Casa del Alabado is housed in an old colonial house built in 1671, just half a block from Plaza San Francisco. It is a small beautiful museum displaying artwork from the pre-Colombian time. At Casa del Alabado you will not find the objects displayed in a chronological order but they are grouped by theme and the material they are made of.
The first time I visited Quito (in 2011) I didn’t know of this lovely museum because it was not opened until April 2010 and thus not in my guidebook. I’m lucky I got to know about it before my next visit to Quito.
Admission was $4 (June 2012).
The museum is open 9 – 17.30 on Monday – Saturday, and 10 – 16 on Sundays.
There is a store attached to the museum.
Mindalae is an ethno historical craft museum where there are exhibitions spread out on five floors. In the museum collection there are ethnic clothing, music instruments, ceramics, jewelry, utensils made of wood and fibers and many other artifacts from different regions of Ecuador.
Admission was $3 (June 2012).
The museum is open on Monday – Friday between 9 – 18, and on Saturdays and holidays between 10 – 17.30.
There is a museum shop and there is also a café, Coffee Tree, in the same building.
Museo Amazónico is a small but good museum showing items from different cultures in the Amazonas region. In the museum you can see beautiful feather headdresses, pottery, jewelry, spears, baskets, music instruments, a dugout canoe, stuffed animals and even real shrunken heads. On the walls there are also photographs showing the oil exploration in the area and its impact on the environment.
When I visited I was the only visitor.
Admission for foreigners was $2 (August 2012).
The museum is open on Monday – Friday between 8.30 – 12.30 and 14 – 17.
La Florida Burial Chambers are situated in the neighbourhood La Florida in northern Quito. On this site ten burial chambers, 15 – 17 metres deep have been excavated. They date from 200 – 680 AD and they are of the Quito people who lived in this area. In one burial chamber replicas of 16 bodies have been put down together with replicas of ritual objects found in the tombs.
There is a small adjacent museum where many of the objects found in the burial chambers are on display. There are pottery, jewelry, gold objects, keys, pieces of textiles and more. And there are some beautiful spondylus shell ponchos, ponchos which were only worn by “important” people.
The museum was inaugurated in July 2009.
Admission is free and includes guiding.
La Florida Burial Chambers are open on Wednesday – Sunday, between 8 – 16.
This is another interesting site in Quito worth a visit that is not mentioned in any of my guidebooks. To go to La Florida Burial Chambers I took the metrobus to the stop La Florida and from there I walked. It is a quite long walk uphill, through the residential neighbourhood La Florida. I walked up Avenida La Florida, crossed Avenida Occidental and then continued up along Antonio Roman, until Antonio Costas where Museo de Sitio La Florida is situated. It was a walk that took almost 40 minutes.
The Rumipamba Archaeological Park was not mentioned in any of my guidebooks, but I saw it on the map of Quito that I had got from the Tourist Office, so I decided to go there and have a look.
I took the metrobus to San Gabriel and walked Mariana de Jesus up to Avenida Occidental where the entrance to the park is situated. I did not know what to expect, but came to a green path leading downhill. I didn’t see any other people and remember wondering how safe it was to be alone in the park. Then a guard came walking towards me and took me to a group that had just started a guided tour around the park.
In this area there are traces mostly of the Quitus culture and they show that people have been living here during different periods between 1500BC – 1500AD. There are traces of homes and tombs, there is a colunco (Coluncos are the old mountain paths made by the Yumbo people along the ancient trade routes. They are narrow and deep and often covered by vegetation, which protected the trade’s men from the strong sun.) and part of an Inca wall. Lots of pottery has been found in the area. The archaeological excavation of the area is still going on.
During the guided tour (which was in Spanish) we were also shown medical plants and native plants of the area.
The park covers 32 hectares. In a building some of the pottery found in this site is exhibited.
Admission was free ((July 2012).
The Archaeological Park is open on Wednesday – Sunday between 8.30 – 16.30.
