An inevitable part of your holiday, and one that for some holds a degree of dread is bound to involve buying souvenirs: something for the mother-in-law, bits and pieces for colleagues, and that special trinket to hang in the living room that tastefully screams “I went on holiday to Quito”. Read on for our suggestions on where and what to buy in Quito!
But rather than a headache, shopping in Quito gives you a chance to discover new parts of the city, learn about Ecuador’s culture and heritage and take some home with you, and to come face to face with some of the characters who give Quito’s Old Town such a strong personality.
Take Humberto Silva, for example, the octogenarian tin smith who has held kept his workshop on La Ronda street for more than 60 years and who specializes in miniature tin kitchen appliances. Or Rosario Incarnación, whose retouching of religious statues had led to an entirely new line of business.
There are certain items that it would be madness to leave the country without buying. Chocolate is one, whether you go for the traditional, award-winning bars of Pacari (try the sea-salt variety) or technicolored truffles of Chez Tiff.
Handmade arts and crafts are essential, and at the fair trade marketplaces of the Historic Centre, you get to meet their creators and discover the stories behind each item. Furthermore, you have the chance to support local artists and gain new insight into the culture by buying from small galleries like Sirka.
Religion is extremely prominent in Quiteño culture, specifically the Catholic Church, and this had a strong influence on arts and souvenirs. You could pick up home-made medicines and wine from the cloistered nuns of Carmen Alto, or beautiful candles shaped like bouquets of tropical flowers from La Vela Mágica.
Finally, don’t miss the larger markets of San Francisco and Plaza Arenas where you’ll find anything from a cure for a broken heart to the roller skates you thought you lost when you were 12 years old!
Casa Gangotena assures you visit plenty of places where you can get the perfect souvenir to remember your trip to Old Town Quito!
Chez Tiff – Calle la Ronda
Ecuador has a well-documented, illustrious history of producing world-class cacao beans and chocolate (while you’re here there’s no excuse not to visit a plantation to see the birth of the food of gods!)
But while much of the country’s produce errs on the side of the traditional, Chez Tiff’s homemade chocolates are inspired, creative and fun. The truffles are the main event: fabulous, Willy Wonka balls stained multi-colored by passion fruit or local liquor Blue Bird.
The little spheres come dusted in traditional ingredients like toasted quinoa and cacao. You can even buy your truffles in an edible box made of delicious chocolate, or in the shape of famous figures like cucuruchos or Indigenous women.
Top tip: The shop on one of the Old Town’s most emblematic streets is also the ideal spot to stop for a coffee or hot chocolate, having feasted on the wonderful samples.
Pacari – Venezuela and Espejo
Premium organic chocolate brand Pacari has won international awards and has made it its mission to bring Ecuadorian produce to the world.
The pioneering label has hundreds of options in its flagship stores, with cacao from all over the country, and unexpected ingredients like sea salt, chili pepper, and rose petals.
Wrapped in chic packaging, with the option of buying sets of various flavored bars neatly stacked in wooden boxes, Pacari’s wares make the ideal gift.
What’s more, experts are on hand to guide you through chocolate tasting, allowing you to discover exactly the combination of flavors that make you tick.
Tienda el Quinde – Venezuela and Espejo
Located a stone’s throw from Pacari, Tienda el Quinde is a shop run by Quito Tourism showcasing local arts and crafts.
Here you’ll find high quality socially and environmentally responsible products at fair trade prices, inspired by Quito’s rich cultural heritage and traditions as well as its natural environment and modern art scene.
Pre-Columbian culture is also a great influence on the artisan crafts available, including silver sculptures and jewelry depicting folkloric legends.
Top tip: As a tourist center El Quinde is also a useful place to visit to find out about and book tours of the city and further afield, while free internet and lockers are also available.
Madera Noble, Calle Junin
Tucked into Old Town’s most bohemian neighborhood San Marcos, Madera Noble offers a unique opportunity to meet local carpenter José Barrera and chat not only about his craft but about the changes that the city has gone through in the decades that he has kept shop there.
Here you can pick up one-of-a-kind wooden crafts, from chess boards and pieces to jewelry boxes and religious icons, or have antique pieces restored.
Situated right across from the delightful Plaza San Marcos, the shop could play a part in a larger exploration of the neighborhood, where you will find historical museums, art galleries, and eclectic restaurants and bars.
Tianguez, Plaza San Francisco
Tianguez, a pre-Columbian word for a shopping center in the náhuatl language, is found right across the plaza from Casa Gangotena.
Part marketplace, part museum, part restaurant, this is the best place to check out Indigenous artifacts and relics.
Rooted in fair trade, the artisan fair supports communities from both the countryside and city and small businesses, promoting cultural revitalization and Ecuador’s historical patrimony.
The Mindalae Museum in the same complex celebrates Ecuadorian craftsmanship through the ages and, above all, its sustainability.
Top tip: Typical dishes from the Sierra, coast, and Amazon form the backbone of the restaurant’s menu, ideal for refreshment after your shipping trip.
Rosario Incarnación – Simon Bolivar y Cuenca
You only have to walk less than a block from Casa Gangotena to discover one of Quito’s most fascinating and idiosyncratic trades.
While the bulk of the commerce of Rosario Incarnation is selling and painting religious icons and statues, the largest of these destined for churches, the owner has another skill up her sleeve.
As well as retouching wooden figures, Rosario does the same for humans: painting over scars and blemishes, even on people’s faces.
