The last day in Quito I walked past the Ministry of Culture and I saw that there were some events going on there and they were advertising for “Dia Nacional de Cultura 9 Agosto”. I went inside and had a look at an art exhibition. On the second floor there were also some artisans working and demonstrating their job. Just round the corner of the building there is a small square, Plaza de las Culturas, and there bands were playing rock music. There was also going to be dance performances and theatre somewhere in the city that day.
I had a look on Internet to see if the 9th of August always is a National day of Culture, and I saw that it had been celebrated that day both in 2011 and 2012. However, I don’t know if it will be so the coming years.
Ministerio de Cultura is situated on Av Colón E5-34 and Juan León Mera
The Inti Raymi festival is a festival celebrating the summer solstice and harvest. It is especially celebrated in the northern highlands and I had hoped to see some celebrations while I visited Quito in June 2012.
I had read in one of the newspapers that there was going to be Inti Raymi celebrations on Plaza San Francisco on Sunday 24th of June. At the tourist office they didn’t know anything about this, but I went there anyway. When I came to the square there were no signs of any activities. I asked at Tianguez if they knew anything about it but they didn’t, so I ordered a coffee at Tianguez and sat down, overlooking the square to see if any dancers would arrive, and yes, after a while they did.
Lots of dancers in colourful clothes arrived and they gathered below a stage in one end of the square. There they were dancing to traditional music while some ceremonies were taking place in the middle. Lots of people also came to watch.
If you are in Quito from June 21 and some days after, and you get the chance to see the Inti Raymi celebrations it is absolutely worth spending time watching.
At several squares in Quito, both when I visited in 2011 and in 2012, there were exhibitions with large photos of people and places in Ecuador, which were nice to stop and have a look at.
Along Avenida Naciones Unidas there was also an exhibition with different sculptures.
When I visited Quito the previous year I had seen a spectacular performance of traditional dances on Plaza Grande one evening, so when returning to Quito I went to the Tourist Office to ask if there was going to be anything similar on the square this year. They said no, but told me that now there is a performance of traditional dances in the Archbishop’s Palace every Saturday evening, so I went there.
The dances were performed by Ballet Samay in a courtyard of Archbishop’s Palace. I took a seat on the stairs already at 18.40 because the dances were supposed to start at 19, but unfortunately they were half an hour late. A woman walked around to sell tickets and they were $1 (June 2012). The dances were nice to see but could not be compared to what I had seen on Plaza Grande the previous year.
When I visited Quito in June, July and August there was a lot of events and live music was played in many squares around the city, both traditional music and rock. It was a very nice feature of the street life. And when walking around in Centro Histórico there are several street musicians playing for money.
Canelazo is a warming traditional drink for the chilly Quito evenings. The traditional recipe is made by boiling water with cinnamon and sugar, which is then mixed with a local sugar cane alcohol called punta or aguardiente. Often fruit juice (typically naranjilla) and cloves are added. Among the best places to get it in Quito are the small local bars on La Ronda. We went into one on a cool night, after dinner, so I could try it. It’s not something I would like to drink a lot of, being a little sweet for my taste, but it is perfect for that climate and I really enjoyed the glass I had. If you like English mulled wine or German Glühwein you will probably like canelazo.
My large glass in this little local bar cost just $1. You will probably pay more if you buy it in a more upmarket tourist-focused place, but really this was the perfect spot in which to try it. Be warned though – it may be sweet but it is alcoholic, and too much can make you very tipsy indeed!
Next tip: one of La Ronda’s restaurants, La Primera Casa
I returned with 4 "golden dollars" the sacajawea dollar coin widely used in Ecuador. I had read that you couldn't use them in the US. I know with certainty that they are legal tender in the US. They are in circulation in the US and were minted in the US to replace the Susan B Anthony dollar coin. They aren't popular in the US but can be easily exchanged for paper dollars if you want.
One Saturday night, after dinner, I saw there was a lot of people on Plaza Grande. Someone told me there was going to be a performance below the cathedral so I also went there to have a look. There were several dance groups performing folkloric dances from the highlands. It was really nice to see, and I stayed for an hour. You can see a short video of the traditional dances here.
It was a Saturday night and I don’t know if they have these performances on Plaza Grande often at weekends or if it was because it was the 25th of June, and it had something to do with the festivals celebrated on the 24th and 29th of June.
One morning in Quito I walked up to Plaza Grande to buy a newspaper and then noticed that something was going on. There were a lot of guards there and people were waiting for something, so I stayed too. Soon the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, came walking with a group of other people (photo 2). They were on their way to some standards standing below the column on Plaza Grande.
