Quito, Ecuador

The capital of Ecuador is Quito, located in the Andes at an elevation of 9,350 feet. The city was founded in 1534 after the Spanish conquered the Inca Empire. Nearly 300 years later, the Spaniards were defeated, leading to the freedom of Quito and then Ecuador. All of these milestone events and more are alive in the streets of Historic Centre of Quito, the first old town to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its entirety.

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1 La Plaza Grande in Quito, Ecuador

Sebastián de Belalcázar conquered the Inca’s Kingdom of Quito in 1534. The Spanish conquistador then created a new settlement nearby named San Francisco de Quito. It was given city status seven years later. Now with a population of 2.7 million people, Ecuador’s capital has become the country’s second largest metropolitan area. Despite its urban sprawl in the Guayllabamba River valley high in the Andes, the Historic Centre is one of the best preserved in Latin America. At the core is La Plaza Grande. Also called Independence Square, this is the perfect place to start your exploration of Quito.

Chile & Venezuela Streets, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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2 Historic Centre Icons from Plaza Grande in Quito, Ecuador

The Historic Centre of Quito is an 800 acre time capsule of Spanish architecture blended with European and Ecuadorian indigenous designs. Flanking the cobblestone streets are marvelous churches and monasteries, former opulent palaces, two-story houses with balconies and red-tile roofs, fascinating museums and quaint squares. The iconic landmarks range from the mid-16th century like the Cathedral of Quito to the Virgin of Quito statue erected in 1976. In 1978, Centro Histórico was the first to be named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in its entirety. El Centro is also so charming it earned the nickname “Florence of America.”

Chile & Venezuela Streets, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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3 Cathedral of Quito at Plaza Grande in Quito, Ecuador

Since 1567, the commanding visual of Ecuador’s capital city has been the Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito. This exquisite blend of Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassical and Mudéjar styles is encircled with statues of saints and angels and features three, green ceramic domes. This entrance facing Plaza de la Independencia is called the Arch of Carondelet. The single white bell tower is ornate and elegant. In 1995, this Roman Catholic church was proclaimed to be the Cathedral of Ecuador.

Chile & Venezuela Streets, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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4 Carondelet Palace at Plaza Grande in Quito, Ecuador

Baron Francisco Luis Héctor de Carondelet was a governor of the Spanish colonies of Louisiana and West Florida in the late 18th century. Then he was appointed by the Spanish Empire to be President of the Real Audiencia de Quito. During his term from 1799 until 1807, a collection of royal houses were transformed into an opulent mansion. Simón Bolívar, The Liberator of several Latin American countries, gave it the name Carondelet Palace. Located along Independence Square, the Presidential Palace has been the residence and offices of Ecuador’s leaders since the early 19th century.

Chile & Venezuela Streets, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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5 Palace of the Vice President in Quito, Ecuador

Directly behind and connected to the Carondelet Palace is the Vice President of the Republic Building. The neoclassical design by architect Augusto Ridder was finished in three sections from 1927 through 1937. They originally housed the Ecuadorian Post Office, the Ministry of Public Works and the Ministry of Government. During a significant restoration in 1996, the interior became a single unit. Although the Ministry of Government remained as a tenant, the other agencies moved out to make room for the Vice President’s residence and offices.

Calle Chile &Sebastián de Benalcázar Streets, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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6 Hotel Plaza Grande at Plaza Grande in Quito, Ecuador

This plot facing Independence Square was gifted to conquistador Francisco Pizarro after the Spanish defeated the Incas in 1534. It was then purchased by Juan Diaz de Hidalgo, the leader of the new city. He built the first house in Quito. The mansion was named House of Mayors. Numerous affluent families owned the property for the next four hundred years. During the 1930s, it was rebuilt as the Majestic Hotel with a façade resembling a Venetian palazzo. After subsequent occupants, it reopened in 2007 as the Hotel Plaza Grande. The five-star, award-winning boutique accommodations has 15 very exclusive suites and three restaurants set in opulent décor and furnishings.

