Category: Andes

Ecuador’s Northern Highlands: Brimming with Culture & Art

Ecuador’s Northern Highlands: Brimming with Culture & Art

In a small but remarkable region of the Ecuadorian Andes, the area’s local crafts have become famous worldwide. The skill and business acumen of the inhabitants of the province of Imbabura — where about 400,000 people live — have been the basis for the development of this dynamic Ecuadorian region. This is a timeless setting where artisans still rise before the sun to move their looms, turn on old sewing machines, and use chisels, lathes and brushes to cut, shape, and create.

If you travel to Ecuador, don’t overlook this as a privileged natural region, also known as the “Province of Lakes,” where some say the real “Middle of the World” is located. We assure you that you’ll be inspired by the wonderful environment of a region that combines a temperate climate, snow-capped volcanoes, crystal waterfalls, picturesque Andean villages, and an artisanal vein full of contrasts.

Let’s continue on this tour Ecuador’s northern highland province of Imbabura with the eyes of an apprentice anxious to learn the secrets of fiery kilns, carving workshops, century-old adobe houses housing enormous large looms, and modern garment and footwear factories. Here, we share with you a small sample of what is created in Imbabura.

Otavalo

This predominantly indigenous city is located about two hours north of Ecuador’s capital city of Quito. Home to the Kichwa ethnic group, Otavalo is a small town but with a cosmopolitan flair. The village has been declared the “Capital Intercultural Ecuador” due also to the large number of foreigners who visit to experience life in this unique destination.

In addition to its diversity, as well as it restaurants, hostels, haciendas converted into beautiful hotels, streets illuminated with lanterns, and clothing stores, Otavalo’s main attraction is undoubtedly its market. Located in the “Plaza de los Ponchos,” this market is one of the largest craft fairs in Latin America, bustling every Saturday with the arrival of hundreds of artisans, vendors and tourists. To experience this Andean bazaar, visitors come from all over the world. Arriving here, travelers spend hours marveling at the handiworks of craftspeople who have learned the skills of their ancestors and teach these to their descendants. Exhibited for sale in this square are their works: ponchos, tapestries, all kinds of wool garments, fine embroidery (most of them made by hand), carved wooden pieces, jewelry, stone sculptures, accessories, paintings, toquilla artworks, musical instruments and more. Visitors soon find that “bargaining” is a common here and an accepted practice.

In addition to the handicrafts fair, Otavalo boosts another attraction: Its animal market. Every Saturday, starting at 6:00 a.m., this exotic fair exhibits everything from chicks to llamas, as well as rabbits, guinea pigs, cows, sheep, goats, horses, and cats and dogs. It’s a scene that seems frozen in time.

Cotacachi

Walking through the city of Cotacachi is like walking through a great showcase. All kinds of leather goods — jackets, pants, belts, wallets, shoes, jackets, bags, and more — are seen in the windows of dozens of shops along the streets of this town of 40,000 inhabitants.

Although many of the models follow international fashion lines, Cotacachi’s own designs are also on show. Added to the styles, the prices are well below those in found in foreign cities and even large Ecuadorian cities. This combination of quality, style and value attract thousands of people to the town, especially on weekends, as they wander through Cotacachi’s narrow streets in search of the perfect garment or accessory.

But Cotacachi is not just leather. Visitors are usually surprised by the ornateness of the town’s main church, where inside are six chapels, gold-leaf altars, and “Quito School” works of art on display. Another point of attraction is the Athens Lookout Pont, from where you can see the stunning lakes of the Cotacachi Ecological Reserve, which is the largest conservation area in Ecuador’s northwestern Andes. With lush forests, nature reserves, snowy landscapes are the extra elements you will find in Cotacachi, in addition to the country finest leatherworks.

San Antonio de Ibarra

Marvelous shapes emerge from walnut wood thanks to the skillful hands of artisans of San Antonio de Ibarra, a village situated in the middle of Ecuador’s Andean highlands. Walking through the quiet streets of this town means discovering the many houses that are craft workshops, whose precious wood pieces have made this place famous. Worked with the techniques of the “Quito School” and covered with gold leaf, these unique works stand out for their rich earthly colors and beauty.

