Cementerio de San Diego is situated next to Convento de San Diego, and it is the oldest cemetery in Quito. It opened up in 1872 and here you can find the tombs of some ex-presidents and other famous Ecuadorian people. There are many big mausoleums built in different styles, as well as small gravestones. One thing that I hadn’t seen before was the multistory structure with lots of tombs put on top of each other (photo 2).
If you visit Convento San Diego you can also have a look at the cemetery, at least I found it very interesting as it looks very different from cemeteries where I live. However, I didn’t want to wander too far into the cemetery as I didn’t know how safe the place is, considering that the neighbourhood below El Panecillo is not safe.
Parque Itchimbia is situated on a hill east of Centro Histórico. You can come here to enjoy the great views over Quito, or to visit the Cultural Centre, situated in a glass and metal building. It is also a great place for recreation. There is a playground, large grassy areas where people can enjoy their picnic and play and there are bicycle and walking paths around the park.
Parque Itchimbia is 54 hectares big and here around 400 varieties of flowers have been found and around 40 species of birds. There is also a hectare of wetland in the park.
After taking some photos of Quito and visiting an art exhibition in the glasshouse I took a walk around the park along one of the trails. I had my eyes open for a place to eat in, but I couldn’t find an open place. Maybe it was too early. Around the glasshouse there were other people around but when I walked along the path on the east side of the park I was only passed by one or two people on bikes. I was wondering how safe it was.
Centro Cultural Itchimbia is situated in a large building made of glass and metal in Parque Itchimbia. The building is the old Santa Clara market-building, which once stood in Centro Histórico, but since then it has been removed and rebuilt in Parque Ichimbia. The Santa Clara market-building was imported from Hamburg in 1889 and it was at that time taken from Guayaquil to Quito by mules.
Centro Cultural Ichimbia opened up on the 31st of July 2004. In the cultural centre there are art exhibitions and other cultural events. When I visited there was an exhibition of wooden sculptures by the artist Jorge Pazzo.
Admission was free. It is open 9 – 17.
Parque El Arbolito is a neighbour of Parque El Ejido, just across Avenida 6 de Diciembre. There are not as many people in Parque de Arblito as there are in Parque de Ejido as it is there you will find the food stalls during weekend and big playgrounds. But in Parque El Arbolito there are some green areas and also some sculptures. On the north side of the park is Casa de La Cultura where Museo del Banco Central is situated. There was a football stadium here until the mid- twentieth century. Construction of the park begun in 1966.
Iglesia de Santa Teresita is situated in the Mariscal district of Quito. The church has two tall towers and is built in a neo-gothic style. The church was constructed between 1938-1954. I have been inside lots of churches in Quito but not in Iglesia de Santa Teresita.
When we stood on El Panecillo, looking north, Marcello pointed out to us the Basilica del Voto Nacional, unusual in being of neo-Gothic design in predominantly Baroque Spanish colonial old Quito. And when we descended the hill it was the next place we visited.
The Basilica is the largest neo-Gothic church in all of the New World – 140 metres long and 35 metres wide; 74 metres high in the transept, and 115 metres the height of its two front towers. It took almost 100 years to build, from the laying of the first stone in 1892 until its inauguration in 1988 – although technically it is considered unfinished, as a local legend says that when the Basílica is completed, the world will end.
It dominates this part of the city, and can be seen from all over town. Growing up in northern Europe, where Gothic (both original and neo-) is a commonly seen architectural style, I was less impressed by the Basilica than I felt I was expected to be by our lovely hosts for the day, for whom this must be an unusual and impressive building. It was interesting though to see how the exterior, though European in appearance, had borrowed elements from the country’s natural wealth, with gargoyles inspired by iguanas, monkeys, armadillos, pumas and Galápagos tortoises.
Inside I was more impressed. Although the grey stone interior is plain, even sombre, when compared with the ornate Baroque of, say, La Compañia, it is lit by some marvellous stained glass windows. I especially loved the kaleidoscope-like rose windows above the north and south transepts (see photo four). Behind the main altar was another treasure – a small, much more colourful chapel dedicated to the Virgin and reserved for prayer (so no photos are allowed here, unlike the main church).
