24 August, 2018 Christopher Klassen0
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Located at 2,800 meters (approx. 9,000 feet) above sea level, the vibrant city of Quito shines in the heart of the Andes, calmly sitting at the base of the still-active and colossal Pichincha volcano. Ecuador’s capital city is home to one of Latin America’s best-preserved Colonial Districts, which happened to one of the very first places on the planet to receive UNESCO’s title as a World Heritage Site and, not to mention – the first city in South America to announce its independence from Spain. In light of the latter, Quito’s Fiesta de la Luz serves as a commemorative event that pays homage to the country’s history.

San Francisco church during festival of lights
Iconic churches of Quito’s Old Town were lighted up for the festival.

Why, when, where and how does Quito celebrate the Festival of Light?

Why is it celebrated?

Ecuador's festival of lights
Quito’s second edition of the festival of lights brings new visual art.

Quito’s Fiesta de la Luz 2018 (Festival of Light) is meant to commemorate the fact that, on August 10th, 1809, Quito officially announced its plans to become independent from Spanish rule. The date is now an official holiday in Ecuador and is referred to as the “Primer Grito de la Independencia” in Spanish (literally: the first cry for independence). You can learn all about the date and its significance with our blog on: Ecuador’s Declaration of Independence. NOTE: It wouldn’t be for another 13 years until Ecuador became fully independent on May 24th, 1822, after emerging as the victors of the epic and bloody Battle of Pichincha.

Adding to this special occasion is the fact that Quito is also celebrating its 40thAnniversary as one of the first-ever UNESCO World Heritage Sites!

Why does Quito’s Fiesta de la Luz revolve around light?

The historic day also carries a lot of weight due to the fact that Quito was one of the first cities in South America to announce its independence from Spanish rule. In effect, the declaration served as the spark that lit the flames of a revolution throughout the greater part of the South American continent. As such, the city is also often referred to as “Quito, Luz de America” (literally: Quito, the Light of America) in reference to the influence and impact it had on other countries in the region that were under Spanish rule at the time.

When is Quito’s Fiesta de la Luz?

Quito’s Festival of Light runs between the 8th and 12th, 2018, intentionally falling on the 10th of August so as to pay homage to the bit of history that the event seeks to commemorate. The event starts at 7 p.m. each night. This is the third consecutive year that the festival has been celebrated.

Quito's light sculpture
Hands sculptures presented as part of Quito’s festival of light.

Where is Quito’s Festival of Light held?

The Festival of Light in Quito this year will focus on the major areas of the Old Town (Historic Center). In total, up to 18 spaces and facades, each within walking distance of each other, will be lit up and/or incorporate some sort of light exhibition. Notable edifices that will be lit up include: the San Francisco Church, the interior of the La Compania de Jesus Church, the Santo Domingo Church, Galapagos Street and the Queen’s Arch.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The streets and sidewalks of Old Town during this event will be immensely crowded and transited during the event dates.

For our guests and restaurant clientele at Casa Gangotena, which is located right in the heart of Quito’s Colonial District, our rooftop terrace awaits to give them an astounding view of San Francisco Church and its spectacular light projection!

Quito's festival of lights
The traditional street of La Guaragua had this wonderful display of colorful umbrellas.

How is the event celebrated?

The history of the city and its magnificent architecture literally take the spotlight during Quito’s Fiesta de la Luz. Artistic light projections and outdoor exhibitions imbue the Historic Center with an energy and illumination like never before. Quite literally, it allows visitors to admire the Historic Center’s plazas, churches and buildings under a new light.

Quito's festival of lights
San Francisco church lighted up for the festival.

The major streets of Old Town during the evening of the event dates completely closed off to traffic and are only accessible to pedestrians.