Small and large wooden sculptures, altarpieces, and motifs of all kinds are carved in cedar, orange tree, walnut and laurel. In the center of the village, works created by men, women and even children are sold in each house.

Zuleta

In Ecuador, many embroidered cloths with pre-Columbian designs have a seal that indicates their origin: The indigenous community of Zuleta, located to the southeast of the province of Imbabura. The tradition of skilled work using thread, thimbles and fabrics is old, but the craft found a space in the 1940s, in the hacienda of the Ecuadorian president Galo Plaza Lasso. The official’s wife created a workshop for women in the area where they could embroider and then market their beautiful garments, thus bringing in extra income for their households.

Dresses, blouses, tablecloths, rugs, towels, and other items, with fine finishes that reproduce details of the rural setting and the indigenous worldview are created by the skilled hands of more than 300 embroiderers. For the past 15 years, crafted garments have been displayed every other week on the premises of the hacienda at the Fair Zuleta Embroidery. Many public figures wear these highly original, embroidered attires, but what not many people know is that in a presidential visit to the Vatican, Pope Francis received two embroidered garments created by the skillful hands of Zuleta women.

Atuntaqui

This small colonial city whose Indian name means “big drum” and whose architecture and layout are the footprints of the Spaniards the past epoch. The village enjoys a mild climate and breathtaking scenery, as it’s located in the Andean foothills of the Imbabura Volcano. Its quiet pace of life has made many people choose it as a retirement destination.

On the ruins of an earthquake that destroyed the city in 1868 rose this village, today with a population of 21,000 inhabitants. In its reconstruction, a major role was played by the arrival of the railroad but also in the establishment of a textile factory.

Having now ceased operations, the first textile factory remains as a historic edifice that preserves antiquated English and German machinery within its walls. Declared an “Ecuadorian Cultural Heritage Site,” the building today houses the city’s Textile Museum. To visit here is to learn of the origins of an activity that remains one of the main industries for this population. In fact, every year in this small town a textile fair is organized that attracts almost 150,000 visitors. For those who come to experience this pleasant village, we can almost assure you that you’ll not want to leave without at least one of the beautiful garments on display in the windows of almost every store in Atuntaqui’s quaint downtown center.

Jaw-dropping Ecuadorian Archaeological Sites & Treasures

Jaw-dropping Ecuadorian Archaeological Sites & Treasures

Tours of the vestiges of ancient civilizations — which left the imprints of their rites and ceremonies, as well as those of their members’ daily lives — allows us to understand the development and spirituality of early peoples.

In Latin America, the remains of such civilizations are found in various parts of the continent, usually framed in beautiful natural settings. Visiting them helps one to sense the splendor of some of these civilizations lost in time. Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador are among the countries that retain vestiges of pre-Columbian civilizations such as the Maya, the Inca and the Aztec. The Mayan city of Tikal, in Guatemala; the majestic ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru; and Chichen Itza, located in Yucatan, Mexico, and which are the ruins of the most important capital of the Mayan culture, are among the most representative sites on the continent.

Ecuador too retains the remains and foundations of important pre-Inca civilizations. We offer you a tour of the most famous and most visited by archaeologists and tourists alike.

Rumicucho (“Middle of the World” Park / Quito, Ecuador)

“Cornerstone” is the meaning of the Kichwa word “rumicucho.” Archaeological ruins of this same name are located just north of the city of Quito, offering us a clear view of a temple that was dedicated to the Sun God. From its privileged location, on a peak where you can see La Marca Hill and the Cayambe Volcano, these ruins form an east-west horizontal line at the precise location that the sun crosses during its equinox.

It is believed that Rumicucho was one of the most important temples for worshiping the “Star King.” Covering an area larger than 300 meters long and 75 meters wide, the ruins are made up of five pyramid-shaped stone terraces. During clashes between the native people and the Incas, this place served as a military and logistical support structure due to its strategic location. Today, like footprints, what remain are roads, bridges and temples; structures that — according to historians — were also used as an Inca military fort.

