Ecuador: Quito, a Capital City at Altitude

I arrived in Quito, Ecuador at 2 am after a flight from Madrid via Guayaquil. Arriving at that hour and with a six hour time difference from the UK knocked me back a bit.

Quito houses on hillside, Ecuador

Capital City 

Quito is the capital city of Ecuador and at 2,800 meters is the highest capital city in the world. I’m sure I’ll get used to the altitude quickly but you do feel a little light headed and I wouldn’t recommend the steep hotel stairs.

There is even a little warning sign to “watch your step and your breath” – but don’t worry lifts are available!

warning sign steep steps

UNESCO Site

The whole city was made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978 has it has one of the largest and best-preserved historic centres in South America.

The hotel I’m staying in, Casa Gangotena, is right in the middle of this historic core and a quick wander has shown me some of the best of the city.

quito ornate gardens

This place was important as a trade centre before the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1500s but it was declared a city in 1556 with the rather catchy title of Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de San Francisco de Quito – translated as “Very Noble and Loyal City of San Francisco of Quito”.

I think we’ll stick to calling it Quito.

colourful buildings of Ecuador Quito

We are delving into this trip with the fantastic help from Metropolitan Touring, Ecuador’s most established tour operator. Considered the heritage brand of the Galápagos Islands it started with tours to the islands in the 60s, now it is giving us a first class experience of Quito just for a start.

Quito capital city of Ecuador

Even though I knew it had a long history and was expecting Spanish influence I still found myself a little shocked with the scale and beauty of the architecture.

In particular, several of the churches are full on Baroque – dripping with gold leaf.

Quito skyline

The Church of La Compañía de Jesús

This is a Jesuit church in Quito, Ecuador. It is among the best-known churches in Quito because of its large central nave, which is profusely decorated with gold leaf, gilded plaster, and wood carvings.

It is known to be Inspired by two Roman Jesuit churches — the Chiesa del Gesù (1580) and the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola (1650) — la Compañía is one of the most significant works of Spanish Baroque architecture in South America.

Church of La Compañía de Jesús

It is said to be Quito’s most ornate church and (according to some observers) the country’s most beautiful one. There are many other beautifully ornate churches including the Church and Monastery of St. Francis (aka San Francisco) which is adjacent to the hotel where I stayed.

Many of the buildings have been renovated and converted into museums, small shopping arcades, cafes and restaurants making it a really pleasant place to while away a Sunday.

Gold leaf and elaborate architecture in one of the Baroque churches in Quito

The whole city is surrounded by several volcanoes and built on steep side hills so, as you will see from the photographs the areas surrounding the historic core are built on dramatic slopes – the brightly coloured houses adding to the effect.

houses on steep hills and expanse of Quito
A city courtyard eatery, in Quito

Volcanoes 

One of the volcanoes in the region, Reventador, even showered the city in some ash following an eruption in 2002 – but I’m glad to say it was all quiet during my trip. 

Reventador is an active stratovolcano which lies in the eastern Andes of Ecuador. It lies in a remote area of the national park of the same name, which is Spanish for “exploder”. Since 1541, it has erupted over an estimated 25 times, although its isolated location means that many of its eruptions have gone unreported.

This volcano erupted in 2008 and continues to be active. In 2020, there were near daily emissions of clouds of ash rising one or two kilometres into the air, occasional crater incandescence, and frequent avalanches of incandescent blocks.

Modern Quito city 

Outside of the historic core of Quito is a more modern city with around 2 million people and several Universities. The modern city is full of life, restaurants, art galleries and bars.

Lady walking through pigeons in a Quito city square

The Ecuadorian Flag 

The name of the flag is La Tricolor (The Tricolor.) The flag was first adopted by law in 1835 and later on 26 September 1860. The design of the current flag was finalized in 1900 with the addition of the coat of arms in the centre of the flag. 

After the territory of Ecuador was conquered by Sebastián de Benalcázar, the emblems of the Spanish Empire flew over the newly founded city of Quito.

Flag of Ecuador flying beside the Flag of Quito 

The first calls for independence from the Spanish crown came on 10 August 1809; a plain red flag was flown by the rebels. The independence movement was defeated in November 1812 at the hands of Spanish officer Juan Sámano.

On 9 October 1820, a new flag, a blue and white bicolour, with five horizontal alternating stripes, and three white stars in the middle stripe, was raised for the first time.The three stars represent Guayaquil, Portoviejo and Machala, This flag was later adopted by the Guayas Province.

Gabriel García Moreno, upon assuming power two days after the Battle of Guayaquil in September 1860, the yellow, blue and red triband was returned to use; its reinstatement on 26 September is commemorated as Día de la Bandera, or National Flag Day in English.

Changing of the guard 

The Changing of the Guard in Quito is a wonderful spectacle that takes place every week on a Monday at the Plaza Grande in the Old Town.

The military squadron that has been guarding the presidential seat for the past week pass on the baton to the next group. With much pomp and solemnity, the Changing of the Guard is a fantastic spectacle and a great honour bestowed on the most senior and loyal soldiers. 

Quito Presidential Palace guard 

The origins of the custom can be traced back to the early 19th century when Ecuador gained its independence from Spanish colonialists after the Battle of Pichincha in 1812.

To this day, the soldiers wear the same uniform as their predecessors on that fated hillside two centuries ago: a tall blue helmet is known as a morrión, with a metallic crest of Ecuador, brilliant blue dress coat with golden chords, red epaulets, white trousers, and black boots. 

Ecuadorian masks

So I’m really very impressed with Quito…. if a little out of breath.

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3 Comments

  1. My seat mate on my flight to Quito alerted me to the possibility of altitude sickness & suggested coco tea to alleviate symptoms. She said it was not listed on any menu’s but available most anywhere if you asked for it. Regrettably I never asked for any, but thankful I never needed it.

  2. I definitely didn’t realize Quito was that high up! Really want to make it down to Ecuador…

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