Exploring Ecuador’s Capital-Why Quito left me Breathless

Walking past grafitti covered walls coughing on fumes from rush hour traffic I pass a woman pushing a cart of lychees down the narrow sidewalk. She’s wearing a brightly colored skirt with a shawl draped around her shoulders and bowler hat, typical of the indigenous Andean culture. I, standing at 5’5, tower over her and many here. No matter which way I go, I always seem to be walking up.

This is Quito.

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Standing in a cathedral that’s been welcoming the faithful since the 16th century, I am aware of nothing but the quiet reverence of a place of worship and the striking beauty of one of the most vividly colored alters I’ve seen.

This too is Quito.

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At an elevation of 9,350 feet above sea level Quito is the highest capital city in the world. Located in a long, narrow valley on the slopes of the Pinchicha Volcano it seems like every direction you go is up. My sea level adapted heart pumped a bit harder as I walked through Quito’s historic Old Town, one of the best preserved colonial areas in all of South America and was the very first city to be designated as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
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As I only had a short amount of time in Quito before heading out to explore the Ecuadorian cloud forest and Andean Highlands I had a whirlwind day starting in colonial Old Town. Plaza de la Independencia, more commonly known as Plaza Grande, is the beating heart of the city. Flanked by the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Municipal Palace, the Archbishop’s Palace and the Carondelet Palace the plaza is graced by a beautiful central fountain and accented with greenery and palm trees.

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Moments later I found myself climbing a narrow set of stone spiral stairs, occasionally ducking my head as I made my way toward the domes of the Metropolitan Cathedral( or simply La Catedral). As I climbed out into the sun I had an unparalleled view of the Plaza Grande. Gazing over the city it’s undeniably clear to see the significance of the Catholic Church on Quito; the 135 foot tall winged Virgin of Quito looks over the valley and the spires from the the cities many churches recall visions of Europe. Back inside I slowly take in the vibrant colors that stand in stark contrast to the Gothic and Moorish architecture reminiscent of Sevilla. Aside from serving as an active place of worship La Catedral is also the final resting place for some of Ecuador’s most notable historical figures, including Ecuadorian president Gabriel Garcia Moreno and South American independence leader Antonio Jose de Sucre.
The colorful Metropolitan Cathedral- One of the Reasons Why Quito Left me Breathless www.casualtravelist.comExploring Ecuador's Capital- Why Quito Left me Breathless www.casualtravelist.com

A short stroll past the gilded La Campañia, a 16th century Jesuit church whose interior is adorned with intricate wood carvings and gold leaf, is the pretty neighborhood of La Ronda. Quito’s answer to Brooklyn (without the pretense), the colorful streets are home to independent artisans committed to preserving Quito’s traditions. It was here that I met skilled woodworkers making furniture as beautiful as they are functional, metal smiths creating intricately designed jewelry and medallions and tasted small batch ice cream featuring the exotic flavors of Ecuador. It was also in La Ronda that I learned just how much skill to takes to meticulously craft the effigies of the Virgin Mary that are ubiquitous throughout Quito and Ecuador. Detailed sculptures are first carved from wood before being intricately enameled then adorned with metal;usually tin,sometimes gold.

The picturesque La Ronda Neighborhood- One of the Reasons Why Quito Left me Breathless www.casualtravelist.comThe Artisans of La Ronda- One of the Reasons Why Quito Left me Breathless www.casualtravelist.com

A quick dash to the trendy La Mariscal neighborhood brought me to Achiote Ecuador Cuisine, a family-run restaurant that highlights the flavors of Ecuador. I was famished after my morning’s explorations but I’d have to work for my meal first. I donned an apron and headed back to the kitchen with my new friends Chef Lucy de Groner and her son Felipe whose passion for Ecuadorian cuisine soon became evident. I soon had my hands on some potatoes which I mashed and combined with cheese, garlic, onions and a bit of achiote for color; I then formed little potato cakes known as llapingachos that were grilled and served alongside a simple made-from-scratch guacamole. Felipe then demonstrated the signature dish of Ecuador’s coast, ceviche. Lightly poached shrimp and whitefish received the star treatment when paired with a spicy-sweet and all too addictive passionfruit sauce.Chef Lucy de Groner and her son Felipe of Achiote Ecuador Cuisine- One of the Reasons Why Quito Left me Breathless www.casualtravelist.comCeviche with passionfruit sauce at Achiote Ecuadorian Cuisine- One of the Reasons Why Quito Left me Breathless www.casualtravelist.com