Chile & Venezuela Streets, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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7 Archbishop’s Palace at Plaza Grande in Quito, Ecuador

The Spanish imposed Catholicism on the Latin American lands they conquered. So a decade after Quito was founded, Pope Paul III created the Diocese of San Francisco de Quito in 1545. The city would have a dozen bishops before this two-level, colonnade building was built along La Plaza Grande in 1700. The Archbishop’s Palace was subsequently renovated in the mid-19th century and again in the 1970s. It seems somewhat sacrilegious that Palacio Arzobispal now contains a fast food court and shops. During weekends, the whitewashed courtyard comes alive with free musical performances.

Chile & Venezuela Streets, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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8 Independence Monument at Plaza Grande in Quito, Ecuador

A military clash ensued from 1820 until 1822 between the Royal Audience of Quito, an administrative government unit, and the Spanish Empire. The Ecuadorian War of Independence ended on May, 1822, at the Battle of Pichincha on the hill overlooking the city of Quito. In honor of the Heroes de la Independecia, this obelisk was erected in the center of La Grande Plaza in 1906. The sculpture holding a torch was created by Francisco Durini Cáceres. The memorial was commissioned by Ecuadorian President Eloy Alfaro. The presence of this monument is why Plaza Grande is often called Independence Square.

Chile & Venezuela Streets, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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9 Convent and Museum of San Agustín in Quito, Ecuador

The Convent of San Agustín was built in 1650. Inside is a central courtyard surrounded by colonnades of open-air corridors. This design emulates the monasteries in Andalusia, Spain. Also inside is a museum showcasing over two dozen works by Miguel de Santiago. He was a famous 17th century Quito painter of religious art. He also sought asylum in this convent after a domestic dispute with his wife. On top of the 141 foot bell tower is a statue of Saint Augustine. The Christian theologian lived from 354 until 430. On the left is the entrance to the Church of San Agustín. The stone cross dates from the 17th century.

Chile y Guayaquil, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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10 Santo Domingo Church and Convent in Quito, Ecuador

Dominicans commissioned architect Francisco Becerra to design the Church of Santo Domingo. The Roman Catholic church was finished in 1581. The convent was added during the 17th century. The former cloister now houses a museum of religious art. In the center of Plaza de Santo Domingo is this monument to Antonio José de Sucre. While a general in the Spanish American Wars of Independence, Sucre’s army defeated the Spanish in the Battle of Pichincha in 1822. The victory secured the freedom of Quito from Spanish rule.

Plaza de Santo Domingo, Guayaquil, Quito 170130, Ecuador
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11 History of La Ronda in Quito, Ecuador

From Plaza de Santo Domingo, walk down this hill on Calle Guayaquil to La Ronda. The neighborhood has an interesting history. Prior to early 16th century, this was a trail used by the Incas to fetch water from the Jatuna stream at the base of the mountain. After the Spaniards arrived, the early colonists created farms and built houses along the gully. Within fifty years, they began calling it La Ronda meaning “ring road” because their alley ran parallel to the outskirts of Quito. Their homes were built in rows with common side walls and resembled the style found in Andalusia, Spain. By the late 19th century, La Ronda morphed into a haven for bohemians such as artists, activists and others on the social fringes. Within the next 100 years, it digressed into a slum for criminals and the homeless. In 2006, the city began revitalizing La Ronda. Although the transition is ongoing, results to date are inviting.

Plaza de Santo Domingo, Guayaquil, Quito 170130, Ecuador
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12 Attractions of La Ronda in Quito, Ecuador

La Ronda has evolved into a charming place to visit for tourists and locals. Flanking the narrow, cobblestone street are colorful and restored colonial houses. Inside are artisan shops and galleries plus restaurants ranging from inexpensive Ecuadorian specialties to expensive fine cuisine. Many serve their meals in open-air courtyards. Street performers are common. At night, the taverns and dance clubs offer a variety of live music. Your map may list this street as Calle Morales. It was given this name in 1880 to honor Juan de Dios Morales. He was a leader of the Revolution on August 10, 1809, against Spain. When the coup failed, Morales and others were imprisoned and then murdered.

