Quito Ecuador; Historic Center of Latin America and Economic Capital City
At an altitude of 2,850 m or 9,000 ft in a high valley at the base of Mount Pichincha, Quito Ecuador(full name is ‘San Francisco del Quito), the historic center of Latin America, was founded on the ruins of an Inca city in 16th century.
It is the capital city of Ecuador, situated in South America. If one wants to see the transcendental and unique work of nature and man together, Quito is the place to visit.
With a population of 2,239,191 in 2011 Quito is the second most populous city in Ecuador, and it’s the new economic capital city in Ecuador. It is also the capital of the Pichincha province and the seat of Metropolitan District of Quito. In 2008, the city was designated as the headquarters of the Union of South American Nations.
Quito Ecuador has been built on a land that is traversed by two ‘quebradas’ (deep ravines), and occupies a small basin formed by Pichincha volcano, Puengasi ridge, and other ridges. The streets are aligned on the cardinal points of the compass. The city itself is mostly laid out in rectangular shapes.
The Baroque School of Quito
An outstanding example of ‘Baroque School of Quito’, this city excellently portrays a combined European (Italian, Flemish, Moorish, and Spanish) and indigenous art.
That is the Church and Jesuit College of La Compañía and the monasteries of San Francisco. Also Santo Domingo are fine examples. La Compañía, with its gold altar, is probably the richest church in South America.
Long before the Spanish conquest, the inhabitants, called ‘Quitus’, lived in this town—the capital of the Incas and Seyris. In fact, the name ‘Quito’ is derived from this very word ‘Quitus’.
In 1533 AD, the town was ranked a Spanish city when its possession was taken over by Sebastian Sebastián de Benalcázar. Every year since December 6, 1534, the annual celebration takes place with the Fiestas de Quito.
With time, the Spanish settlement grew. The city became an asset of great importance. It became the episcopal seat. Afterwards, it became the place for ‘Audiencia Real’. It extended beyond the political boundaries of Ecuador. Until about 1830, Ecuador and Venezuela were part of Gran Colombia. Quito was the capital of a southern province.
Quito Ecuador Now
Old Town and New Town are the two major divisions of present day Quito Ecuador.
- Old Town: Declared the UNESCO’s cultural heritage site in 1978, it reflects Spanish planning. The community heart is the ‘central plaza’. It is bordered by Palacio de Gobierno, Palacio Presindencial, the Cathedral (oldest in South America), and some religious buildings. The Cathedral serves as the burial for several presidents. There are also many churches here belonging to the 17th and 18th century.
Also, the La Compañía church with gold altar is situated here. One must also visit the monasteries of San Diego. Also visit San Augustin, Santo Domingo, and recently renovated El Sagario.
Houses with traditional balconies are situated on an alley called ‘La Ronda’ (or, Juan de Dios Morales). Some houses open during the day to display and sell craft items. Also, two historical homes Casa de Benalcázar and Casa de Sucre, are located here.
Casa de Cultura Ecuatoriana house a number of museums. Out of these, Museo de Arte Colonial and Museo de Arte Historia are worth visiting. There you will see the Baroque School of Quito.
While in Old Town, do not forget to view Quito from El Panecillo hill. You can either climb it. Or instead go by taxi on the road paved around the statues of la Virgen de Quito.
- New Town: It is in total contrast with the Old Town; it is everything modern. It is the business and finance center. There are shops, restaurants, modern buildings, and hotels.
Casa de Cultura Ecuatoriana houses a number of museums that also include Musseo del Banco Central, with displays of archaeological specimens—traditional dresses, musical instruments, art, and the Inca Gold sun mask (the only treasure here).
A popular gathering place here is Parque El Ejido, where one can also see turtles, lizards, snakes, iguanas, etc.—of course, from a safe distance!
One gets to see architecture that is modern and colonial, both. Even the neighborhoods reflect stratified economic conditions. They are clearly classified into two distinct categories, poor and rich.
Houses are still seen built in Moorish or Spanish style. Sun-dried bricks, along with stucco or plaster are the building materials mainly used. The architecture of the government and archbishop’s palace and cathedral are old Spanish style. So too the city hall still is of old Spanish style.
Even though many earthquakes, mainly 1797 and 1859, had devastating results on the city, yet, till now, it has been best-preserved.
The ‘most-cultural’ city life is a mixture of indigenous and Spanish traditions. That is even though modern international life has influenced it. It gave it a multifaceted and rich backdrop. There are museums, theater, symphonic concerts, parks and recreation centers. Also there are multi-screen movie centers.
The climate of Quito Ecuador can be described in two words, Eternal Spring. Even though it is situated 22 km or just 13 mi from the Equator. With three snow-capped volcanoes, clear sky, and sun, it is spring season throughout the year. Basically, There are two seasons—wet (also called ‘winter’), and dry.
Places to Visit
- North of Quito: Being little more than a dozen miles from the Equator, if one wants to straddle both hemispheres, then Mitad del Mundo is the best place to see the pre-Inca site Rumicucho, ethnographical museum, volcanic crater Pululahua, and the monument.
Otavalo, the market town in the Andean Highlands, is famous for Saturday markets (it is in vogue from the pre-Inca days!) Sale of traditional jewelry and dress, other handicraft items, textiles, animals and livestock are carried out here. The markets are around three plazas; the craft items, sold between dawn to noon, are in Poncho Plaza. The important aspect of these markets is one can bargain a lot on prices, and literally buy an item in half the price or less!
One can also see Imbabura volcano and stroll around Lago San Pablo.
Leaving Otavalo behind, you can walk further north to Cotacachi and Ibarra. Cotacachi is famous for leather-work. Ibarra is famous for wood-work. Further from Ibarra, you can go to San Lorenzo, the coastal town. Again, from Ibarra, one can go to Tulcan (town near Colombian border), the gateway to Paramo de El Angel. There you can trek through the cloud forests of Cerro Golondrina.
When one visits Quito Ecuador during the first two weeks of September, Fiesta del Yamor invites him/her to the music, dancing, fireworks, and procession—a time for total fun and enjoyment.
- South of Quito: Along the Valley of Volcanos, visit Latacunga, where the second highest Ecuadorian mountain, Mt. Cotopaxi, is located. There you can see farms, villages, two Illinizas—north and south, and fertile valley.
Thursday market in Saquisili, Sunday market in Pujili and Zumbagua—villages in Latatunga—are very famous. Also, view a volcanic alkaline lake – Laguna Quillotoa.
One should not forget. Visit Ecuador’s most-visited national park – Parque Nacional Cotopaxi.
When one moves further south of Latatunga, visit Ambato – the ‘City of Fruits and Flowers’ and ‘Garden of Ecuador’. Fruits and flowers are grown in abundance in and around Ambato.
After Ambato, visit the tallest volcano—Chimborazo—in Ecuador. From here, go to Banos—the gateway to Amazon basin. This place attracts climbers and hikers. One can also travel to Amazon basin, and its forests.
Piscina de la Virgen is a famous joint for thermal bath in Banos. Agoyan Cascade and Ines Maria Cascade are two famous waterfalls along River Pastaza. While staying here, visit the Sanctuary of Virgen de Agua Santa and the museum.
Other places to visit and enjoy in Banos are El Altar (extinct volcano), Tungurahua volcano, and paramos (high plains).
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