find a shop selling religious statues of all sizes. The shop also fixes painted saints and figures of baby Jesus. The owner also paints the faces of ‘lastimados’ or injured people to improve the appearance and healing of wounds, some 60-70% faster, they say (it has something to do with the zinc in paint). If you’ve got a wound to heal or a blemish to hide, this is one of the more unusual things to do in Quito that few Quiteños will ever experience.
An Arch Beauty
When you reach Calle Rocafuerte again, head back down the hill until you come to the white and shining Carmen Alto church. Bridging both sides of the street, from the church to the Museo de la Ciudad, is the glorious Queen’s Arch, a majestic Colonial construction where locals seek shelter from the city’s frequent bursts of rain, as was intended when it was built in 1727. Running for cover from the rain is a classic thing to do in Quito.
The Queen that its name refers to is the Virgin of the Angels, an icon that is found in a chapel over in the former hospital where the City Museum now stands. She was worshipped by Mariana de Jesús, the country’s first saint, who happened to live on the same grounds where the church now stands. When Mariana died in 1645 and left her home to the Carmelite Nuns, the church they then erected in its place became so popular with worshippers that, during Saturday mass, people would spill out onto the street, getting drenched in the Quiteño showers. The arch was built to protect them, becoming a symbol of devotion for the city’s first saint.
The City Museum
If you turn right onto Calle García Moreno, set aside an hour-or-so to explore the Museo de la Ciudad, which was formerly Quito’s first hospital. It now acts as a monument to 500 years of the city’s rich and sometimes explosive history. Among the sunny yellow patios (over which the white towers of Santa Clara peep over, giving you a distinct sense of where you are) where the old pharmacy and operating room are preserved and displayed, you’ll find exceptional artworks, like the triptych in the staircase by contemporary Ecuadorian painter, Jaime Zapata. These three tortured paintings portraying the progression of the Spanish conquistadors depict beautiful indigenous warriors and hellish Spaniards, their skull faces contorted and grotesque.
There are also temporary exhibitions here, like the marvellous desMARCADOS, a tribute to indigenous protest, including a timeline, tapestries woven with revolutionary messages, and beautiful, moving photography.
In the back patio of the museum, a brilliant modern space that blends satisfyingly with the antique hospital, there’s an exit onto Avenida 24 de Mayo and on to La Ronda, another of the Old Town’s historic streets – exploring it is one of the unmissable things to do in Quito. Cross the metal bridge and take the stairs down onto the street to continue your adventure, or head back to the entrance to wind down your tour.
Back on Calle Rocafuerte, heading uphill now, spot the sweets, colaciones, and delightfully named caca de perro (dog poo), which is another peanut-based snack that will happily lead to tooth decay. On your right, you’ll pass a handful of shops selling opulent and elaborate robes, rich in the jewel tones of turquoise, mustard and scarlet, made in miniature, as if for a tiny pope.
These amazing outfits are destined to clothe the Niño Bendito, the Christ Child doll that Catholic families pass deferentially between members each Christmas. Though each family has its own specific traditions, each year has members buy brand new, dazzling garments. Some Christ Child dolls are dressed in military or police gear. These are bought by the religious armed forces, who have their own Christ Child displays.
Back to your Casa (Gangotena)
It’s only a short stretch before, once again, you come to Calle Cuenca where you can turn right and seek refuge in the oasis of calm right there in the hotel’s garden. Be sure to rest those weary feet and then quench your thirst with Casa Gangotena’s agua de frescos drink. It’s one of the most Quiteño things to do in Quito available!
Plaza San Francisco in Quito greets you in the morning when you open your curtains onto the sunny square; accompanies you to lunch in the restaurant; toasts to your day over cocktails on the roof terrace; and bids you goodnight as you soak in your bathtub. A solid and constant reminder of where you are, this plaza, and the entire San Francisco religious complex, is a symbol of the magnificence of Quito’s Old Town and serves as one of Ecuador’s most enchanting tourist attractions.
The great-grandfather of Catholic construction in Quito, San Francisco – with its twin white spires brilliant against the blue of the Andean sky – is not merely a religious monument, but a cornerstone of Quiteño consciousness. Casa Gangotena’s Plaza San Francisco neighbour is the birthplace of Catholicism in Quito, the host of numerous religious festivals, an architectural treasure, and one of the wonders that shrouds the Ecuadorian capital in legend.