Museo Alberto Mena Caamaño is situated in Centro Cultural Metropolitano. When I visited Quito in 2011 I couldn’t find it but when I was in Quito on August 2 in 2012 I decided to visit, as the 2nd of August is a special day to visit this museum.
For some time during the colonial era the building was used as army barracks and in 1809 a group of revolutionaries, fighting for freedom, was imprisoned here. One year later, on the 2nd of August 1810 they were killed.
Admission to the museum is usually $1.50 (August 2012), but on the second of August there is no admission, except that you have to buy a rose. The roses are sold outside the entrance for $0.25.Inside there were guided tours, and as there were many visitors this day the group was big. The tour started in a courtyard where everyone put down their rose by a fountain in honor of the massacred freedom fighters.
The group was taken around in the museum, with one group ahead, and another coming after. At some places there were students telling things from Quito’s history and in other rooms among wax dolls there were actors this day, also talking about the history of Quito.
In the end of the tour the group was heading for Monasterio de San Agustin to see the crypt where freedom fighters are buried. It is only open on the 2nd of August, but as I had visited it on my own before coming to the museum, I left the tour here.
The museum is named after its biggest donor, Albero Mena Caamaño who donated a large collection of paintings and sculptures to the museum, mainly colonial art.
The museum is open between 9 – 17.30 on Tuesday – Saturday and between 10 – 13.30 on Sundays.
Centro de Arte Contemporaneo is situated in the neighbourhood San Juan, in a large building which once was a military hospital. The museum is quite new as it opened up in the end of 2010. Since then there has been many temporary exhibitions here, both by national and international artists. When I visited there was a photo exhibition with photos from Galapagos Islands “Galapagos Surreal” one exhibition where technology met art. There were also lots of activities going on with artisans selling their products and a performance.
Admission was free (August 2012).
The cultural centre is open between 9 – 17.30 on Tuesday – Sunday.
There is a small café in the building.
María Augusta Urrutía (1901 – 1987) was a wealthy philanthropist who lived in this house a large part of last century. The house where Maria Augusta lived was built in the 19th century and her home is very well preserved, and looks very much like it did when she lived there. The home is full of furniture and artwork from different periods, much imported from Europe. There is also a good collection of paintings by the Ecuadorian artist Victor Mideros. There are also a few courtyards.
It is not allowed to take photos inside the museum. They wanted me to leave my bag in a cupboard by the reception, but I was not keen on leaving my bag with camera and money there so I could bring it inside, but promised not to take any photos.
Admission was $2 (June 2012) and that also includes a guided tour of the house. Mine was in Spanish, but I think that sometimes you can also get the tour in English.
The museum is open between 10 – 17.30 on Tuesday – Sunday.
The Ecuadorian painter Camilo Egas (1889 – 1962) came from Quito. He studied art in Europe and later moved to New York. The Museo Camilo Egas is situated in a beautiful restored house from the colonial era and here you can see paintings from his different phases.
Camilo Egas is mostly famous for his paintings of the daily life and traditions of the Ecuadorian indigenous people, and there are a few beautiful of these ones in the museum. In the museum there are also paintings from his other phases; expressionism, surrealism, cubism and abstract paintings.
The museum is open between 9 – 13 on Tuesday – Friday.
There is no admission to the museum (August 2012).
Museo de la Acuarela Oswaldo Muñoz Mariño was not mentioned in any of my guidebooks, but I read about the neighbourhood San Marcos and the museum in a small brochure I got at the tourist office, so I decided to go there.
The small museum is situated in a house from the colonial times in the neighbourhood of San Marcos, just next to Centro Historico. It has not been there very long, but was inaugurated in February 2010.
Oswaldo Muñoz Mariño is an Ecuadorian architect and painter. In the museum you can see many of his nice watercolours and drawings with motifs from Ecuador. There are also exhibitions with art made by other painters.
