A place of deep history and staggering views, one of UNESCO's first World Heritage cities has been flying under travelers' radar for a long time. But thanks to a growing economy and a renewed focus on preservation and development, that's about to change.
Author SAM POLCER
If you find yourself on the main highway near Otavalo, a town about 60 miles north of Quito, early on a Saturday morning, follow your ears (and your nose) to the weekly animal market. There, creatures ranging from adorable guinea pigs (don’t get too attached — they’re a delicacy) to llamas and horses form a snorting, squealing, braying dust cloud of commerce. Listen, too, for the sounds of Quechua, the native tongue of the Otavaleños, as they sell or buy and load the animals onto trucks. Just be careful where you step — that isn’t ticker tape on the ground.
RECEPTION MANAGER, PLAZA GRANDE HOTEL
“There’s a new train you can take from the city to some of the villages around here. Go to Machachi, and you’ll be back by 4 p.m. People will wait for you at the station — some kids playing music with traditional dances, that kind of thing. It’s a nice little city.”
NATURALIST GUIDE AND OWNER OF BEE FARM UGSHAPAMBA
“Go barhopping in the Mariscal area. We call that area ‘Gringoland,’ so there are a lot of really good spots. I like Cats, a bar with good old rock ‘n’ roll. It has a very nice ambience, and great food. I like the shrimp Provençal.”
OWNER AND PRESIDENT, OLGA FISCH FOLKLORE
“I recommend Petit Pigalle, a quaint French-owned restaurant in Mariscal. It’s very small, with very tasty food. The chef and his wife serve you. Try the duck. Or go to La Gloria, in Floresta. Everything is delicious, but the filet mignon with coffee sauce — mmm.”
The 148-foot-tall aluminum statue La Virgen de Quito has watched over colonial Quito from the top of El Panecillo — a hill that was once an Incan sun-worshipping site — since 1976. Spanish artist Agustín de la Herrán modeled the statue after a much smaller version in the Iglesia de San Francisco by 18th-century Ecuadorian sculptor Bernardo de Legarda. Quito’s Madonna stands atop a globe and is, like many classic representations of the Madonna, stepping on a snake. Her wings, however, set her apart; it is said that there are no other Madonnas this size anywhere in the world with them. A plaque on the monument explains that she represents the “Woman of the Apocalypse” — Mary as an angel — from the Book of Revelation. Which makes her heavy metal in more ways than one.