I knew from my research that it is possible to climb to the top of one of the Basilica’s tallest towers and, despite the dodgy knee that was slightly hampering my sightseeing, I would have liked to have given this a go, or at least taken the lift to the first level of the climb. But Marcello was keen to show us more of his city in the one day we had available to spend with them, so I had to be content with looking around at ground level.
Entry cost $1 (October 2012) but you need to pay extra to climb the tower.
Next tip: visiting another of Quito’s high points, El Teleferico
This was one of the things I was most keen to do while in Quito. I love the experience of travelling in cable cars, chair lifts etc. and I love to get up high and see the view! Quito’s position, surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, makes this prospect especially enticing. We hadn’t been able to fit in into our first couple of days in the city, but on the Monday, when we returned from our overnight stay at Papallacta by early afternoon, we decided that we would go. Whether it was the best day or time for the trip is debatable though, as you will read ...
El TelefériQo is a contraction of teleférico (the Spanish for cable car) and Quito. The cars ascend the city’s nearest volcano, Volcan Pichincha, to a height of 3,945 metres. At the top there are cafés and a few touristy shops, and a network of hiking trails. At the base is an amusement park, but we didn’t visit that.
We took a taxi from the old town (on Venezuela) to the cable car station, which cost $4.80 on the meter – a fair price for the journey. The driver dropped us just near the entrance to the ticket hall. By this point the weather, which had started bright, was beginning to look less promising. It is the norm during the rainy season for Quito to have bright sunny mornings and grey, often wet, afternoons, but we had been fooled a little by the exceptionally good weather of our first few days in the city, with the bright sun and blue skies lasting all day. Now we were seeing the more typical winter weather pattern and going up a mountain didn’t seem quite such a good idea as it had! However, we were here now so we decided to take a chance.
Tickets for El TelefériQo cost $8.50 for tourists. This is for the express line, for which locals pay $4.50. There is a cheaper, slower line ticket that they can buy as an alternative but tourists have to use the dearer one. Not that speed was an issue when we went, as we were the only people going up at that point!
You board the moving car with the help of an attendant who tells you where to stand in order to be able to jump on at the right moment. The journey up takes about 10 minutes and climbs 828 metres, while travelling 2,237 linear metres. As you climb you get great views of Quito below, which gradually widen as you go, so that you get a great sense of the overall shape and size of the city – its sprawling nature and its position in the deep inter-Andean valley.
We hopped off at the top (again, there is an attendant to help you if needed) to find it already spitting with rain, and only a few other people around. We walked a short distance to the nearest viewpoint and were able to get a couple of atmospheric photos before the cloud closed in completely. We went for a coffee in one of the cafés (a little snack bar right by the station) and tried to wait out the rain, but it only got worse. So after a while we gave up and went back down. It was a shame that we hadn’t seen more of the views and been able to walk around up here at least a little, but on the positive side, we had seen something, I had achieved my aim of getting up here (and had enjoyed the ride), and being on the mountain in this bleak weather was an interesting experience in its own right. I wasn’t sorry we had come :-)
The descent took only five minutes as they seemed to have speeded up the cars. When we arrived at the bottom it was still raining. A local TV crew was filming here, and we watched for a while as they stopped the cars altogether while shooting an odd scene involving a cable car and a cosy-looking armchair! When they restarted the cars, other people arrived in them – clearly all of us had decided to get off the mountain!
We weren’t sure whether we needed to walk down the hill to the main gate to find a taxi. We had earlier assumed that other people would still be arriving when we came down and we might get one of their taxis for the return journey – but in the now driving rain that seemed highly unlikely, and it was equally unlikely that any taxi driver would come up to this point on the off-chance of picking up a fare. We saw that some people set off into the amusement park but we weren’t sure where that would lead us out, so we went back to where the taxi had dropped us off, thinking to check if there might be one around and if not walk down the road he had taken (reluctantly, as we hadn’t dressed well for the rain). But just as we got there a small mini-bus arrived (see photo four) and we boarded, along with several others. Not that we knew where it was going – but it had to be closer to “civilisation” and other buses or taxis! As it turned out, it took us back to the main entrance to the complex and was a free service (which presumably we would have known had we arrived by bus rather than taxi as we would have caught it to go up the hill too). From here we were able to quickly hail a passing taxi and paid a flat fare of $4 to go back to the old town (Plaza Santo Domingo).