Admission was free (August 2012). The museum is open on Tuesday – Friday between 9 – 17, and on Saturday – Sunday between 9 – 13.
At the museum there are also workshops on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The Vivarium is situated in Parque Carolina and as I was in the vicinity, and already had seen the Botanical Garden and Natural Science Museum the previous year, I decided to visit. It is not very big but here you can see around 100 live reptiles and amphibians. Beside the terrariums there are signs with some information about the species in it (in Spanish) and where in Ecuador they are present. There are turtles, tortoises, frogs, boa constrictors, different poisonous snakes and more.
While I visited they showed a long python in one of the rooms. After some information about pythons the people who wanted could have their photo taken with the snake for $3 (June 2012). I have had an Anaconda found in the nature around my neck (in Venezuela), so I skipped this.
The Vivarium is open on Tuesday – Sunday between 9.30 – 17.30.
Admission was $3 (June 2012).
This museum of colonial religious art is located in the convent attached to the church of San Francisco, and even if you think you aren’t interested in that type of art is still worth visiting, as it gives you access to the lovely and peaceful convent cloisters and to the choir loft of the church. The monastery is the oldest and largest in the country, taking up two city blocks. It was founded in 1546 but took 70 years to build.
The art works here include paintings, altar pieces and processional statues, displayed very nicely along the outer and inner cloisters. No photos are allowed in the inner one but you can take any pictures you want in the outer one, both of the works on display and the cloister itself. In one corner we found some pretty birds – finches, lovebirds etc. I’m not a fan of keeping pet birds but at least these weren’t caged (though I assume their wings had been clipped to keep them here) and the lovebirds in particular were so sweet that we found them an added attraction to the museum (see photo three).
But the highlight for me was a series of processional statues depicting the Passion on display in the inner cloister. These are typical of the Quito school in their vivid, if not gory, portrayal of the sufferings of Christ and the other saints. It is generally said that this goriness is a reference to the suffering that the indigenous people had undergone at the hands of their Spanish conquerors. Perhaps they found those who had suffered for this faith that had been imposed on them, to be the element of it with which they themselves could most easily identify? Whatever the explanation, these are powerful works whether or not you share the beliefs that inspired them.
The altarpiece in photo two depicts Saint Barbara and is by an anonymous artist of the 17th century. This is in the outer cloister, which was why I was able to take the photo, and is typical of the works on display there. When you have finished looking at the art, and maybe sat a while in the peaceful cloister, you can climb a flight of stone stairs to the left of the museum entrance which lead you to the choir loft of the church. From here you have an excellent view of the church (again no photos allowed). The loft itself is also worth seeing, for the intricately carved choir stalls and the dramatic crucifix by Manuel Chile Caspicara, which dates back to 1650-70. It is said that Caspicara tied a model to a cross to examine how best to represent Christ's facial and body expressions as realistically as possible.
Entry to the museum and choir loft cost us $2 (October 2012). I have read that guided tours are compulsory but we weren’t offered one – maybe it depends on the season when you visit (it was very quiet when we were here) or maybe that is no longer the case. We were given a leaflet with some information in English. Signs by the art works are in Spanish but you can easily make out facts such as artist and date of course. The museum is open Monday - Saturday from 09.00 to 18.00 and Sunday from 09.00 to 13.00. Highly recommended!
Next tip: the perfect spot to rest after your visit to the museum, Café Tianguez
The Museo Domenicano de Arte in the monastery of Santo Domingo may be smaller than the Museo Fray Pedro Gocial attached to Iglesia San Francisco, but it is well worth a visit. In some ways I liked it more – perhaps because there were fewer exhibits and it was therefore easier to take them in; perhaps because the leaflet we were given gave us a good explanation in English of a few of the more noted pieces; perhaps because photography is allowed; but probably because we had the opportunity here to see more than just the museum itself.
