Quito: The new city of churches

Days: 232-237

Total distance travelled: 44,913.9 kilometres (27,896.83 miles)

There are some things we take for granted on this trip.

One of those being that we usually find that as soon as we end a long bus journey, it’s time to feed our ravenous stomachs.

Just after crossing the Colombia-Ecuador border and finding ourselves an onwards bus to the capital, it was a little worse than that.

Here we were, just having boarded what promised to be a minimum 5 hour journey (it eventually proved to be closer to 6) and already feeling those very pangs.

Thankfully salvation was quick in coming, as true to form with most of our bus journey’s to date, it wasn’t long before a bevvy of vendors clamboured on board, all eager to sell us a barely chilled cola, or a serving of chicken and rice in those horribly, non-biodegradable styrofoam containers.

For us however, a bag of piping hot corn kernels we’d hoped would do the trick, at least until we could get to Quito and begin to think about dinner!

Farewell Colombia, hello hot bag of corn!

Farewell Colombia, hello hot bag of corn!

Finally arriving later in the afternoon than expected, we opted to take a taxi rather than attempt to navigate the Trolebus system, a decision that in future evenings began to look quite wise given how packed these buses seem to get!

We settled into our hostel, then ventured out seeking something for dinner, on what was a dark, but not too chilly evening.

None of the eating establishments recommended by the girl who’d met us at check-in could be found, in fact not much of anything appeared to be open.

Eventually we stumbled upon a small supermarket, grabbed a few ingredients for a quick pasta, and that essentially wrapped up our Quito initiation.

We were up early for our first full day in the city, the day kicking off literally around the corner from our hostel at the stunning Basílica del Voto Nacional.

We’d spied it illuminated the previous night, so today’s plan was to investigate it inside and out.

There is a small admission fee, and as much as I’m reluctant to contribute church coffers, this building is simply stunning!

It oozes grandeur from all angles, is stunningly decorated within and really must be seen to be fully appreciated.

The impressive Basílica del Voto Nacional

The impressive Basílica del Voto Nacional

A stunning interior...

A stunning interior…

It is one of those buildings that makes you feel small, and its colourful stained glass, which creates patterns that dance amongst its columns within are a delight.

Just when you think you can drag yourself away, there’s more.

For another small fee (yes, those church coffers are indeed deep) you can ascend the lofty heights of its towers, even at one point passing within the ceiling and its dusty light.

Climb a little further up some steep, iron steps, and you have views of the city in every direction!

Exploring the lofty heights above

Exploring the lofty heights above, both within and without

Once we’d had our fill and been suitably wowed by our first stop in Quito, it was off to explore some more of the city, which seemed, from our limited experience, equally as pretty by sunlight as it was by streetlight.

Our wanderings took us downhill, almost directly to the well appointed Plaza Grande, heart of the Centro Historico where we came face to face with both the Presidential Palace (free to visit, but you need to book and have your passport) and the Catedral Metropolitana de Quito.

Soaking in the Plaza Grande

Soaking in the Plaza Grande (with the Catedral Metropolitana de Quito visible)

We baulked at the museum entrance which had a set fee for entrance, however just around the corner was another, less taxing on the wallet, and with no apparent restriction on photography.

About a hundred metres further on sat the most decadent church we’ve ever laid eyes upon.

The Church of the Jesuits, not only asked a fee for entry, but also to photograph its walls and ceilings, all lined with solid gold!

Playing dumb, we missed the entry queue, and managed a couple of quick snaps before being rounded up by an eagle eyed member of staff and taking our leave.

Walls and ceilings of gold, yet apparently one must pay for the privilege to photograph it

Walls and ceilings of gold, yet apparently one must pay for the privilege to photograph it (or as we did, played a little dumb)

In a case of poor timing, our next destination (after inspecting a couple more churches, most notable being the Iglesia de Santo Domingo), the Observatorio Astronomico de Quito happened to be closed for siesta.

No problem we thought, we’d just wander back to Plaza Grande and hop into the next tour of the Presidential Palace.

Observatorio Astronomico de Quito

Observatorio Astronomico de Quito

After wandering the few kilometres back to the plaza, and then waiting several minutes on the wrong side of the building, we were finally told we needed to be on the opposite side… where the next tour was already booked out!

We arranged for ourselves to be on a late afternoon edition at 4:30pm, then figured by now the observatory would likely be open again anyway.

In a rather vague recollection of events (I’m not sure if it was now, or earlier during the morning), there happened to be a procession of elderly folk passing by on parade as we wandered by the fringes of the plaza, apparently something to do with the carnival celebrations.

