Quito is a magical and mystical place. Set high in a landscape of mighty volcanoes, its architectural and cultural contrasts are fascinating, with architectural styles ranging from Colonial to concrete cubes to Philippe Starck, as well as churches decorated with vast quantities of gold leaf dating back to the 16th Century.
Over the past few years, Ecuador has suffered economically as well as from natural disasters–including last year’s massive earthquake–that have deeply affected its tourism. But Quito, the main hub of tourist arrivals and departures in the country, is bouncing back. There is a renewing surge of creativity emerging in many areas of the city,–a new birth of ideas and energy. Young and talented Ecuadorian chefs are probing deep into their culture’s rich if little known gastronomic heritage; entrepreneurs are launching artisanal businesses; artists of all types are expressing themselves through colorful street art. Here’s what you need to know to plan a trip to Quito.
Casa Gangotena (above) is notable for its connection to Quito’s Colonial district. A renovated historic mansion, it is located in the lively Plaza de San Francisco where everything worth seeing in this area is within walking distance. All 31 rooms are luxurious and the service is impeccable. www.casagangotena.com
New opening Illa is set to open in September 2017. It too is in the Colonial district of Quito, but it is within the up and coming and relatively unknown neighborhood of San Marcos. With only 10 rooms, the hotel celebrates local experiences with luxurious flair. Nuema, one of Quito’s best restaurants, will be opening in the hotel. www.illaexperiencehotel.com
Le Parc is a contemporary boutique hotel that gives the traveller a sense of living locally. This hotel resembles a luxury apartment building and is situated in the northern residential part of the city, close to shopping and many of the embassies. www.leparc.com.ec
For VIP treatment, book The Hilton Colon and opt for its Executive Floor option. This newly created 17th floor lounge offers guests unlimited access to a private space with some of the best views of the city. www.hiltonhotels.com/es_XM/ecuador/hilton-colon-quito-hotel
URKO is a relatively new addition to the city’s dining scene, and committed to using Ecuadorian ingredients and the country’s native recipes. Chef Daniel Maldonado, is a young and creative visionary who brings together research, ancient ingredients and culinary rituals to make something entirely new. www.urko.rest
Octava de Corpus celebrates traditional Quiteño hospitality within a formal yet cozy ambiance in a 16th century home in the Colonial district of the city. The walls are adorned with Ecuadorian art of all different styles, and the restaurant has one of the largest and best wine cellars in the city. www.octavadecorpus.com
Food trucks are all the rage in Quito–new ones are popping up every day. But the very first food truck park in Ecuador was Platea. Located in the La Floresta neighborhood of the city, it blends together gastronomy, design, culture and entertainment in one unique space. www.facebook.com/laplateauio
Tandana is an excellent vegan restaurant, one that embraces fair trade, non-violence, and activism. Aside from serving delicious food, the proprietors are deeply committed to educating their guests about eating well and to regenerating urban spaces. The views from Tandana of a neighboring village called Guapulo are spectacular. www.facebook.com/tandana
Quito has long been receptive to foreigners introducing their native cuisines: Muckis, a German restaurant located on the outskirts of the city, is a classic, an oasis for relaxed gourmet dining. The owners grow produce on the family farm as well as a local garden located next to the restaurant. There is so much charm and delight in this place. www.muckis.com
Neighborhoods to Roam
La Floresta is bohemian and lively. It could easily be the “Brooklyn” of Quito for its tree-lined blocks full of cafés, restaurants and shops. Graffiti adorns random walls and facades of buildings. For culture, check out Ochoymedio, a movie theatre, art gallery and café. www.ochoymedio.net
Also here is the Botánica Café Jardín, which serves delicious food and offers a tranquil ambiance of abundant plants and flowers. www.facebook.com/botanica.quito
For a View
Café Mosaico is the perfect place to watch the sun set behind the spectacular Andes Mountains. The receding light illuminates an iconic view of the Colonial district of Quito, while the sky appears to be lit on fire. It’s a must see destination when you visit the city. www.cafemosaicoecuador.com
Artisanal Chocolate and Coffee
Aroma Ecuador produces local, artisanal, high quality chocolate and coffee. Visit the company’s café in Quito for a tour of the chocolate factory and to also shop for Ecuadorian crafts made by women who live in cacao production areas throughout the country. www.facebook.com/aromacafechocolate
Limited production Ecuadorian crafted beer has become a national favorite. Tres Monjes, or three monks, is one of the standouts. Manufactured at 2800 meters above sea level with malt, hops and yeast imported from Belgium, its taste is something spectacular. www.los3monjes.com
The Mitad del Mundo monument, or middle of the world, is about 16 miles out of town. Here is the place to straddle the equatorial line–with one foot in each of the two hemispheres, north and south, simultaneously. There are two museums located in the complex as well, in addition to various local exhibitions for exploration.
The Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun) is an architectural re-creation of an ancient temple, located close to the Mitad del Mundo monument. Inside the temple is a preserved and original sun dial and on the top two floors is a museum of celebrated Ecuadorian Artist Ortega Maila, known for his landscapes Templo del Sol is surrounded by a large sculpture garden full of Ortega’s works, all of which use recycled volcanic rock from the surrounding area. www.facebook.com/PintorOrtegaMaila
Mashpi Lodge delivers complete comfort in the middle of a preserved and magical Andean cloud forest. Mashpi is located just a few hours from Quito by car. It is best to stay at least two nights for the full jungle experience. This modern eco-lodge was built using the most advanced sustainable production so as to leave the most minimal footprint. There are two daily excursions into the wild to discover waterfalls, hummingbirds, a sky bike and spacious views above the canopy of trees. The delicious food is of world class quality and presentation. www.mashpilodge.com
Hacienda Cochauco is a working farm one hour southeast of Quito. It is the perfect place for a self-organized wellness retreat or to host friends and family in an idyllic pastoral setting. The property has three beautifully furnished small houses, or ‘casitas’, a cheese factory, a greenhouse with wading pool, an outdoor fireplace, and offers horseback riding and multiple trails for hiking and exploration. www.cochauco.com/thehacienda
The Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana “Benjamin Carrion” (CCE) offers a quick immersion into Ecuadorian culture, a one-stop complex of museum galleries and theatres. One of the highlights is the Jacchigua “Is Ecuador,” the country’s National Folklore Ballet, which performs a two hour extravaganza featuring traditional Ecuadorian dance and music.
About two and a half hours outside of Quito, outdoor adventure seekers will find the glorious wilderness of Tena’s Amazon rainforest. Torrent Duck Rafting & Kayak offers river expeditions for all skill levels. One of the highlights of these river tours is the delicious home made lunches the guides prepare riverside for all groups. www.torrent-duck.com