A few tips:
1. Bring a warmer layer than you have been wearing in the city, as (rain or not) it will be much cooler up here
2. Come in the morning if you can – unless you want to see more clouds than view, as we did!
3. Even if you are acclimatised to Quito’s 2,800 metres altitude, this is a lot higher, so don’t be surprised to feel the effects. Take it slowly if you plan to hike (you can climb the volcano itself if up to the challenge of the walk) and go back down if you develop severe symptoms. I was fine during our brief visit, but was to have a nasty headache the next day on Cotapaxi.
Next tip: another place for a view, the Parque Itchimbia
The Fundacion Guayasamin currently operate two “museums” (for want of a better word) dedicated to the work of the great Ecuadorean artist, Oswaldo Guayasamín.
Guayasamin was born in Quito in 1919, and was a contemporary and admirer of Picasso. I knew very little about him before our trip and was perhaps all the more bowled over by this place as a result. His work was heavily influenced by his perceptions of the suffering of the disadvantaged in society, inspired by his own mixed-race heritage and the oppression of the indigenous people of his country. War, famine, torture and other 20th century ills are all reflected in his creations – and yet strangely, I found his work uplifting.
Many of his pieces are currently exhibited in the Museo Guayasamín, which we didn’t visit. But a few blocks away, here at the Capilla del Hombre, exhibits and the building that contain them are one. This stark monument-cum-museum was designed by Guayasamin himself as a tribute to humankind, to the suffering of the indigenous poor and to the undying hope of man for something better. He planned to open it on the first day of the new 21st century, but died in 1999 before the work was quite completed, and in the event it did not open until November 2002. The building is intended to be a non-sectarian place of worship, a “chapel of man”, and incorporates elements of Inca and indigenous design motifs. At its heart is an eternal flame, dedicated to those who died defending human rights. Around this the works of art are arranged on three floors, descending down to the flame, with some smaller works in the main entrance area and some huge murals lower down. I was especially taken by a series of paintings of a woman’s face, and by a dramatic mural showing a bull and a condor, which we thought must represent the struggle between conquering Spain (the bull) and the indigenous people (the condor). Unfortunately, although I have read that tours are available in English and Marcello asked for one for us, we were told that they weren’t being offered that day, though a tour in Spanish was in progress during our visit.
No photos are allowed inside, so we bought a postcard of one of the “face” paintings in the small but very nice gift-shop on the middle level. This also had some good quality reproductions. Photos are allowed outside, so I took a couple of the hoarding that divided off an area where work was being carried out, as this was decorated with copies of paintings by the artist. Marcello explained that the work here would eventually allow the Foundation to move the contents of the nearby museum to this site, so that all of Guayasamin’s works in Quito could be displayed in the one place.
Also in the grounds were a number of artefacts, gifts from other Latin American countries. The one in my photo (photo three) is a stella from Copán, Honduras. Above this spot is a tree, planted by Guaysamin himself, under which he is buried; it has been named El Arbol de la Vida (The Tree of Life).
If you want to see what the inside does look like, there are a couple of photos on this Quito tourist attractions website.
Open Tuesday – Sunday, 10.00-17.00. Admission $4.
Next tip: another slightly off-path sight, the Santuria de El Guápulo
In the new part of Quito, north of Mariscal, is the huge Parque La Carolina, almost 2km long. Here you can walk along one of the many footpaths or cycle along the bicycle lanes. For someone who wants to do sports there are places for basketball, football, volleyball, tennis and skateboarding. There is also a playground for children and a pond with boats to rent. Especially during weekends the park gets busy (photo 1 is from a weekday and photo 5 from a Sunday).
Inside the park you will find the Botanical Garden, the Natural History Museum and the Vivarium (a place where you can see lots of reptiles and amphibians).