Tips for properly experiencing Quito’s Festival of Light

The best way to enjoy this event is by venturing into the Old Town on foot! Despite the fact that the Municipality and Metropolitan Police do their best to make sure the event runs smoothly and safely, we do recommend that guests leave their valuables and important documents back at their hotel.  A jacket, camera and your sense of wonder are all that you need to bring with you! Or, avoid the crowds and head up to our rooftop terrace over at Casa Gangotena to enjoy a Signature Cocktail or a warm beverage for the chilly Quito nights! See for yourself in the video below:


5 January, 2018 Christopher Klassen
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Looking to attend a cultural event in Quito? Here are a few of our favourites in 2018.


Ecuador Jazz 2018

Now in its 14th year, the Ecuador Jazz festival has become a cultural highlight on the Quiteño calendar, attracting international jazz megastars and up-and-coming underground performers. The likes of Charles Bradley, Joss Stone and Tony Allen have played to a packed out Teatro Nacional Sucre, often ending up in dancing spilling out into the aisles. This year, American performer Lizz Wright and Cuban quintet Yissy & Bandancha top the bill – buy your ticket in advance from the Teatro Nacional Sucre box office to guarantee your seat or watch as the show is broadcast onto screens on Plaza del Teatro.

  • Where? Teatro Nacional Sucre – Plaza del Teatro
  • When? 31 January – 04 February


DesMARCADOS Indigenismos, arte y política 1917 – 2017

Quito’s Centro Cultural Metropolitano hosts an exhibition with the lens firmly trained on indigenous art over the last century, examining its social impact and denouncement of the imbalance of power tipped against indigenous women, workers and Afro-Ecuadorians. See the raw debates rage and discover the country’s unique indigenous identity in works by Camilo Egas, Leonardo Tejada and Oswaldo Guayasamín, perhaps Ecuador’s most famous painter.

  • Where? Centro Cultural Metropolitano
  • When? 12 January – 13 May / 09h00 a 17h00
  • Free


En mis 15 años, encuentro de arte y comunidad al zur-ich

(At 15, meeting of art and community in zur-ich)

Zur-ich is the consequence of joint work between artists and communities, putting forward the search for the mechanisms of relation, circulation, diffusion and artistic production with the city and its key players.

To achieve this the project has established spaces for dialogue and work in neighbourhoods whose imaginations, traditions, customs and memories are the principal references used for the creation of the narratives of the artistic proposals.

  • Where? Centro de Arte Contemporáneo
  • When? 1st January – 29th April

MARCH 2018


December 16, 2017 – May 13, 2018

The Municipality of Quito, through the Centro Cultural Metropolitano (MetQUITO) and the Fundación Museos (Museums Foundation) from the Museo de la Ciudad (City Museum), presents the exhibition desMARCADOS, Indigenismos, Arte y Política. This exhibition seeks to distance itself from or look critically at, the dominant thoughts about what it means to be indigenous in Ecuador, creating a dialogue between art and politics throughout the last century.

San José el Santo Silencioso

November 29, 2017 – March 26, 2018

This temporary exhibition addresses various aspects related to San José, one of the most representative personalities within the Christian liturgy.  The spectator may observe, through twenty works of art dated between the 18th and 19th centuries, a plethora of valuable historical facts. These pertain to the father of Jesus of Nazareth, his disciples and their importance within Christianity.


Humanas. Mujeres en el arte (Humans. Women in art)

This exhibition brings together works by Ecuadorian women within the last 100 years, revealing women as creators of art. From the beginning of the 20th-century women have been seen as generators of their own aesthetic, style and artistic technique.

All this comes together in a landmark moment for Ecuadorian art.

The works of 26 women show how they have blown stereotypes to pieces and shrugged off traditional gender roles.

  • Where? Palacio de Gobierno
  • When? 5th March – 13th April

Miradas pendientes (Pending gazes)

The Museo de la Ciudad (City Museum), in collaboration with the organisation Acción Ecológica, presents the exhibition “Miradas Pendientes, 10 años de los Derechos de la Naturaleza” (Pending gazes, 10 years of the rights of nature). The photographic showcase documents travel along the #VerdadParaLaVida route, made up of works that demonstrate what has happened in Ecuador since the rights of nature were recognised in 2008.