They looked docile enough, this large posse of 60+ folk (their ages, although they were probably equal in number to this figure), until, without us really comprehending what was going on, we found ourselves covered in foam, squirted from point black range by an old lady with a broad grin!

Eventually, after much wandering back and forth, we finally made it to and began our tour (self guided) of the observatory.

Heavens above (well it has to be doesn't it in a city of churches)

To gaze upon the heavens above (well it has to be doesn’t it in a city of churches)

In truth, we’ve visited others more interesting (such as in Prague), however on certain nights of the week, this place does open up for stargazing which would be a hell of a lot more fun indeed!

We wandered a local market as well, which looks a great bet for a cheap lunch, before making our way back to the plaza for the 3rd (or possibly 4th) time for the day.

The free tour of the palace was in fact really good.

Many stately rooms, some great balcony views of the plaza and the chance to view many national artifacts, and also those received as gifts from foreign dignitaries (the Ecuadorian president has decreed as that these gifts were presented to the country, they must be available to all the people of Ecuador).

On tour in the Presidential Palace

On tour in the Presidential Palace

My biggest criticism would be of the delicious aromas that wafted from one of the buildings kitchens… none of this was at any point offered to us which was a real shame!

By night, we decided to rug up (it was cool as one can expect at Quito’s 2,800 metres above sea level) and check out the district around La Ronda, a regenerated cobbled strip in the Centro Historico.

A cold night also presented us the perfect opportunity to have our first sample of Canelazo, a warmed blend of cider, Aguardiente (cane sugar alcohol), fruit juice and spices.

Checking out La Ronda with a warming cup of Canelazo

Checking out La Ronda with a warming cup of Canelazo

Our 1st attempt was Mora flavoured (Blackberry), and wasn’t a bad drop at all. You can order it without alcohol, but on cold night, why would we?!

It’s a pretty cool part of the old city, on this particular evening, the lead up to carnival, chock full of people patronising its bars or cafes, or like us, just wandering around.

We also noted several delicious looking chocolate and cake shops that would certainly warrant a visit at a later time.

After our earlier, unexpected assault from a bunch of pensioners, we were a little more aware of how these people liked to celebrate their carnival (with foam), and here it was on for young and old!

It was all good natured fun, and it certainly crossed every possible Ecuadorian age demographic.

Foam fight in the lead up to Carnival

Foam fight in the lead up to Carnival

With a final, less impressive cup of Canelazo in hand (we’d tried a different flavour, Naranjillo which wasn’t as tasty), we made our way back to our hostel, to retire for another day.

The following 3 days we spent on other excursions, so we didn’t really find ourselves with all that much time for any additional exploration (or to get back to one of the cake shops) until our final day in the city, which we’d decided we needed for a bit of down time.

Aside from allowing us to indulge in that much coveted coffee and cake (Sarah had a Quito take on the Sacher Torte, whilst I had an Apple Crumble Pie), it also allowed us to investigate a couple more churches which had been missed (one was closed) on our other day of exploration.

The Convento de San Francisco, another gold filled affair, was certainly worth our time, but on our return walk to our hostel we also stumbled upon the Iglesia de La Merced, a slightly more demure, yet no less worthy site that truly pushed the quality of churches in this city into the stratosphere!

Quito. A new leader for the church capital of the world!

Quito. A new leader for the church capital of the world!

We didn’t know it at the time, but the historical centre of Quito was actually one of the 1st two UNESCO World Heritage sites listed back in 1978 (the other was Krakow), and after the time we had and the beauty we saw, we can readily see why!



* A taxi from the Ecuadorian border to the town of Tulcan is $3.50 US (this price is for the taxi, so if you can fill all of the seats it will cost you less per person).

* From Tulcan, a bus to Quito cost us $5.00 US per person for about a 6 hour journey.

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3 Responses to Quito: The new city of churches

  1. LaVagabonde says:

    I didn’t realize that Quito was so beautiful. I’ve only ever heard how dangerous it is. It’s annoying when places charge you to take photos, but I guess they do it because of professional photographers who make money off their photos.

  2. Julie Smith says:

    I have no idea why that Cathedral looks so different from what I expected from Quito! It looks so … European! Just goes to show how narrow my imagination as I was expecting a Spanish style multi-colored extravaganza! Looks like you had a wonderful time there, and got a ton in during your visit!

  3. thatsbalogna says:

    Awesome post! I think Brodie and I were surprised by the beauty and number of the churches in Quito too. The city is such a cool mix of modern chaos and historical gorgeousness. And it was SO MUCH FUN to climb up the tower of the basilica! Glad you guys did it too! 🙂

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