What will stay with me the most of my quick visit to Quito is the people. The truly gracious hospitality of my innkeeper who’s parting words to me were ” You are part of our family now, this is your home in Quito”, the enthusiasm that Lucy and Felipe of Achiote had when sharing with me the flavors of Ecuador, the dedication to tradition of the artisans of La Ronda, and watching Quiteño families walk with arms linked and hand in hand. More than anything the people are what make Quito.Exploring Ecuador's Capital-Why Quito Left me Breathless www.casualtravelist.comExploring Ecuador's Capital-Why Quito Left me Breathless www.casualtravelist.com

My tour of Quito was graciously arranged by Quito Turismo, but as always all opinions remain my own.

34 Comments on “Exploring Ecuador’s Capital-Why Quito left me Breathless

  1. I have never been to Quito, but I would love to go. It seems like you had a really great experience walking those old colonial streets, meeting the friendly locals, seeing them make art, and cooking some authentic food. Yum! Your article definitely inspires me to head there!

    • I had just an amazing time in Quito, I can’t wait to go back!

  2. You certainly packed a lot into your whirlwind trip and gave a real flavour of Quito. It sounds like a great city to visit, a terrific mixture of old and new, with wonderful people and great food too. I love your pictures of this visit as well.

    • Thanks Sarah, Quito is one of those cities that stays with you long after the trip.

  3. I keep hearing good things about Ecuador and Quito especially. Everyone talks about the friendly people, the culture and history and of course the amazing food. I need to visit one day. It looks like you had a great experience and got to see a lot of the city and truly had a great time.
    Bob recently posted…A Look at The First College Town in TexasMy Profile

    • I hope you get to visit sooner rather than later, Quito is so welcoming!

  4. You know what struck me most when reading this post? I don’t really cook and have never joined any cooking class during my travels but suddenly, somehow, I now feel like trying it at least once. It must be a real nice feeling when you can cook something that you’ve learnt whilst travelling.

    • Taking cooking classes are one of my favorite things to do when traveling, I can relive my trip back at home in my kitchen!

  5. What a vibrant and colorful place! I love the cobbled streets and the cute little houses – and I just love to go to cooking schools and attempting to learn something I can make again at home – I think that Ceviche would be the perfect thing!
    Vicki Louise recently posted…48 Hours In Berlin: The HighlightsMy Profile

  6. I had one of my craziest travel experiences in Quito; we were nearly robbed on our way down from visiting the Virgin of Quito and then got caught up in riots. This was the late 1990s when the country was in severe economic crisis. In fact, the whole or our Ecuadorian trip was a bit of a circus but I loved it! As you say, the people are incredible and reading your post makes me really want to go back.

    • Yikes! I’d heard of the craziness back in the 90s but thankfully you got out of that all right.

    • Pictures don’t do the cathedral justice, it was stunning!

  7. Quito looks like my kinda city! Very interesting that it’s the highest capital city in the world. Everything you highlighted encompasses what I seek out in a city while traveling. I’d really love to visit this colorful city one day. Thank you for the inspiration and putting Quito on my radar 🙂

  8. Ecudor looks like amazing place to experience festive fun with family and friends….Great things to do in Ecudor!! Thanks for sharing your Experience.
    Maggie recently posted…Royal Parks LondonMy Profile

  9. Love your descriptions and all the photos, as well! Sounds like a fantastic time–Quito looks amazing. I love the display at the front of the church–so beautiful and detailed! The cooking class looks like a great time as well. You definitely packed a lot of great things into your visit!

    • Thanks Jenna! My time in Quito was far too quick but I had an amazing time.

    • Thanks Vicky! I know you know just how wonderful Quito and Ecuador are!

    • There is so much history in Quito, I’m sure you’d love it!

  10. Quito has been high on my list of South America destinations for a while now. I love how you described it here, it made me feel like I was actually there. I’d love to have a cooking experience like you did!

    • The cooking class was the best, and now I can make delicious ceviche at home!

  11. We missed Ecuador on our quest in South America. Quito was and continues to be high on our list. Looking forward to visiting on our next South American adventure. Out of curiosity, what are the flavors of Quito – – in terms of food?
    Rosemary recently posted…How To Make The Most Of A Local FestivalMy Profile

    • I loved the food in Quito! My favorite was all the exotic fruits.

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