This collaborative work seeks to raise consciousness and invite reflection on the rights of nature, from the daily life of communities and towns to extraction projects.

  • Where? Museo de la ciudad.
  • When? 15th March – 15th April
Cucuruchos during Holy Week in Quito, Ecuador.
Holy Week celebrations in Quito end on Good Friday with the Jesús del Gran Poder Procession.


Semana Santa (Holy Week)

Few places on Earth venerate grief and penitence so passionately, or centre an entire celebration on the sombre notions of guilt and death, as Quito during Holy Week.

With an emphasis on passionate, yet anonymous, displays of penitence and atonement, 200,000 of Ecuador’s most devoted Catholics self-flagellate, carry bone-breakingly heavy crosses and bleed from self-inflicted wounds: all while dressed in macabre purple cone hats masking their faces, dramatic capes, or wrapped in barbed wire, accompanied by fervent, nightmarish live music.

Though the festivity reaches its feverish peak on the Good Friday parade (for which the best seats in the house are Casa Gangotena’s terrace), mysterious and colourful events and traditions take place throughout the Lent period, from the strange and cultish Arrastre de Caudas or the “Dragging of the Capes” on Holy Wednesday, to the rich and delicious fanesca soup guzzled throughout the city.

Mariela Condo, tour 2018

Quito gets its own date on this tour of the new versions of three of the albums of Shuk Shimi, ‘Waranka shimi’ (2007), ‘Vengo a ver’ (2013) and ‘Pinceladas’ (2015), together with other songs that give us a taste of the latest release. Mariela Condo will be accompanied by Rodrigo Becerra on double bass and Willan Farinango on the guitar. Willan is also behind the direction and musical arrangements.

  • Where: Teatro Variedades Ernesto Albán
  • When: 28th April


Salsa & Bachata Tournament

Watch world-class dancers shimmy, shake and swing themselves towards the champion’s trophy in this salsa and bachata tournament at the Casa de la Música. A flurry of sequins and synthetic fabrics, the competition is an opportunity to see the most colourful and passionate field of Latino culture.

  • Where? Casa de la Música


Inti Raymi – Kitu Milenario e intercultural (Hatun Puncha 2018)

For hundreds of years, Ecuadorians and their Incan forbearers have celebrated the sun festival Inti Raymi (“inti” is the Quechua word for “sun”), giving thanks for the harvest and the life it brings, traditionally on the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Inti Raymi – Kitu Milenario e intercultural, a four-day event in Old Town’s Plaza Santo Domingo, highlights the diversity of cultural identities among the myriad Ecuadorian peoples, with music and dancing, colourful masks and costumes, and all sorts of local food. There will be traditional arts and crafts and the opportunity to listen to local folk legends.


Initi Raymi celebration
Parades are a common way of commemorating a special date in Quito.



For a brief window from mid-June to September, Quito’s weather becomes everyone’s definition of perfect: sunny and dry with a light breeze and a golden hue in the afternoons.

It’s during this period that the city’s most exciting music event takes place, the much-anticipated Verano de los Artes (Summer of Arts). For three weekends over August, Itchimbia park, a lovely expanse of gardens with panoramic views over the Old Town, hosts a free music festival showcasing the best of Ecuadorian and Latin American performers.

More than 175 musicians spanning all kinds of genres, from classical to rock, take to the various stages, while there are also theatrical events, workshops, food trucks and kids’ activities.

VAQ presents a wonderful way to experience the best of Ecuadorian culture while mingling with locals at one of their favourite celebrations of the year.

Festival of Lights

Inspired by the light festival in Lyon, France, Quito’s Festival de las Luces allows you to experience the Old Town as never before, its most iconic buildings illuminated by incredible projections.

Usually quiet after dark, the streets are filled with people far into the night, touring the city to catch a glimpse of the futuristic colours, patterns and animations mapped onto the walls with the help of cutting-edge technology, designed by local artists with a distinct vision of the country’s heritage.


