Built upon the foundations of an ancient Incan city, Quito, Ecuador’s capital is a place full of traditions, authenticity and charisma, under the gaze of the winged Virgin statue that sits high up on the Panecillo Hill.
For generations, San Marcos neighbourhood has been home to artists, writers and musicians and its present-day charm owes much to the tight-knit community of residents. Cobblestone streets, whitewashed and colourful houses with intricate balconies and grand plazas are quintessential features in Quito. All within walking distance, you will find catholic churches around the colonial centre, a true treasure like the Basilica del Voto Nacional, built in the neo-Gothic style. It is possible to visit the top of the towers and have a look around. The most impressive of the churches is La Compañía where you will be astonished by the elaborate gold leaf display on the central nave.
In the new Illa Experience Hotel, besides sleeping in a charming house from 1700, you get to enjoy an authentic local experience such as observing the Cuencanita Hat artist who makes the incorrectly named Panama Hats. These toquilla straw hats have received global exposure as an elegant accessory thus getting artists to engage with visitors is an interesting way to help preserve the ancestral methods of hat making.
Another fun activity in Illa is ice-cream making. A local woman starts with a paila, a traditional brass or copper cooking pot that sits on a giant clay pot lined with straw and ice. She pours in milk, a little sugar, and fresh fruit into the paila, and spins the paila by hand continuously for 4 to 8 minutes. The friction between the spinning paila and ice causes the transfer of heat, and the liquid mixture slowly begins to solidify into a deliciously soft and creamy frozen confection, which the señora then serves in a cone. ◼
© This article was first published in Dec-Jan 2020 edition of World Travel Magazine.