Rumicucho is a charming place with wonderful views where you can learn about these ancient peoples and their traditions while learning about the development and knowledge of ancestral cultures. What’s more, all of this is surrounded by a wonderful natural environment.

The Ingapirca Ruins (Cañar Province)

South of Ecuador, on a plateau in Cañar Province, are found the ruins that make up the Ingapirca Archaeological Complex.

Only 50 miles (80 km) from the beautiful and culture-rich city of Cuenca, these pre-Columbian ruins were built by members of the Cañar people to serve as a ceremonial and trade center.

What remains of Ingapirka (a word meaning “Inca wall”) may have been a sun and moon observatory, as well as a center for conducting religious rituals and carrying out military strategies, according to some scientific explanations. The building, which is of Inca-Canari origin, was built by direct order of the Inca leader Huayna Capac during wars of territorial expansion.

The environment around these majestic ruins consists of Curuquinga and Bueran highlands to the east and south, and a string of mountains to the west. It is said that the Canar civilization chose this land to build these temples as this site was on the route that ran between Ecuador and Peru. Large ceramic findings have helped to date these ruins to around 500 B.C. You can enjoy these places on a one-day visit, and then stay in the beautiful and culture-rich city of Cuenca, a UNESCO-declared “World Heritage Site.”

Agua Blanca Commune (Manabí Province)

Located about 9 miles (15 km) north of the coastal town of Puerto Lopez, in Ecuador’s Manabi Province, the Agua Blanca commune is an archaeological site embedded in a stunning natural setting.

Part of the Machalilla National Park, the commune has been transformed into a museum that reveals vestiges of the Machalilla civilization and the Manteña culture. The remains of temples, squares and houses of the Manteña culture (1500 BC), as well as funeral urns and pottery, especially from domestic and ceremonial use, can be seen in this museum. All of this gives visitors an idea of what the everyday life and culture of these ancient inhabitants must have been like.

Also found here is a lake that is high in sulfur, which is another attraction for those who visit the commune. These sulfur concentrations that flow from an underground volcanic formation into a natural lagoon are said to give these waters certain healing properties.

Pumapungo Complex (City of Cuenca)

Situate in the heart of the city of Cuenca, in its historic district in fact, you can find a ten-acre archaeological park that was built in the late 15th century. These are the ruins of what, according to some archaeologists and historians, was one of the most impressive cities of the Inca Empire. Found here are the “Temple of the Sun” and the “Temple of the Sun Virgins” as well as the “Tomebamba Temple.”

During work conducted over the last two decades, various ceramic materials, metal, shells and bones have been recovered, which can be seen in the site’s museum and evidence that ancient society’s developed and complex organization.

On these grounds was also founded the city of Tomebamba, which was destroyed before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. However, these colonialists later built their churches on top of the foundations of the preceding indigenous temples. It is said that this city was the birthplace of the son of the Inca leader Hayna Capac, and that this standing earned the site a sacred status. In the Pumapungo Archaeological Park, you can also see the entrance to a 30-meter tunnel that studies have determined served as a mausoleum and symbolized the spirit world. All of this was part of the complex and profound worldview of the people who inhabited what is now one of the country’s most important archaeological sites.

If you visit the Pumapungo Complex, you can stay in the beautiful city of Cuenca, built with features similar to those of its namesake city of Cuenca, Spain.

The “Camels” of the Andes | Surtrek South American Travel

The “Camels” of the Andes | Surtrek South American Travel

When thinking about the Andes, most of us picture snow-capped mountains, vast green plains, indigenous peoples …and herds of llamas. And yes, these are some of the main characteristics of the mountainous South American region – including the llamas. In fact, American llamas and their close cousins inhabit the immense and frigid plains and slopes along the entire 4,000-mile mountain range. Possessing both beauty and elegance, with their thin necks and slender legs, they are placed in the same family as their more distant relative, the camel – from which they get the name “camelids.”