But let’s start with the museum. We came here first thing in the morning and were the only visitors. The entrance fee of $2 included the brief leaflet, in Spanish and English, mentioned above. We were offered a guide but declined as we wanted to look round at our own pace. The guy who sold us the ticket told us we were allowed to take photos, without flash naturally, and walked with us to the room off the cloister where the treasures are displayed, which he unlocked for us. We spent some time in the short series of rooms. Among the treasures on display are:
~ a huge hymn book, dating from 1681 and made from parchment, leather and wood
~ an 18th century painting of the Virgin of the Rosary, by an anonymous artist of the Cuzco school
~ various wooden statues of saints from the 17th and 18th centuries, very realistic on their portrayal
When we had finished looking around here, we took some time to enjoy the peaceful cloister where more paintings were displayed, some of them looking decided more modern but not described in our leaflet. As we went to leave the same guy who had sold us the tickets asked if we would like to see the original monastery refectory. We said that we would, so he locked up the museum (there were still no other visitors) and took us to the far corner of the cloister where he unlocked a door that led through the next cloister. This is currently part of the school for boys run by the monks, but he explained that the building works that we could see going on were being carried out to turn another part of the monastery into the school and open this part up to the public, thus extending the museum. He then opened another door and we were in the refectory (photo four). This was really worth seeing – a large room beautifully decorated, with seating along the edges. Each of the 54 seats has a painting of one of the Dominican martyrs, along with the cause of their demise – some stabbed, some stoned, one shot by arrows and so on. As a contrast to these rather grizzly images, the ceiling has beautiful paintings depicting the life of St Catherine, from her birth at one end to old age at the other. Our guide pointed out that some had been restored and were consequently much richer in colour. The room is apparently still in use – hired out by the monks for special events, and used by themselves on feast days.
Back in the cloister I asked our guide about the more modern paintings we had seen, and one in particular that had intrigued me. He explained that it had been painted in 1933 by a Dominican monk and artist, and showed the establishment, in Guayaquil, of Ecuador’s first trade union – see photo five. You can see people practicing their various trades and crafts, gathered around Jesus in his guise as a carpenter, with his father Joseph, also of course a carpenter, behind him. On the right a Dominican brother leads more workers to join the union, and in the background is the busy port of the city, a hive of industry and activity.
Next tip: a look at Colonial Quito at night
The church and monastery of San Francisco is both the oldest and largest colonial building in Quito. The complex takes up two blocks and construction of the church and convent was begun in 1534, just a few weeks after the foundation of Quito. It was not completed until 70 years later. Over the years much has been destroyed by earthquakes and it has been rebuilt, but there are some original features left too.
It is free to visit the church which is open between 8-12 and 15-18 every day. In the monastery next door is the Museo Franciscano (Museo Fray Pedro Gocial) with a large and fine collection of religious art; paintings, sculptures and furniture, from the colonial era. The large courtyard is lovely. Admission to the museum was $2 (June 2011) and it is open between 9-17.30 on Monday-Saturday and between 9-12 on Sundays.
Museo Fundación Guayasamín is housed in the former home of the artist Oswaldo Guayasamín (1919-1999), who probably is Ecuador’s most famous artist. Besides paintings by Guayasamín his other collections are shown as well. In one building you can see his collection of pre-Colombian pottery. There are around 1500 pieces of bowls, fertility figurines, burial masks and more on display, and they are arranged by theme. In another building you can see Guayasamín’s collection of colonial religious art.
There is a gift-shop where you can by prints by Guayasamín and another one where you can by jewellery. There is also a café.
The museum is open between 10 - 17 on Monday - Friday. Admission was $4 (August 2011).
Unfortunately you are not allowed to take photos in the museum, so I took a photo of the brochure to get a picture for this tip.
After visiting Museo Fundación Guayasamín you should walk a few hundred metres further up along the road to visit Capilla del Hombre, where you will see many more of Guayasamín’s works.