Feria Internacional del Libro de Quito (Quito International Book Fair)

Discover books from around the world at this charming event, where dozens of countries have a stand in the Casa de la Cultura, promoting their best novels, historical, travel and reference books. This is also a brilliant opportunity to meet Ecuadorian authors and to learn about the national literary scene with discussions and panel events.


Fiestas de Quito

The city grinds to a festive halt for a week at the end of November, to celebrate Quito’s foundation, ending on December 6.

Parades, streets parties and concerts, as well as “Chiva” party buses ensure that no one gets an early night, with revellers dressed in wigs, masks and costumes. Some 300 cultural events will take place around the many neighbourhoods of Quito, including free mega concerts with international musicians (Sting has played here in the past).

You might witness a “minga”, a neighbourhood clear-up in which every member of a community comes together to dispose of the evidence of the previous night’s revelries.

Karts in Quito
A traditional kart race takes place every year during December in Quito.


17 November, 2017 Christopher Klassen1
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Who doesn’t love a good party? If you’re travelling to Quito in December, here are the top things to enjoy during Fiestas de Quito.

Fireworks during Fiestas de Quito
Fiestas de Quito is the city’s biggest celebration which usually starts on the 28th of November and ends on the 6th of December.

The first week of December Quito has a different feel to it, the people seem a little bit more cheerful and the streets a little bit more crowded. The hippest clubs have already announced weeks prior fiestas that will bound to amaze you and keep your feet on the dancefloor, party buses cruise around at night blasting Latin music and in Old Town a handful of daring carts speeds down the street…it’s Fiestas de Quito and the city refuses to sleep!

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 6th of December is known as Quito’s foundation day but nowadays it’s a good excuse to party and take part in some of the traditional annual activities. Behold a list of things to do during Fiestas de Quito:

    One of Quito’s most cherished traditions is the “wooden cart races”, where children bullet down Calle Mejia starting from El Tejar neighborhood in their carts made entirely out of wood and rubber tires. The children inside with just a helmet to protect them and a smile from ear to ear, compete to win. Their parents, and hundreds of onlookers, cheer them on, remembering the time when they also raced at breakneck speeds. It all began with the Aguilar brothers Marco and Jorge, who organized the first competition in 1973 as a charitable event for the Baca Ortiz Children’s Hospital. Now, 43 years later, the annual competition remains intact. Children continue to build their race carts with the help of their parents, hoping to garner prestige and the year’s title.

  2. DRINK CANELAZO This delicious hot drink is just what you need to warm you up in the freezing nights in Quito. It is a Quiteño delicacy that people drink all year round but it is known specially during these festivities. You can’t miss the sweet smell of naranjilla, cinnamon and (of course) the booze… better known as “puntas”, a strong artisanal alcoholic beverage.

    You have to get on one of these insane party buses at night. It goes without saying that they are not the safest means of transportation: they cruise around without any windows, some don’t even have seats just ropes on the ceiling so you can hold on to, there’s a pole in the middle of the bus to dance on, music blasting full volume and more than a few canelazos are passed on. It will, however, assure you a memorable night through the city streets!

    This emblematic street in Quito’s Old Town is a favorite. During the day you can visit the restaurants and quaint little shops that offer anything from hats, old wooden children’s games, to art studios and an ice cream shop with eyebrow-raising flavors. And at night La Ronda is full of people who want to drink canelazo, taste the gigantic wind empanadas, enjoy street musicians and dance the night away!

    Cuarenta (40 in Spanish) is a traditional card game that Quiteños enjoy the most during Fiestas de Quito. An enthusiastic local will without a doubt teach you the rules to their beloved game. Grab a partner and enjoy a good “cuarenta”!


28 July, 2017 Christopher Klassen
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The question of when Ecuador became independent from Spain can be confusing for foreigners.

Was it the formation of Sovereign Junta on August 10 1809? Or was it the meeting of first Congress of Deputies that decreed independence December 11? Or, was it the Battle of Pichincha of 1822, that now-mythical clash on the flanks of Quito’s famous volcano, that saw liberator Simon Bolivar vanquish the Spanish?