Such greatness wasn’t achieved overnight: the mini-city of a structure took almost 150 years to build, from 1534 to 1680, founded by Franciscan missionary Jodoco Ricke. Once home to 160 monks (and now to some 27), today the complex is something of a Catholic wonderland; at over eight acres, it is the most expansive religious complex of its kind in the Americas, encompassing one main church and two chapels, an art museum, courtyards and patios, vegetable gardens, catacombs and not forgetting a football pitch, an old brewery and a radio station.
Once the royal palace of Huayna Cápac, the great Inca Emperor, it was also possibly a ceremonial temple for this pre-Columbian society before it became the headquarters of the Catholic Franciscan order. The San Francisco complex weaves together each of the threads of Quito’s cultural fabric: it’s a church, a museum, a home and a monument. This is why it merits hours of exploration during your stay at Casa Gangotena in the heart of Quito’s Old Town – it is one of Ecuador’s best tourist attractions.
In the past, the great doors of the main San Francisco church were strictly reserved for the very wealthy of the capital. The poor, slaves and indigenous people had to take the side entrance to the Chapel of Cantuña.
The church of San Francisco opens atop a curious staircase that is half concave and half convex, sweeping dramatically up from the square to the atrium. This staircase and parts of the façade show influence of Italian mannerisms.
The choir of the church is a gem, surrounded by a series of gruesome portraits of saints and their particular form of murder. Look up and admire the elaborate and beautiful wooden mudejar ceiling – built without using a single nail – that serves as a testament to the influence of Islamic art that was transported here to the heart of the Andes.
With Casa Gangotena, you can access an exclusive part of the church, normally only unlocked for brown-robed friars. Heading up a narrow staircase, you emerge onto the roof, eye-to-eye with the great bells themselves. For a moment, the entire city is yours.
The church itself is a baroque wonder, brimming with gold leaf ornament, canvases, sculptures, murals and retablos. It was subject to an extensive restoration project in the 2000’s that returned its many amazing pieces of art to their full glory. Masses are given throughout the morning and evening.
Chapel of Cantuña
Located a few steps to the left, the Chapel of Cantuña was once reserved for all those who didn’t make the cut in the main church. Despite being reserved for the most humble, the chapel is anything but simple – it is smothered in ornamental angels, garlands, mirrors and stars. The Chapel now stands as a precious example of the Quito School of Art.
There is some ambiguity over who, exactly, the chapel was named after. There were at least two indigenous men by the name of Cantuña who were connected to the complex, but only one of them was buried alongside his family in one of the altars, with a beautiful carving by Father Carlos.
The Cantuña that most Quiteños will be able to tell you about is Francisco de Cantuña, whose name is as legendary as his trickery of the Devil. You can discover more about this Old Town folklore with Casa Gangotena’s exclusive Devil’s Tour of the chapel, guided by Satan himself, a fun and alternative way to experience one of the tourist attractions of Ecuador’s capital – Quito.
Pedro Gocial Museum
The collection displayed in this charming art museum is a very small percentage of what is held within the cavernous vaults of the Franciscan monastery. Great mestizo sculptors like Pampite, Caspicara and Bernardo de Legarda share the space with Bernardo de Rodríguez and his huge canvases such as “San Antonio preaching to the fish.”
Some of these dramatic works have a way haunting the mind. Keep an eye out for the painting of the son of the last Incas (Francisco Atauchi) to be baptized by friars and the small, medium and large Winged Virgins by Legarda.
Quito is now famous for its craft beerwith small-time breweries becoming Ecuador tourist attractions in-and-of-themselves. But the city’s history of microbreweries began long ago, right there inside the monastery of San Francisco. In fact, the Flemish monks who founded the church and monastery in the 16th century were the first to brew beer in the Ecuadorian capital. Clearly, they obviously missed the creature comforts of their homeland!
Only recently opened to the public, San Francisco’s brewery was manned by beer-brewing monks until about 50 years ago. Now a museum, the space holds the great oak fermentation barrels and displays brilliant photos of the monks operating machines, wielding great wooden paddles in their modest brown cloaks that are belted with rope.
The monks weren’t even brewing the beer for profit or for entertainment. The 3-5% proof beverage was simply a safer alternative to water that the monks would drink themselves or give to the poor!
Quito’s Old Town is a treasure trove of historic, architectural, and cultural marvels, filled with century-old Colonial buildings, Baroque churches, and fascinating museums and galleries. And although you could spend days, weeks even, exploring the Historic Centre and discovering its secrets one by one, Casa Gangotena allows you to enjoy many of these Quito attractions without even leaving this boutique hotel in Quito.