Calle de la Ronda & Calle Guayaquil, Quito 170130, Ecuador
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13 Casa de las Artes La Ronda in Quito, Ecuador

Casa de las Artes La Ronda is an art museum and gallery. Within nine rooms are eclectic displays featuring a spectrum of dissociated items from comic books to dioramas showing life scenes of early Quitonians. The House of Arts also exhibits art produced during their student and adult workshops. The gallery occupies part of the former San Juan de Dios Hospital built during the 16th century. Admission to Casa de las Artes La Ronda is free.

Casa De Las Artes, 999 La Ronda, Quito 170130, Ecuador
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14 Museo del Carmen Alto in Quito, Ecuador

In the mid-17th century, Carmelite sisters took up residency in the Monastery of San Josè. This was built on the foundation of the former home of Mariana of Jesús de Paredes, the patron saint of Ecuador. Her family donated the property to the Discalced Carmelites after her death in 1645. Now called the Museo del Carmen Alto, the building remains an active convent for nuns. It also offers a museum of religious art plus exhibits chronicling the life of Mariana de Jesús. The museum is affiliated with Museo de la Ciudad (City Museum).

Sebastián de Benalcázar y Garcia Moreno, Quito 170130, Ecuador
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15 Former Agricultural and Industrial Credit Building in Quito, Ecuador

The Art Nouveau design of this structure is a visual surprise and delight in the heart of Quito’s Historic Centre. It was built for Banco Hipotecario in 1920 and soon was renamed the Agricultural and Industrial Credit Company. Eight years later, it was acquired by the Central Banks of Ecuador. It is now the archive of the Banco Central del Ecuador.

García Moreno & Simon Bolivar, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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16 History of Plaza de San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador

Plaza de San Francisco has been a major square for hundreds of years. During the first millennium, nomadic tribes called Quitu lived in the northern Andes. They exchanged goods here in a marketplace they named Tianguez. After the Inca warrior Pachacuti conquered them in 1463, this became the epicenter for the Kingdom of Quito and the location of an Inca temple. When the Spanish captured Inca Emperor Atahualpa in 1533, his palace and military buildings around this plaza were destroyed by his loyalists to prevent their takeover by the Spaniards. To celebrate their victory, the Spanish renamed the city San Francisco de Quito. Then they built an enormous church and monastery of the same name overlooking this square. Most of that amazing history seems lost among the cobblestones. Stand among the pigeons and admire the surrounding landmarks still gracing Plaza de San Francisco.

Av. José de Sucre & Sebastian de Benalcázar, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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17 Domes of Compañía de Jesús from Plaza de San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador

The elevated position of Plaza de San Francisco provides a superb view of the two green-tiled domes of La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús. It took 160 years to construct this marvelous Roman Catholic church. The predominate Spanish Baroque design was begun by the Jesuits in 1605. The Church of the Society of Jesus was finished in 1765, two years before the Jesuits were expelled from Ecuador. Inside is the grave of Mariana de Jesús de Paredes. She was the first Ecuadorian to be canonized and the patron saint of the country. In the center is the white bell tower of the Cathedral of Quito at Plaza Grande.

Av. José de Sucre & Sebastian de Benalcázar, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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18 Gangotena Palace at Plaza de San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador

During the colonial period, lavish Spanish residences encircled Plaza de San Francisco. The most famous one anchors the southeast corner: Gangotena Palace. The original mansion was built in 1600 and was called Casa de San Miguel. It was purchased by the Gangotena family in 1840 and passed on for generations until 2007. Although it was destroyed by fire in 1914, it rose from the ashes within a decade more opulent than before. In 2010, the property became the Casa Gangotena Boutique Hotel. Inside, the lavish décor displays Art Deco features and furnishings throughout the common areas and the suites. The luxury hotel is rated five stars and is often ranked among the best in Ecuador.

Av. José de Sucre & Sebastian de Benalcázar, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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19 San Francisco Church and Monastery at Plaza de San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador

Shortly after the Spanish conquered the Incas, Franciscan friars began converting the indigenous people to Catholicism and building a massive church and monastery. Initial construction of Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco lasted 150 years and ended in 1680. The 8.7 acre complex continued to evolve into 13 cloisters and three churches. Inside are over 3,500 pieces of religious art. Among the interesting nuances are frequent images of the sun. These were created to help the Incas transition from worshiping their sun god to Christianity. Guided tours of Museo Franciscano and the monastery are fascinating. The Baroque complex with twin bell towers defines the western perimeter of Plaza de San Francisco.