The reality is that it was a revolution lasting over a decade, filled with setbacks and disillusions.

But the First Cry of Independence, celebrated as a national holiday, is one of the most symbolic and emotive of all the moments, given that it was the very first time that Ecuadorians expressed their wish to rid themselves of their Spanish yoke, colonisers of centuries who did not recognise the right of creoles – those of Spanish descent who were born in the Americas – to rule in the place of their birth.

Ecuador’s first attempt at independence was set to a backdrop of a weakened Spain, at war with France (the Peninsula War, 1808-1814) led by the seemingly undefeatable Napoleon.

In the dead of night of August 9, 1809, a crack-team of intellectuals, doctors, marquises and creoles plotted in Quito, in the house of Manuela Cañizares, a stalwart of the city’s literary and political scenes. It was here that the conspirators committed to organizing a Supreme Government Junta, appointing Juan Pio Montufar as president, the Marques of Selva Alegre as Vice president, and Bishop José Cuero y Caicedo as Secretary of State.

Whipping the group into a frenzy, Manuela is said to have cried: “Cowards! Men born to serve, what are you afraid of? There is no time to lose!”

The next morning of August 10, 1809, one of the group named Antonio Ante went to the president of the Royal Audiencia, Manuel Ruiz, the Spanish Count of Castilla, to inform the Spaniard that the present governing body was relieved of its functions, and that the Sovereign Junta of Quito would take over.

This declaration is known as the “First Cry of Independence.”

The independence monument in Quito's old town.
The view of the independence monument in Quito’s old town.

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!

Functionaries of the city declared themselves in favour of the insurrection, including each Creole neighbourhood representative, rejecting the Audiencia authorities and recognising the Supreme Junta as an interim government “in the name and as a representative of our sovereignty, Mr Fernando Septimo, and while His Majesty recuperates the peninsula or comes to rule in America.”

The revolution of 10 August 1809 left no ambiguities about the autonomous and liberating nature of the movement, barely disguised with a half-hearted declaration of loyalty to the king.

The revelry of newfound freedom would not last long.

The independence plate in Quito's old town.
The revolutionaries were sent to prison.

On October 28, 1809 the Junta resigned, handing power to Spanish loyalist Juan Jose Guerrero, Count of Selva Florida, who swiftly returned power back to Count Ruiz de Castilla.

The revolutionaries were rounded up and thrown in prison.

Almost a year to the day later, on August 2, 1810, an attempt to liberate them from prison failed spectacularly, ending in a terrible massacre. All the key players, including Morales, Quiroga, Salina, Larrea, Arena, Riofrio, Ascasubi, Guerrero, Villalobos and others killed with bayonets by troops. A violent crackdown of city ensued in which 300 Quiteños died. The carnage only ended after the bishop and priests took to the streets and pleaded with the soldiers.

Carlos Montafur, the son of Marquis of Selva Alegre, was appointed by the Regency Council of Spain to end climate of repression, but his sympathies gravitated towards his father’s – the path towards independence. He helped to organise the second Superior Government Junta, made up of Creoles, on 15 February, 1812 the first constitution was drawn up.

The independece plate in memory of the people who died in the revolution.
The independence plate in memory of the people who died during the revolution.

The day, 208 years ago, is celebrated as a national holiday in Quito.

Thousands head to Plaza Grande and the presidential palace is lit up with Ecuador’s yellow blue and red, while the presidential guard are on display.

Who did it first?

Ecuadorians will tell you that the First Cry of Independence was not only the first in Ecuador, but in the Americas. That’s not strictly true. Though Quito’s was the first attempt that garnered military support and a degree of success, both Chuquisaca and La Paz in Bolivia attempted to make independent Juntas before their Ecuadorian cousins.

The independence monument in Quito's old town.
The first cry of Independence is one of the most important days for Ecuadorians.


24 March, 2017 Christopher Klassen
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Few places on Earth venerate grief and penitence so passionately, or centre an entire celebration on such sombre notions as guilt and death, as Holy Week and Easter in Quito.