Because La Basilica del Voto Nacional stands on a hill and has towers that are 115m tall the view in all directions over Quito are stunning from the top. Of course I wanted to go up and have a look.
First I took the stairs up to a balcony over the nave of the church (there is an elevator too). Here you can have a closer look at the beautiful stained glass windows. At a platform to the south there are great views over Centro Historico and El Panecillo. There is also a telescope here. I continued up and took the wooden boardwalk over the main roof. In the end of the boardwalk there are steep steps to climb up to the north tower. After visiting the north tower I walked back to go up in one of the higher towers. First I had a look around in the souvenir shop and stopped at the café to drink a cappuccino. There is a spiral staircase and then a set of three very steep metal ladders that will take you past the clock and up to the very top of one of the towers. This last part is absolutely not for people who suffer from vertigo.
To climb the church towers there is an admission of $2 (August 20011). Also in August 2012 the admission was $2.
Construction of La Basílica del Voto Nacional begun in 1892 and it continued to be built during several decades. Even now it is considered to be unfinished. This is because a local legend says that the world will come to an end when the church is completed. However it was blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1985, and in 1988 it was inaugurated.
The basilica is built in a Neo-Gothic style and it has the tallest church towers in Ecuador, 115 metres. Around the church there are Ecuadorian styled gargoyles, they are of tortoises, iguanas, monkeys, armadillos and other animals found in Ecuador. The central nave looks rather grey with tall concrete pillars, but if you look up you will see rows of colourful stained glass windows.
The basilica is open between 9 - 17.
If you are not afraid of heights you should definitely go up in the church towers to get great views over Quito. There is an admission of $2 to do this (August 2011). Also in August 2012 the price was $2.
A nice thing to do while in Quito is to take the TelefériQo (cable car) up on the slopes of Pichincha. The telefériqo goes up to Cruz Loma at an altitude of 4050m. It is a ride that takes around 10 minutes. If it is a clear day the views are spectacular, but even if it wasn’t clear when I visited the views over Quito and the surrounding landscape were great.
At the top of the telefériqo there are a few restaurants, cafés and stores. I followed a trail and came to a place where it was a hut selling drinks and soup, where it was possible to rent a horse and where the trail up on Rucu Pichincha starts. Rucu Pichincha is 4680m high and the hike takes around 3 hours. In every guidebooks there are warnings though about that hike as there has been assaults along the path. It should be done only at weekends when there is better security. I had been sick the whole night and was still not feeling well, so even if it was Sunday the hike up on Rucu Pichincha was not for me that day (but maybe another time). On the path back to the telefériqo you will pass a small church.
Remember to bring warm cloths as you will go up on a higher altitude with the telefériqo, and it will be colder and more windy than down in Quito.
As a foreigner you should stand in the express line when buying a ticket. The express tickets are more expensive than the regular ones, but as a foreigner you always pay the express price, which was $8.50 (June 2011).
From a few places in Quito there are buses going to El Telefériqo, but as I was not feeling well that day I took a taxi. From Centro Histórico the taxi was $3.25 and going back I paid $2.05.
Uppdate Agust 2012: The price is still $8.50 for an express ticket and for foreigners.
This year I paid $2.10 for a taxi from Plaza Grande to El Teleferiqo, and $2.64 going back.
This is one of the largest but not most ornate churches in Quito. It is famous for the place where President Moreno died after being shot at the presidential palace. its also the final resting place of national hero, Mariscal Sucre.
I have been studying Spanish in Quito on a program that combines Spanish classes with visiting places of interest around the city in the afternoons with a teacher. It is run by Yanapuma Spanish School. There are any number of Spanish schools in Quito, but this is definitely a good one! Quito is a great city to explore and being with a teacher does make it a bit safer as you definitely have to watch out for petty thieves!
Iglesia de San Blas was constructed in 1568 and it is one of the oldest churches in Quito. It is a small church with one bell tower, situated at the pretty Plaza San Blas. There are stairs leading up to the church entrance, which is at an higher elevation than the plaza.
When I visited the church was not open so unfortunately I didn’t see the interior. Iglesia de San Blas is open between 8 - 12 on Mondays to Fridays.
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