In South America, four species of these camelids exist, and here we’ll point out some of their features, similarities and differences.

Llamas: The Sacred Camels of the Incas

Among the Andean camelids, the llama is the largest. Their most striking feature is that they’re not a natural species, but a “creation” of human beings. Specifically, some 5,000 years ago, the people of the highlands began domesticating guanacos (see below), breeding them to constitute today’s llama. The animal’s geographical distribution is now wide, since it became a trade commodity during the Inca Empire. For the Incas, the llama was a sacred animal, believing that each llama on Earth had its “mirror” in the “Celestial Llama”: a constellation that could be seen from certain sacred places.

Today, llamas are found principally in the Andes of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Argentina, where they have traditionally been used as beasts of burden, though they are also still used for their wool and meat. As their wool is thick and strong, it’s highly valued – particularly because it doesn’t have to be chemically treated.

Alpaca: Sheep on Stilts

The alpaca is a smaller species, though, like the llama (and camels), it has the habit of spitting as a method of defense. Alpacas differ from llamas, though, in that they are not used as beasts of burden but were domesticated for thousands of years for their highly-valued wool – considered the finest among camelids. Alpaca wool is used to make products as diverse as blankets, ponchos, scarves, vests, and sweaters, while their meat is considered a delicacy by some peoples of Andes. These camelids stand at just around one-meter high and weigh between 50 and 55 kg. They are found mainly in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, although countries such as Australia, the USA, and New Zealand possess small numbers as breeders are making great efforts to increase their populations.

Guanaco: The Antelopes of the South

Elegant, possessing fine bones, and a fast runner (reaching up to 64 km per hour), the guanaco is also a threatened species of camelid, even scarcer than llamas. The animal is sociable, especially when young, though later they become more aloof in relation to humans while roaming in large herds in semi-desert areas. They have thick and soft coats that protect them from the cold, which is helpful in that they live mainly in Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina. Guanacos can weigh up to 140 kg and measure 1.70 m in height. Their coats are of three shades: beige on the upper body, white on their stomach areas and gray on their heads. Their wool and leather are used to make fine and highly valued garments.

Vicuña: The Babies of the Bunch

The vicuña, a patriotic symbol of Peru, is a smaller herbivorous camelid. Reaching a length of 80 cm and weighing between 40 and 50 kg. These sedentary animals have long legs and, in a sense, are ecological because the soles of their feet have a kind of pad that prevents them from digging up vegetation; in this way, they contribute less to erosion. They have a very structured and organized social system, with adult males living with a harem of two or three females and their young. The wool of the vicuña is some of the best of its type, since, in the world of haute couture, a square meter can cost up to $3,000. High fashion labels, especially Italian and French companies, use vicuña wool for the production of exclusive clothing; however, due to the intense hunting of these animals since ancient times, vicuna are now in danger of extinction. Like alpacas and llamas, they live mainly in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador.

As for similarities, the four share some characteristics: for example, their ability to breed with each other and their sexual dimorphism (which means it’s not easy to distinguish their gender). Also, alpacas, llamas, and vicunas have another common feature: they live in highlands, while guanacos can live at sea level. Also, llamas and alpacas are domesticated species, while the sleeker vicuñas and guanacos are found only in the wild.

No matter how they vary, there is much to discover about these graceful animals. When traveling through the Andes, it’s worth seeing them up close and personal in the rugged landscapes in which they reign.

Traditional Charm-filled Haciendas in the Ecuadorian Andes

Traditional Charm-filled Haciendas in the Ecuadorian Andes

In the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Ecuadorian highlands, you can discover the rustic charm of Andean haciendas filled with Spanish colonial history and natural splendor. Yet, a closer look will reveal that these one-time mountain ranches have been converted into stylish boutique hideaways.

These chic oases retain their wood and brick rooms, working fireplaces, antique beds, and warm blankets; however, all of this has been complemented by all the amenities and creature comforts you might find in any big-city hotel. In any case, brisk evenings give way to brilliant sierra sunrises with delicious breakfasts and singing birds, followed by activities that range from horseback riding and hiking to exhilarating white-water rafting.