With an emphasis on passionate, yet anonymous, displays of penitence and atonement, 200,000 of Ecuador’s most devoted Catholics self-flagellate, carry bone-breakingly heavy crosses, and bleed from self-inflicted wounds: all while dressed in macabre purple cone hats masking their faces, dramatic capes, or wrapped in barbed wire, accompanied by fervent, nightmarish live music.

The tradition, though faithful to its original form, has taken hundreds of years to arrive at its current incarnation, and unlike many religious festivities, continues to grow in size and popularity.

These centuries of heritage form part of Quito’s brand: since it was the first city to be declared UNESCO world heritage site in 1978 the conservation of this legacy has become its greatest selling point.

But as well as the heavy sense of tradition, visitors come to witness the eerie devotion of the participants of the march, and the colour and verve with which they display it.

  • Origins
  • Banning and reintroduction
  • San Francisco
  • Beginning of the Lent
  • Holy Wednesday
  • Maundy Thursday
  • Participants
  • Good Friday

Quito’s unique Holy Week celebrations, especially the dramatic Good Friday procession, would appear to originate from the very essence of the Ecuadorian capital: its devotion and passion, sense of tradition and duty, colour and feasting.

Yet the customs are not as singular as they appear, inherited instead from Spain, more specifically the southern city of Seville.

The ritual of marking the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus with such fervour dates back to Mediaeval times, when in 1265 Alfonso X of Castile passed a ‘code of laws’ known as Las Siete Partidas to honour God and the saints. The swing towards exuberant displays of Christian devotion was a backlash to the years of Muslim rule in Andalusia, the region in which Seville is located.

The city became Spain’s largest, and the point of departure for the West Indies, between its re-conquest 1248 and the “discovery” of America in 1492. It was in Seville that the inquisition was founded in 1481, an ambitious project of evangelization that swept the Americas, including Quito.

It is in that way that the spectacular and grandiose processions, with their Baroque imagery, can be understood: a mass marketing of religious tactics of attracting devotion with displays of devotion, encouraging “salvation through penance.”

Banning and reintroduction

Though it might seem unthinkable due to its massive popularity and attendance today, Quito’s Holy Week celebrations were once outlawed, threatened with being consigned to the shelves of history like so many other religious festivities.

Throughout 19th century all citizens were part of the procession, from the indigenous to the city’s mayor, marching in collective atonement. But the lavish parades were seen as vulgar by puritanical Europeans.

In 1865 Austrian traveller and travel book writer Ida Pfeiffer witnessed Quito’s Good Friday procession and said, “The Pope ought to urgently send this country a good set of noble and dignified punishments to put an end to such nonsense and scandal.”

People in Quito's Holy Week during Palm Sunday procession.
Religious traditions are very important for Ecuadorian culture.

At the turn of the 20th century, Liberals led by Eloy Alfaro banned public expressions of religion, encouraging instead freedom of worship.  Although Alfaro didn’t order the destruction of churches like some of his Latin American counterparts, he did force religious celebrations off the streets and behind closed doors, and the Semana Santa celebrations did not see the light of day for half a century.

In 1949, a very small procession entered cautiously back out to the streets, only to be banned again until 1961. In that year, the Franciscans held a procession in the name of Jesus del Gran Poder – a statue said to have been carved in 1620 in balsawood, a symbol revered by Quiteños.

Since then, the procession has happened rain or shine, amassing hundreds of thousands of followers.

San Francisco

The church of San Francisco, and the Franciscan religious order who populate it, plays a pivotal role in the Holy Week celebrations.

Franciscans are the weightiest religious order in Latin America, once having represented some 75 percent of all religious presence throughout the region. In their 400-year presence in Quito they continue their position of iconic institution of the daily life of the city.

San Francisco was Quito’s first church – from here they began evangelising natives – and it is now one of the largest religious complexes in the Americas. It marks the beginning and the end points of the Good Friday procession, where the devoted flock to in order to pay their dues.