Av. José de Sucre & Sebastian de Benalcázar, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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20 La Merced Church in Quito, Ecuador

The Order of the Blessed Virgin of Mercy was founded in Barcelona in 1218. As the Spanish began conquering and colonizing the Americas during the 16th century, the Order of Mercedarians followed close behind to establish monasteries. In fact, they were often on the ships of the Spanish conquistadors. The Mercedarian friars built their first church in Quito in 1538. After an earthquake in 1660, La Merced church was rebuilt in 1747. At the summit of the white clock tower is a tiled dome and cupula. On the gilded altar designed by Bernardo de Legarda is a statute of Our Lady of Mercy carved from stone in 1751. The religious icon is said to be the protector of Quito from earthquakes. The church also has a museum of religious artifacts. Entrance is free.

La Merced, Calle Chile, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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21 Palacio del Antiguo Círculo Militar in Quito, Ecuador

Palacio del Antiguo Círculo Militar is an architectural standout in a neighborhood consisting of colonial homes. The bold stone façade features columns with composite order capitals and garland motifs. Perched on top is a sculpture of an Andean condor similar to the one on Ecuador’s coat of arms. The edifice appears much older than its 1936 completion date. Military Circle is the former Ecuadorian Army officers’ club. The facility now serves as a museum and venue for social events.

Venezuela Entre Mejía y, José Joaquín Olmedo, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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22 Convent of El Carmen Bajo in Quito, Ecuador

Carmelite nuns founded a monastery near Quito in 1669 then moved to the capital city at the start of the 18th century. This Convent of El Carmen Bajo was built in 1706 and the attached church in 1745. In the center is an elegant wooden door with carvings blending indigenous and Moorish designs. This is where military hero Antonio José de Sucre was secretly buried after his assassination in 1830. When his body was discovered 70 years later, it was reinterred in the Cathedral of Quito.

Venezuela Y Olmedo, Quito 170101, Ecuador
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23 Sucre National Theater at Plaza del Teatro in Quito, Ecuador

This handsome Neoclassical structure with Greek muses in the pediment is the Sucre National Theater. Ecuador’s largest theatre opened in 1886. The performing arts venue is popular for its schedule of plays, concerts and dances. The culture center is also home to the National Symphonic Orchestra. Quito’s oldest theater is named after Antonio José de Sucre. He won the Battle of Pichincha and liberated Quito from the Spanish in 1822.

Plaza del Teatro, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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24 Teatro Variedades at Plaza del Teatro in Quito, Ecuador

Teatro Variedades was a silent film house when it debuted in 1914. It continued showing movies until closing in 1994. After an extensive renovation, it reopened in 2007. As the name Variety Theater suggests, the intimate stage hosts an array of performances including films, plays, operettas, concerts and comedy. An alternative name is the Teatro Ernesto Albán. This honor’s Ecuador’s first movie actor. The theater’s pastel blue, Art Nouveau façade by architect Giacomo Radiconcini is a perfect complement to its neighbor, the Sucre National Theater. Both are managed by the same foundation and located at Plaza del Teatro.

Plaza del Teatro, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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25 Ernesto Albán Statue at Plaza del Teatro in Quito, Ecuador

Near the center of Plaza del Teatro is this bronze tribute to Ernesto Albán. He endeared himself to Ecuadorians as a movie and vaudeville actor. This statue portrays him as Don Evaristo, his most famous comedic role similar to Charlie Chaplin. Ernesto Albán had the wonderful talent to make people laugh as a middle class dreamer during a period of economic, social and political turmoil in the mid-20th century.

Plaza del Teatro, Quito 170401, Ecuador
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26 Camilo Egas Museum in Quito, Ecuador

Inside of this 18th century colonial home is a museum dedicated to the art of Camilo Egas. He was born in Quito in 1889 and studied painting in Madrid and Paris. During the 1920s, he founded the Indigenist Movement in Ecuador by portraying indigenous people in a realistic fashion on large-scale canvases. His style evolved several times before his death in 1962. Toward the end of his career, Camilo Egas favored abstract expressionism.

