Quito chic

By | Category: Travel destinations

Cloud-high in the Andes and hemmed in by the snow-capped peaks of two active volcanoes, Ecuador’s capital Quito is a colonial stunner. JAT shows you the way to go


What to see and do

If you were in Quito for an hour and asked a local what to see, there’s no doubt the magnificent La Compania church- which took 160 years to build- would be number one on their list of suggestions. La Compania is a knock out on every level – an architectural gem excessively smothered in gold-leaf with glorious shafts of light penetrating the interior from the divinely measured skylights.
Other churches – a legacy of the city’s Spanish colonisation – worth seeing include San Franciscan Monastery, which has wonderful carved and painted wooden saints, while its beautifully tended cloisters are now home to several friendly parakeets rescued by resident monk Father Wilson.
Had your fill of churches? Don’t miss the spectacular changing of the guard – in 18th century replica blue, red and gold uniforms – outside the Palacio de Gobierno, the seat of the President, every Monday at 11am.
Then take the cable car 12,000 feet to the top of a mountain, where superb views of the city and a chain of snow capped peaks await.
One caveat: regardless of your itinerary,
don’t forget to layer up as the weather in Quito is extremely unpredictable. Quitenos say that they experience all four seasons in a day so be ready to take your coat and sweater off and put them back on in a matter of hours.

 


Top shops
Shopaholics should wander to La Ronda – a restored colonial barrio (once a hub for bohemians) that has been turned into a place to shop, walk and meet artisans like Gerado Zabala. Monsieur Zabala can make a wooden toy in front of your eyes in minutes. His favourite? The spinning top (including state-of-the art-designs you’ll want to take back home with you). Find him at Casa 925.

Need a sugar rush? Look to Luis Banda. The Quitoan’s family business has been making and selling colaciones – sensational sugar coated peanuts – using his Grandmother’s 100 year old recipe, since 1915, in Quito’s San Roque neighbourhood.

Ecuador has also become famous for its flower industry. The small South American country is the world’s third-largest exporter of cut flowers – 73 per cent of which are roses thanks to the country’s volcanic soil, perfect temperatures and abundant sunlight. And no one beats the equatorial sun in terms of rose variety.

Even better? Visitors can discover unparalleled colour, radiance and aroma – for a pittance. You read right: it costs as little as US$2.50 for 25 long stemmed red roses – which can be snapped up on every street – meaning even cash poor travellers can play Romeo.

Best bites
Lunch time (almuerzo) is sacred in a Quiteno’s home and one dish is simply not enough. Whether you stop at an improvised stand, a humble dive, an upmarket restaurant or have an Ecuadorian homemade meal, the classic locro de papa – a thick and simple soup where the potato is its star ingredient  – is a must in your culinary check list. Soup is invariably followed by cuy (roasted guinea pig), hornado (slow roasted pork) or a ceviche and  great place to get stuck into the aforementioned delicacies is Achiote.

For lunch on the run, try a humita – a cornmeal, egg and cheese dumpling like snack that works well when washed down with a locally brewed Pilsner – from a stall at Mercado Central (Av Pichincha, Quito 170136, Ecuador).

 


Excursions
Just north of Quito, lies the most visited attraction in the country – the Mitad del Mundo monument and complex dedicated to the equator and the fact that Quito lies close to it. A tourist’s favourite will forever be the joy of standing on the thin yellow line painted on the cement that (fictitiously) divides the planet in two.

If you want to genuinely stand with one foot in each hemisphere, you’ll need to head 240m down the road to the real equator – a site that was discovered only a few years back thanks to Global Positioning Services (GPS) devices. The true spot is called the Intiñan Solar Museum aims to answer all your equator related science queries including “Can you balance an egg on a nail?” and “Does water really change direction in different hemispheres?”

If you’re in town on a Saturday, seek out
the small craft town of Otavalo. Thanks to one of Ecuador’s most effective marketing operations (which back in the 1950s involved ponchos at the UN and pan flutes on Times Square) a livelihood was secured for the ever industrious Otavalenos, making their Saturday street fair an every day event flocked to by tourists from around the globe.

South America’s largest street fair begins at dawn at the fascinating animal market where locals buy, sell and trade all possible domestic creatures (from guinea pigs to llamas), and continues in the town with the produce market and the arts and craft fair where you can haggle for straw hats, brightly coloured rugs and traditional crafts. A true shop till you drop adventure.


Relaxation

Feeling stressed? Look to Señora Rosa, a limpiadora – essentially a herb healer – who waits in her corner stall, at Mercado San Francisco, for her patients to arrive to perform her limpia spiritual cleansing process. With herbs and flowers, she cures everything from angst to nervous tension, insomnia and depression. Healer’s tip: Tuesdays and Fridays are the most propitious to banish the evil eye.

 

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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