The third-floor terrace offers a spectacular, panoramic view of the first ever UNESCO World Heritage site, allowing you to bask in each of these wonders over a morning tea, afternoon coffee, or sunset cocktail – it is the most romantic rooftop bar in the city. The best moment to see each of the sights is at dawn, when the rising sun casts a violet light over the city and the sky is free of clouds. But on a clear day, the brilliant Andean sky is the perfect backdrop to your tour from the terrace.
Where to stay in Quito? Choose Casa Gangotena and get the most wonderful view of Quito’s Old Town Hotel!
As you enter the terrace, turn left and walk around the edge of Casa Gangotena. Now, look up! Your eyes will immediately spot the dramatic and winged Virgin Mary statue, standing imperiously on the hill known as The Panecillo, the Spanish word for “little bread roll.” Made from 7,000 aluminium pieces that have been welded together like patchwork, her hands are the size of a person and her great wings are as big as cars. Even though this is a relatively new edition to the Quito skyline (the statue was officially unveiled in 1976), the Virgin serves as a vital pillar of Quiteño consciousness: her presence has spawned a myriad of legends and even inspired the Ecuadorian movie ‘A Tus Espaldas’ (‘Behind Your Back’).
Yaku Water Museum
Moving your gaze clockwise along the slopes of the mountain, you’ll find a striking, glass-fronted building tucked into its folds – a vision of utilitarian, modern architecture. This beautiful structure is perhaps one of the most family-friendly of Quito’s attractions and it is known as the Yaku Water Museum. Built on the site where ancestral societies had ceremonial baths in waterfalls, the museum celebrates the city’s connection with water. Specifically, it focuses on how it managed to obtain this vital resource throughout the centuries and how it has managed to maintain a healthy balance between civilization and thirst, aiming to never exploit this precious resource.
San Francisco Church & Plaza
Impossible to ignore is the San Francisco church and plaza. Built in the 16th century by one of the first Catholic orders in the country, this beautiful religious structure is home to one main church and two chapels, complete with courtyards and patios, vegetable gardens, catacombs and even a football pitch and an old brewery. It once housed some 160 monks, yet nowadays is only occupied by around three dozen Franciscan friars, which you might even be lucky enough to see them cloaked in their brown, hooded robes hurrying across the plaza! The square is a popular spot for people watching, where religious devotees and curious tourists mingle with Quiteños going about their day-to-day business.
Basilica of the National Vow
Looking straight from the terrace, your eyes won’t resist being drawn to the jagged, twin clock-towers that make up the Basilica of the National Vow. This impressive, colossal and Neo-Gothic church is, in fact, one of the largest of its kind in the region. Technically, it still hasn’t even been finished despite having opened its doors back in 1988, after nearly a century of construction. Local superstition and folklore warns that, if it were to be completed, the world would end. One of the structure’s most interesting features is its assortment of grotesques that are shaped like Ecuador’s most iconic animals. Instead of gargoyles or dark angels, dolphins, armadillos, iguanas and tortoises can be seen emerging from the flanks of the giant structure.
In spite of sitting some 70 km (43 mi) away from the city itself, Ecuador’s third highest peak can often be spotted from Casa Gangotena in the early hours of each morning. Simply look towards the Basilica of the National Vow, and there looms Cayambe Volcano – standing at 5,790 metres (18,996 feet) above sea level with a permanent snow cap. It is one of the highest points along Earth’s equator and was first climbed by British adventurer Edward Whymper back in 1880. It recurring volcano on the wish list of many climbers!
La Compañía Church
Unmistakeable with its green-tinged dome sitting right in the foreground of the view from Casa Gangotena, La Compañía is one of the most coveted of all of Quito’s attractions. Its stone façade is adorned with archangels, saints and spiralling columns. True to the Baroque style, every single space inside the church is decorated with finery – if it’s not gold, then it’s probably decorated with a painting of a saint in sumptuous technicolour, created by the great artists of the renowned Quito School of Art. Constructed by Jesuits between 1605 and 1765 – taking some 160 years to complete! – the church was inspired by two emblematic Jesuit temples in Rome: Il Gesú and San Ignacio. When the Jesuits were expelled from the country in 1773, the church was abandoned and many of its artefacts were stolen. As a result, only 52 kilograms (114 pounds) of gold remain.
These are all just a handful of the dozens of Quito’s attractions that you can spot from your tour from the terrace! Once you’ve been inspired by the view, which one will you explore first?