It turned out to be Quito’s Independence Day. It is celebrated the 10th of August, because that day, in 1809, a rebel group led by Juan Pío Montúfar took power over Quito and installed a new government. However, it lasted only for 24 days before they were overthrown by the royalist army. After that it took many years until Quito, and Ecuador, was liberated, but what happened on the 10th of August 1809 marks the start of the struggle for freedom.
As Quito’s Independence Day occurred on a Wednesday 2011 the Public Holiday was moved to the coming Friday, making the weekend longer.
It seems that one of the expressions of total rift between traditional practices of indigenous people and European based practices of the Ecuadorian government are not only the uniforms. The Andes have been populated for thousands of years and the inhabitants have found out the positive properties of the coca plant and have used it accordingly from time immemorial. In the 16th century the Spaniards came to the scene and declared it illegal because it seemed to be pagan activity promoted by the Satan itself, but quickly realized that this hit their profits from slave labour and they gave up the ban. Contemporary Ecuadorian government, in the best tradition of its despised predecessor, has forbidden the use of the plant. Unlike Bolivia or Peru where it is available freely in markets, here it is declared illegal and taken off the stalls. This is even more bizarre considering that the Sheraton hotel offers coca tea professionally packaged in Peru. Maybe in the eyes of the authorities it is a fake product or the old market saleswomen are uncontrollable bunch that has to be eliminated as competition. None of these options seems plausible or effective. The fact is that as a result a visitor may be accosted by a disguised peddler and offered the “real” stuff but for more than real price. Anyway, consider yourself lucky if this happens to you in case you have intentions on conquering Pichincha or other high points in the vicinity of Quito.
Ecuador is trying to build its image as a destination for eco-tourism and, while continued violence and border disputes in the prime locations for such attractions limits the country's appeal to foreigns, there is really no lack of natural beauty to admire. In fact, the country's flora and fauna is of great interest to many travelers, but those who stay in Quito may have a bit of trouble seeing much of it. I really only had the opportunity to see some of the country's native birds at the San Francisco Monastery, where the monks keep a few tamed ones in their patio garden. Although they were small birds, there was, among them, a parrot.
I didn't want to put this tip in the Dangers/Warnings section, since street children are rarely dangerous in Quito, and the most problems you might have with them is that they will bother you for a bit with chiclets or other trinkets that they are trying to sell. For the most part, there is not a culture of harassing tourists in Quito, which makes it a welcome change from many other Latin American cities. Nevertheless, there are plenty of children who live/work on the streets and do not attend school, a phenomenon that the government is working hard to eradicate. These children are most often of indigenous background and earn their living selling thing in the street (sometimes in traffic) or shining shoes.
I went to visit the Quito Central Market, and found these women selling beautiful flowers on the second floor. Ecuador is one of the world's largest exporters of flowers, and many of the roses sold in the United States are, in fact, flown in from Ecuador.
I’ve probably written several thousand words about the architecture of the city of Quito, but I don’t really think that there’s anything wrong with expounding a bit more on the treasure that is one of the world’s first cities to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Modern architecture in Quito really doesn’t compare to the city’s Colonial heritage, and it is undoubtedly the old city where people spend the greatest amount of time taking pictures and gawking at the spectacular buildings. Apart from the plethora of Baroque and Moorish-influenced churches, Quito is packed with structures that look like they were plucked out of a small Andalucian town and dropped into this valley by hazard. The colourful stucco walls, the red-tiled roofs and the slight Moorish influence help to preserve the impression of just how strongly the Spanish imprint on this country was cast. Some buildings do also feature the grills that are typical of Pensisular houses, although they aren’t quite as common as in other countries in the Americas. Luckily, the municipal and national authorities take the preservation of this city quite seriously, and it is rather uncommon to find a building or two (at least in the historic centre) that is in a bad state of repair.
Ecuadorians are an expressive people, and their love of plastic arts is a tribute to this welcoming attribute. On weekends, artists from around the capital will come to El Ejido to display their works, some of which are copies of more famous paintings, while others are original designs. Quito’s artistic scene was heavily dependent on Spanish and Flemish masters until the late 18th century, when a local school began to develop, with heavy emphasis on bloody and gory religious depictions designed to reinforce conversion among the native population. As the country distanced itself from Spain, American and French influences grew, and in the 20th century the country was not immune to the various trends sweeping Latin America, including cubism and abstract art. Today, a large part of the naïve art on display is influenced by indigenous scenes and patterns, often targeting tourists and visitors wishing to take back a typical piece of the country by which to remember their stay.