Calle Venezuela, N9 02, Quito, Ecuador
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27 Spire of Basilica of the National Vow in Quito, Ecuador

High on a hill overlooking the Historic Centre of Quito is Basílica del Voto Nacional. This Roman Catholic basilica is exquisite inside and out. The design was influenced by Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The front façade is crowned by twin clock towers. With a length of 460 feet, the Basilica of the National Vow is the biggest Neo-Gothic church in the Americas. This architectural treasure of Ecuador was designed by French architect Emilio Tarlier and finished in 1924. Although local legend suggests it will never be finished because, if it is, the event will mark the end of the country’s freedom. The name stems from Ecuador’s national consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1874.

Carchi & Venezuela, San Juan, Quito 170130, Ecuador
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28 Tower of Condors at Basilica of the National Vow in Quito, Ecuador

The Tower of Condors on the Basilica of the National Vow stands an impressive 377 feet. Yet the basilica’s elevated position makes this steeple appear considerably taller. Near the top are statues of condors, the national bird of Ecuador. A popular activity among tourists is to climb the stone steps of this spire supported by flying buttresses and positioned above the nave. Depending on your susceptibility to vertigo, you can enjoy the lookout from two platforms or proceed to the top for a panoramic view of the city.

Carchi & Venezuela, San Juan, Quito 170130, Ecuador
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29 Grotesques on Basilica of the National Vow in Quito, Ecuador

Many Gothic cathedrals, especially those from the Middle Ages, display mythical often ghoulish figures as drain spouts called gargoyles. The builders of the Basilica of the National Vow took a delightful twist to this architectural tradition. These decorative statues – called either grotesques or chimeras – feature animals endemic to Ecuador. Among the collection are iguanas, armadillos, alligators, blue-footed boobies, dolphins, pumas and Galápagos giant tortoises.

Carchi & Venezuela, San Juan, Quito 170130, Ecuador
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30 Arch at Parque El Ejido in Quito, Ecuador

This stone archway – originally the gate of Circasiana Palace – is the entrance to Parque El Ejido. This large greenspace is tree-lined, accented with over a 1,000 native plants and very popular among the residents of Quito. Children enjoy the playground. The physically fit appreciate the space to exercise. Couples like the tranquil setting. Elderly neighbors catch up on gossip while sitting on benches. Visiting El Ejido Park is a great way to experience the social and cultural life of the city away from the major tourist sites.

Parque El Ejido, Avenida Patria, Quito 170136, Ecuador
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31 Artisan Market at Parque El Ejido in Quito, Ecuador

Craft and souvenir stores in the Historic Centre of Quito are plentiful. However, they tend to be expensive and their products are not always authentic. If you are looking for a genuine Ecuadorian memento of your trip, then head to Parque El Ejido on weekends. Indigenous artisans proudly display their merchandise ranging from clothes, jewelry and art. Also bring your haggling skills if you want the best price.

Parque El Ejido, Avenida Patria, Quito 170136, Ecuador
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32 La Circasiana Palace in Quito, Ecuador

During the early 20th century, many of Quito’s social elite built lavish mansions in La Mariscal district. The Palace of Circasiana is one of the most opulent examples of this era. The 33,300 square foot, Neo-Renaissance estate was designed by Francisco Schmidt to emulate an Italian villa. This was the residence of the Jijón family from 1904 until it was sold in 1992. The landmark is occupied by the National Institute of Cultural Heritage. INPC is a government agency charged with researching and preserving the cultural history of Ecuador.

Av. Cristobal Colon & Av. 10 de Agusto, Quito 170129, Ecuador
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33 Ruins of Spanish Fort on El Panecillo in Quito, Ecuador

Defining the southeastern border of Historic Quito is a 9,895 foot mount. The Incas called it Shungoloma. After the fall of their empire in 1533, the Spaniards renamed it El Panecillo because it resembles a small loaf of bread. The conquerors quickly recognized the strategic value of this elevation. They built a fort with cannons pointing in every direction. In 1812, this Spanish defense was stormed and seized by rebels during the Ecuadorian War of Independence. The success was short lived. Within weeks, the Spanish recaptured the hill and resumed control over the city. A clash a decade later had a different outcome. During the Battle of Pichincha in 1822, the patriots defeated the Spanish and won Quito’s freedom. These are the sparse ruins of the former Spanish fort.