Beginning of the Lent

Carnaval to begin Lent – irreverence to give you something to repent

In other Catholic countries, the beginning of Lent leading up to the Easter period is marked by chaotic street parties and debauched parades: Brazil’s colourful Carnaval a case in point.

Quito’s version is modest in comparison, with participants playfully throwing water at each other, though once city authorities had to all-but cut off supplies to prevent the senseless wasting of water.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday – a Jewish tradition of covering yourself in ash as a symbol of sacrifice and regeneration, kicking off the period of fasting.

In Quito’s Historic Centre it is not unusual see people with their foreheads smudged with ash made from burned dried stalks from the previous year’s Palm Sunday bouquets.

In times gone by such was the seriousness of the Lent period that people were not allowed to go out on weekends, radios only played classical music and TV only played religious movies. On Fridays, no meat was consumed.

Today, the symbolic fasting representing Jesus’s 40 days and nights in the wilderness has been bastardised by the western tradition of giving up luxury or unhealthy foods, taken advantage by some to quit smoking, or lose a few pounds.

Holy Wednesday

Arrastre de Caudas – the dragging of the capes

With their black, sweeping cloaks, the clergy pass through the cathedral to ominous music, before dropping to the floor, like crumpled sacks. This is one of Quito’s most theatrical and eerie Holy Week celebrations.

The Arrastre de Caudas, or Dragging of the Capes, is a high clergy ritual practiced only in Quito, Lima and Seville. In fact, such was its secrecy that it was only made public a few years ago, having been celebrated since the 16th century.

To preserve the ceremony it is promoted in Quito with flourish, projected onto screens outside the cathedral.

With a Da Vincii code, cultish quality, the ceremony is an adaptation of a Roman ritual to pay homage to Christ, their own “fallen general”.

Proceedings begin at midday at the Metropolitan Cathedral, officiated by the Archbishop of Quito. Entering to solemn funeral music played on the organ, seminaries hold flickering candles, canons are covered in their floor-length black cloaks, while the deacon carries the Lignum Crucis, a cross made with precious stones and gems and – according to legend – fragments from the actual cross of Christ.

The canons, whose average age is 80, then kneel on red velvet cushions by the altar, as the deacon takes the Lignum Crucis to the pulpit and places it on the altar. The gold, purple and white-clad archbishop, accompanied by bishops, recites prayers, psalms and hymns.

There is then a funeral procession, as the canons begin their slow march from the choir around the Cathedral, their cloaks dragging on the floor, symbolically sweeping up the sins of humanity.

Just behind follows a member of the order who wears across his back the flag of resurrection, emblazoned with a red cross. When the procession arrives back at the altar, the canons lie flat on the floor, representing Jesus’s dead body, and the flag is swept over their heads to pay tribute to the fallen general.

The dragging of the capes during Holy Week in Quito.
The dragging of the capes is one of the most important events during Holy Week.

As the archbishop waves the great flag, some participants, fearing that death comes to those it touches, duck away, while others are steadfast, happy to receive the “spirit of the Lord.”

The ceremony ends with the banging three times of the flag pole on the ground, each bang a day of Christ’s in the tomb. The canons rise on the third, just as Jesus did on the third day, and a blessing is given.

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday

This long day of ceremony is the commemoration of Last Supper, Washing of the Feet, Agony in the Garden, Betrayal, and Outrage.

Early in the morning the Chrism, or anointing mass, is celebrated in the Cathedral, and the archbishop consecrates oil.

Late that afternoon, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper takes place, with the ritual of Washing the Feet. It is celebrated at several churches, including San Francisco and the Cathedral, at a time just before sunset, when traditionally the Passover meal begins.

The Eucharist is celebrated, with the unleavened bread and Christ’s words: “This is my body, this is my blood, do this in memory of me.”

During the mass, there is a re-enactment of the feet washing, with 12 people representing 12 apostles. In a special procession, the blessed hosts are carried to the altar and placed inside the tabernacle, entombed, like Christ, until Friday.


