Ecuador’s capital, the highest in the world at 2,850m above sea level, is a glorious mix of natural beauty, surrounded by the lush green Andes, and architecture and history, in particular the faded colonial splendour and richly decorative churches of the Old Town.
To be honest my expectations weren’t very high before I arrived, there doesn’t tend to be much good news about Ecuador. The three year old airport, the best of the six airports I’ve used in South America, helped reset things, as did the equally new four lane highway into town, though closer to town we turned off into twisty, narrow cobbled roads, with striking views of the valleys.
Hard to avoid them, the Old Town is packed with around 30 in the space of a few blocks. I’m usually a bit churched out, having been in literally hundreds of them over the years on my various travels. However there were some exceptional ones here which stood out for different reasons.
Basilica del Voto Nacional
I was less fussed by the interior, relatively subdued compared to most in town, but did like the entertaining gargoyles on the exterior, and the views of the city from the tower, worth the rather precarious access via steep ladders.
Basilica la Merced
Nothing to look at from the outside, but the inside was my first taste of the characteristic style of many of these churches, huge golden covered set pieces, and bewitching ceilings, in abstract patterns that reminded me more of Islamic architecture.
Iglesia de San Francisco
Even more striking than the Basilica la Merced, and better maintained, with an intricate and beautiful interior, capped with a stunning blue dome above the alter.
Found purely by accident wandering around the edges of the Old Town in a semi-lost fashion, the best way to explore cities I find. It’s a huge monastery which I had pretty much to myself at 10am on a Sunday morning, with the caretaker taking me onto the colourful roof.
Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus
The most famous of Quito’s churches but unfortunately I wasn’t able to see inside due to opening hours / time constraints but did admire the impressive facade.
Casa del Alabado
The other highlight of the Old Town was this exceptional museum of Ecuadorian antiquities, filled with humour, horror and beauty.
For those who like colonial era architecture the Old Town is a treat, filled with well and less well maintained buildings. The Centro Cultural Metropolitano next to Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus was a particular treat, but though famous, Calle La Ronda was a bit of a non event.
Outside the Old Town there was more of interest, including the very yellow Casa Abierta, among others.
And a few other views of the city.