Agoyán y Rio Verde, El Panecillo, Quito 170111, Ecuador
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34 Virgin of Quito on El Panecillo in Quito, Ecuador

The centerpiece of El Panecillo is the 148 foot Virgin of Quito. The winged Madonna is standing on a chained serpent representing the devil as it tries to dominate the earth. Her halo (diadem) consists of 12 stars. The seven thousand pieces of aluminum can be seen glistening in the sun from most points in the Historic Centre of Quito. This work by Agustín de la Herrán Matorras was erected in 1976. Virgen del Panecillo is a facsimile of the religious icon on the alar of El San Francisco Church. That wooden sculpture was created by Bernardo de Legarda in 1734. This imagery depicts the Woman of the Apocalypse as described in the Book of Revelation, the last section of the New Testament.

Virgen del Panecillo, El Panecillo, Quito 170111, Ecuador
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35 View of Snow-capped Cayambe on El Panecillo in Quito, Ecuador

Quito is encircled by eight volcanoes. Although most are dormant, Guagua Pichincha and Reventador remain active. The city is also plagued by occasional seismic activity. The most impressive sight from El Panecillo is Cayambe. Despite its 43 mile distance from Quito, its nearly 19,000 foot summit soars above the horizon on a clear day. The compound volcano last erupted in 1786. Cayambe is the only place directly on the equator that is permanently covered with snow and glaciers.

El Panecillo, Quito 170111, Ecuador
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36 Flying Kites on El Panecillo in Quito, Ecuador

El Panecillo is one of the most visited sites in Quito. Tourists flock here for a close up of the Virgin of Quito and for the panoramic views of the city. Many then become fascinated as their guide describes the hill’s historic importance. But the local children are oblivious to all of that. They are attracted to the open space and high winds so they can race along and laugh while flying kites.

El Panecillo, Quito 170111, Ecuador
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37 Elevated View of San Diego Cemetery from El Panecillo in Quito, Ecuador

As you begin your descent down El Panecillo, take a moment to admire the colorful homes clinging to the hill in the San Diego neighborhood. At the summit of the La Libertad parish is a military museum often called Mount Liberty. La Cima de la Libertad is dedicated to the Battle of Pichincha and has a tomb of the unknown soldier. In the foreground is the San Diego Cemetery, the next stop on your tour of Quito.

El Panecillo, Quito 170111, Ecuador
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38 Former Spanish Jail on El Panecillo in Quito, Ecuador

Another remnant of the Spanish occupation on El Panecillo is this octagonal structure. It was originally a jail and is now abandoned. There is little else to see on the mountain dating back to the Spanish occupation. Yet this historic location will always be celebrated for the bravery of General Antonio José de Sucre and his nearly 3,000 soldiers. They confronted the Spanish in a bloody assault on May 24, 1822 and secured their surrender the following day. This victory also led to the capitulation of Guayaquil a few weeks later. Both freed cities then became part of the Republic of Columbia.

Agoyán, El Panecillo, Quito 170111, Ecuador
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39 Cemetery of San Diego in Quito, Ecuador

The suggestion of visiting a graveyard during your vacation might seem preposterous. Yet Latin America has several famous necropoleis such as La Recoleta in Buenos Aires. The Cemetery of San Diego ranks among the best. Since it was established in 1872, it has become the final resting place of Quito’s famous residents including five former presidents of Ecuador. The elaborate mausoleums display an array of architectural styles created by the city’s best architects and sculptors.

San Diego Cemetery, Gral Alberto Enriquez, Quito 170111, Ecuador
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40 History of San Diego Church and Monastery in Quito, Ecuador

Quito has many magnificent churches. Often overlooked is a small recoleta (retreat) for Franciscan friars adjacent to San Diego Cemetery. The religious complex was founded in 1599 by Brother Bartolomè Rubio. The San Diego Church was constructed within four years and the convent was finished in 1625. They were partially destroyed during an 1868 earthquake and rebuilt consistent with the original 17th century design. Inside is religious art by masters of the Quito School. These 17th and 18th century artists were exceptional at realistically portraying religious figures and saints. Recently, murals have been discovered on adobe walls that had been whitewashed for centuries.