The emphasis of the ceremonies is on penitents, the mass of people seeking repentance anonymously, who come from all over Ecuador.

The idea of penitence again originated in Seville in the mid-fifteenth century. Self-flagellation was one of the key symbols, a method heartily embraced by Franciscans.

The nightmarish Cucurucho is the central figure of the procession. Silent and anonymous, with a dark purple robe, and a cone headdress, their face is covered, save for two eye holes.

The tradition is said to originate in the Middle Ages, when priests forced sinners to stand outside the church for days and nights allowing everyone to see their shame.

Cucuruchos during Quito's Holy Week procession.
The Cucuruchos are one of the most important figures during Holy Week’s procession in Quito.

Today, they are seen as choosing anonymity to copy the humility of Christ, so as not to flaunt their repentance, though some people wrap their cones in aluminium to stand out from the crowd.

Until recently the only option open for women was to attend the procession as a Veronica, wearing transparent veils, representing the woman from the bible who washed Jesus’s face in pity. Now women also march as Cucuruchos.

Others, dressed as Jesus, bring their own crosses, as heavy as they can bear. Once, a man broke his leg under the weight of the colossal structure, leaving pool of blood on the pavement. Look out for “techno Christ” whose cross flashes with neon lights.

There are the Baroque penitents who paint fake blood on their faces and entwine their bodies with barbed wire, sometimes causing real-life wounds, as the Salve Gran Senora song plays repeatedly throughout, music that originated from Andean traditions but given Spanish religious verse.

There are holy effigies, some with real hair, who are dressed and spruced up days before the processions. Statues of the Virgen have their own wardrobes with the clothes donated by worshipers.

Good Friday

Good Friday is the main celebration in Quito, even greater than Easter Sunday.

The procession of Jesus del Gran Poder (Jesus Almighty), begins and ends at San Francisco main square – Casa Gangotena’s third-floor terrace offers the best view for miles!

The Thursday night before a frantic process begins of cleaning planks to assemble platforms to carry images of the Virgen, the Lord, and Saint John the Baptist through Quito.

People begin to arrive at San Francisco around 6AM, leaving bouquets and decorations to be placed on the platforms, which won’t be ready until around 10AM. The 2,000 people, who will march as Cucuruchos and Verónicas, assemble at the rear of the San Francisco complex, while police and secret agents lend at hand to keep things in order.

Holy Week procession in Quito.
Good Friday is the most important day of Holy Week in Quito.

Regular police arrive at 8AM, with Special Forces keeping an eagle eye on the relic sculptures. They will later be rewarded for their troubles with a free meal.

One man, Washington Moreno, has been handing out the 1,000 purple cloaks and head cones to participants since the 1990s. From 8AM he hands them out to the registered Cucuruchos (some 500 more will join later, wearing their own costumes).

Around 10.30AM the participants pass through the Passageway of Anguish, a low archway connecting the Friar’s School to the convent courtyards before leading to the church.

At 11.30AM, the platforms bearing the holy images are brought out to the atrium, where an enormous crowd has gathered.

Here, Pontius Pilate’s sentencing of Christ is read aloud, an act that each year causes an eerie silence to sweep across the crowd and the entire city, bringing tears to the eyes of onlookers. Then, the platforms begin their journey through the streets, precariously carried by the devoted.

Shirtless men with crowns of thorns carrying back-breakingly heaving crosses and poles. Some faint in the process. The procession, a mass of purple, moves like a river of blood.

A funeral march plays on loop by local bands, stopping at various stations for prayers.

At around 4.30 PM the procession returns to the atrium of San Francisco, and the archbishop leads a one-and-a-half-hour ceremony called “The Veneration of the cross.”

Families make their way home to feast on fanesca, Ecuador’s traditional Easter soup that fills them up for days with its 12 beans, cheese, milk, cod and empanadas for decoration. The fast is over.

 Fanesca, the culinary traditions of Quito's Holy Week.
After the procession, families get together and enjoy the traditional Fanesca.

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