While the results might not be permanent the procedure is far cheaper, and probably safer, than any other on offer, and demonstrates the craftsmanship and enterprise of this traditional artist.
Central Cultural Metropolitano – Garcia Moreno y Espejo
If exploring this extensive cultural and historical exhibits of the Central Cultural Metropolitano awakens a deeper interest in Ecuador’s heritage and secrets (which after seeing the ghoulish waxworks of the Alberto Mena Caamaño museum is likely), head to the museum’s bookstore.
Here you can stock up on all kinds of books, from picture-filled coffee table tomes to text-heavy reference guides, to hone in on your favorite aspect of Ecuadorian history and life.
Carmen Alto – Garcia Moreno y Rocafuerte
For many, the attraction of Quito’s Old Town is its incredible concentration of churches and religious buildings, and the unusual fervor demonstrated by the Catholics there.
An unmissable stop on the tour of religious Quito is the convent of Carmen Alto, home of cloistered nuns since the 17th century. Aside from the church and museum, the adjacent shop sells religious knickknacks including artisan crosses, rosaries, candles, and icons.
Top tip: Head around the corner to Benalcazar and you’ll find the nuns’ turnstile. This is usually the only contact that the nuns have with the outside world, from where you can buy natural medicines and ointments made by the nuns with their own herbs, as well as their home-made wine.
La Vela Mágica – Pereira y Montafur
With religious ceremonies two-a-penny in the Old Town, there’s a high demand for candles, in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
La Vela Mágica (the Magic Candle) fills the gap with aplomb, producing some 300 candles a day during peak seasons of Holy Week and Christmas.
Opened three decades ago, the shop’s best-sellers are slim, colored candles, though large, elaborate flower creations known as cirios are popular, adding a Baroque eccentricity to any display.
Scented with coconut, cinnamon, sandalwood, rose, and patchouli, the candles aren’t the only thing on sale at La Vela Mágica, there is also communion wine, religious figurines, communion wafers, and scents.
Mercado San Francisco – Rocafuerte y Chimborazo
San Francisco Market, founded in 1893, was Quito’s first-ever official marketplace (as a sign outside proudly declares) and continues today to play an important role in people’s day-to-day lives.
Here, locals buy their fruit, veg, meat, and eggs, but for visitors, the Ancestral Medicine section in the back right of the complex is the most intriguing.
In booths bursting with fresh herbs, you will find traditional treatments for a litany of ailments: lotions and potions for heartbreak, powders for anxiety, and even mini-cleansing rituals using local plants to cleanse bad energy.
Top tip: In the shops outside the market along Rocafuerte you’ll find herbs, Ecuadorian fruits, grains, and seeds at bargain prices, as well as practical bits and pieces like sacks and rope.
Humberto Silva – La Ronda
More than an establishment on Old Town’s most iconic street, Don Manuel Humerto Silva came to La Ronda more than six decades ago, in his early twenties.
The former railway worker from Chimborazo province inherited a set of tools from his late father and began to perfect his artisan craft with tin plate.
Some of the tools he works with are on display in the workshop, while his prized soldering iron is kept at home.
With these, he creates enchanting toys: household objects for tiny hands. There are miniature ovens, fridges, milk bottles and grills, diminutive watering cans and vases.
Top tip: You can find the octogenarian craftsman in the shop every day, though he tends to close up around 3 or 4 P.M.
Heladería Dulce Placer – La Ronda
Not strictly a shop, Dulce Placer is an essential element of the La Ronda shopping experience nonetheless.
Upstairs of one of the quintessential shops along the street is where you’ll find this delightful ice-cream parlor, a family-run establishment with more than 550 natural flavors.
Top tip: Bag a seat on the balcony to watch the comings and goings of the street below, cone in sticky hand.
If you’re traveling with kids, or have any back home who will expect gifts from your journey, look no further than Calle Cuenca.
The street is filled with fancy dress and party shops at reassuring prices, selling all kinds of superheroes, monsters, and princess’ costumes.
Wigs, masks, capes, and props are all part of the fun, and of course, come in adult sizes too.
Quito’s obsession with disguise is rooted in its religious and national festivities, where everyone, from babies to grandparents, dons some kind of extraordinary outfit.
Sirka – Calle Junin
Billed as the meeting place of craft beer and art, Sirka is a pub with a gallery, or a gallery with a pub, depending on your priorities.
Located on one of the city’s most bohemian streets, cozy Sirka showcases local artists and photographers in thoughtfully curated, regularly updated exhibitions, with pieces available at reasonable prices.
Top tip: After your purchase, be sure to make time for a home-brewed Sirka beer, chatting to the creatives who have made it their local drinking establishment.
Mercado Plaza Arenas – Luis Vargas Torres
It’s highly likely that you’ll Mercado Plaza Arenas with something you never knew you wanted or needed.
This locals’ market specializes in second-hand clothes, tools, and bits, and pieces: a mishmash of bric-a-brac where you’re likely to see sequined jackets next to roller-skates, crutches next to electric guitars, and piles of books, magazines, and records (yes, records!)
Perhaps you’re in the market for a niche television remote last manufactured in the 1990s, or a pair of ornate doorknobs that look like something you saw in a movie.
Like any self-respecting market in Ecuador, Plaza Arenas has its own juice bar and chapel, as well as a hairdresser, seamstress, and metal-works.