Convento-Museo De La Recoleta, Plaza de San Diego, Quito 170111, Ecuador
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41 Chapel Altar of San Diego Church and Monastery in Quito, Ecuador

Touring the San Diego Church and Monastery feels like you have entered the inner sanctuary of a 17th century monastery devoted to simplicity and prayer. Each room on the first floor, such as the kitchen and bakery, are devoid of all but the basics. On the second floor, the friar’s cells feature a bedframe without a mattress and a place to pray but little else. This starkness accentuates the beauty of this chapel. The gilded retable was a gift of Pope Pius IX in the mid-19th century. Behind a small door next to the altar is a crypt filled with human remains. On the right is the Virgin of Chichinquirá Pulpit.

Convento-Museo De La Recoleta, Plaza de San Diego, Quito 170111, Ecuador
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42 Middle of the World in Quito, Ecuador

Colonial Spaniards were the first to call this region El Ecuador meaning “the equator.” In fact, the country’s name – República del Ecuador – in English is the Republic of the Equator. The location of the equator was measured and marked in 1936 about 16 miles from Quito. In 1982, the 98 foot Middle of the World monument was erected to commemorate the spot. Inside is a museum with exhibits about indigenous people. Tourists enjoy visiting the park so they can straddle a yellow line showing the division between the northern and southern hemispheres. Unfortunately, sophisticated GPS instruments revealed the position of Ciudad Mitad del Mundo is incorrect. The real location where the latitude is 0° 0’ 00” is about 787 feet to the north.

Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, Manuel Cordova Galarza, Quito, Ecuador
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43 UNASUR Headquarters in Quito, Ecuador

Adjacent to Ciudad Mitad del Mundo is a glass, cantilever building featuring abstract cubes. This is the headquarters of UNASUR. The Union of South American Nations was formed in 2008. The mission is for a dozen heads of state of South American countries to meet, discuss and form an integrated consensus on major issues affecting the region. The organization’s model was patterned after the European Union.

Sede de la UNASUR, Francisco de la Pita, Quito, Ecuador
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44 Intiñan Solar Museum in Quito, Ecuador

A few blocks from the Middle of the Earth monument is the true location of the equator. Keep your smart phone handy when visiting Intiñan Solar Museum. As you stand in front of a red line painted on a wall, your GPS coordinates should read latitude 00° 00’ 00’’. For someone like me who has spent years finding the coordinates of the places I have photographed, this is an exciting experience. Your guide will then demonstrate tricks of the effects of the equator. An example is the Coriolis effect or how water flows in different directions in the southern and northern hemispheres. The museum also has huts and exhibits of indigenous people and explains their solar culture and religion.

Intiñan Solar Museum, Manuel Cordova Galarza, Quito, Ecuador
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45 Temple of the Sun Museum in Quito, Ecuador

Pachacuti was a 15th century Inca ruler who created a vast empire along the east coast of South America including today’s Ecuador. While spreading the Inca Sun Cult, Pachacuti was considered to be the son of the sun. Inti was the name of the Inca sun god. The Temple of the Sun Museum celebrates the history of these Ecuadorian ancestors. It also displays on two floors the founder’s paintings and sculptures portraying indigenous images. Locally-born Ortega Maila is considered among the best contemporary painters in the Americas.

Museo Templo del Sol, Pomasqui, Quito, Ecuador
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46 Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve in Quito, Ecuador

Imagine standing on the precipice of a massive volcano that erupted in 500 BC. After collapsing, it formed one of the most diverse ecosystems in South America with over 2,900 species of flora and fauna. The Pululahua Crater is well named. Pululahua means “cloud of water.” From the 9,300 foot high El Mirador lookout, watch as waves of fog roll over the tallest summit of 11,000 feet and across the farms below. The climate at Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve is extreme. Temperatures range from freezing to over 80°F and the area experiences hundreds of feet – not inches – of rain each year. Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve was declared as Ecuador’s first national park in 1966.

Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve, E28, Calacalí, Quito, Ecuador
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