Walking Tour of Quito, Ecuador
Quito, Ecuador, is the second highest capital city in the world at 9,200 feet (almost 3100 meters). Its historic Old City, which dates to 1534, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains excellent examples of fine colonial architecture amid its steep, cobblestone streets.
Several of the buildings which are noteworthy include the Iglesia de la Compania, the most beautiful church in the city, with its gold-plated High Altar, the Basilica del Voto Nacional, a neo-Gothic church whose gargoyles are animals from the jungles around the city, and the Iglesia de San Francisco with its gilded and painted wood.
My walk begins on the Plaza de la Independencia (also known as Plaza Grande). My suggestion is to begin your exploration of Quito with a taxi ride to El Panecillo, a hill to the south with incredible views of the city and its environs. Atop the rounded hill is the Virgin Monument (La Virgin de Quito), a statue of Mary, mother of Jesus, who is the city’s protectress. The statue itself is a large reproduction of one that is housed in the Saint Francis Church (see below). Note: there are also stairs to El Panecillo, but it is much safer to go by taxi.
When you return to the plaza, it’s time to investigate the area. On the west side of the square is the Government Palace, a beautiful building of Spanish-Moorish design. To the south is the Cathedral, which contains the tomb of Ecuador’s liberator, Antonio Jose de Sucre. Notice, in particular, the sculpture behind the choirs and the detailed work in the Chapel of St Ann. Next to the Cathedral is another splendid church, Iglesia Parroquial del Segrario.
On the eastern side of the square is the fairly non-descript City Hall, and to the north is the former Archbishop’s Palace, which, today, houses a crafts market.
Now, leave the plaza by walking northeast on Calle Venezuela, for about ½ mile, to visit La Basilica del Voto Nacional, an unfinished church, designed to resemble Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Climb the towers (or take the elevator) for wonderful views of the Old City. Also note the unusual gargoyles, depicting local fauna.
Next, retrace your steps on Venezuela and turn left on Calle Manabi to check out the National Theater, recently restored. From the theater, walk south on Calle Flores to the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, at the corner of Calle V Rocafuerte.
After your visit, backtrack to Calle Simon Bolivar and turn left. A few blocks ahead is Iglesia de San Francisco, thought to be the first church built in the Americas (1536 AD). The gilded interior is a must-see, as is the original sculpture, Virgin of the Apocalypse of the Immaculate Conception, duplicated on El Panecillo.
Now, head north (left) on Calle Cuenca to find another fantastic church, Iglesia de la Merced. Nearby is the Museum of Colonial Art.
Next, walk east on Calle Mejia and then turn right on Calle Sebastian Benalcazar, and then left on Calle Sucre. Ahead, on your left, is the most stunning of Quito’s many churches, La Compania de Jesus, a masterpiece of Baroque splendor. Notice the intricate plasterwork and the enormous amount of gold in the interior.
Further east, on the right, is La Casa de Sucre, former residence of the city’s liberator. It has been restored to its 19th century appearance.
Now walk north (left) on Calle Venezuela to return to Plaza Grande, where your walk began.