The following are just five of the best of these luxury haciendas in the Ecuadorian highlands.

Luna Runtun (Baños, Ecuador)

Perched high above an Andean valley, the rustic and natural feel of Luna Runtun is accompanied by all the bells and whistles of a contemporary boutique resort.

As the story goes, in 1914 the settlement of the village of Baños was divided into nine estates, one of which belonged to a man named Angel Luna, the grandfather of the current owner of the luxurious Luna Runtun hacienda.

The construction of this mountain hotel itself began in 1992, when fifty workers began erecting the 18 structures of the hacienda. Using materials from the immediate environment — such as locally fashioned bricks, handmade tiles, wrought stones, eucalyptus wood, and handcrafted mosaics — the architects aimed for a building that harmonized with the landscape and vegetation of the land. In April 1994, the Luna Runtun resort and adventure spa was ready to open its doors to the public, enveloped in a generous supply of aromatic flowers and fruits.

Luna Runtun, which translates as “fortress of the moon,” is also synonymous with the impeccable blend of comfort and nature. A 10-minute drive from the resort town of Baños, this deluxe hotel is situated within the Sangay National Park and is a close but safe distance from and active Tungurahua Volcano.

At the Luna Runtun, its 30 spacious guestrooms and suites offer panoramic views of either the village or the Tungurahua Volcano. These accommodations feature fireplaces, terraces, and private bathrooms possessing bathtubs as well as all the amenities of a big-city luxury hotel.

One of the biggest attractions of this hacienda is its spa, which includes 11 treatment rooms that offer more than 20 relaxation techniques, as well as four pools and whirlpools. Other attractions include a cafe overlooking the large nearby volcano, gardens that provide a chance to further disconnect, and a restaurant that serves gourmet dishes.

In addition, travelers can choose any of the 25 adventure activities offered at the hotel – everything from adventure mountain-biking to ziplining, as well as horseback riding, birdwatching, and whitewater rafting.

Hacienda Manteles (Patate, Ecuador)

The unique name of this hacienda/hotel (meaning “tablecloths” in Spanish) refers to the surrounding hills and fields, which from a distance form the image of a checkered table covering of differing shades of green. Built in 1965, the Manteles Hacienda is located in the center of Ecuadorian “Sierra” (highlands), which is strategic because of its proximity to several regional tourist attractions – including the resort-town of Baños, two national parks, a traditional indigenous-run market, and the mysterious Amazonian rainforest.

The interior of this hacienda/hotel has been completely remodeled, with all of its 16 rooms provided with private bathrooms, steaming hot water, Wi-Fi, and panoramic views of the region. Surrounded by gardens, the hacienda also allows for a direct view of the still active Tungurahua Volcano. Besides the main house, the hacienda has a family home with four bedrooms that share a central hall, where travelers can relax in the warmth of a fireplace or step outside to enjoy the terrace.

Hearty breakfasts at Hacienda Manteles are another reason for a stay at this serene and appealing retreat in the Ecuadorian Andes. Every morning, travelers can start the day with pancakes, eggs, fruit juice, and homemade bread. The dishes here are prepared with organic ingredients harvested from the hacienda’s gardens and served in its restaurant, which has also maintained its original style.

This luxurious yet authentic hacienda is the perfect place to unwind and get away from city life. However, if you want more activities, you can take part in walks to nearby waterfalls, participate in farm tours or walks to nearby cities like Baños or Riobamba. In addition, you can take cooking classes or go bird watching, horseback riding, camping, and even do some ziplining (thanks to a cable system that crosses a gorge on the hacienda).

The Manteles is built in a valley that was once home to the Panzaleo civilization. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for visitors to take tours of the area to find archaeological remnants on the grounds. Several of these are on display in the social areas of the hacienda.

In short, Manteles Hacienda is the ideal place to relax, as it provides a comfortable stay and close contact with nature in the middle of an Andean cloud forest.

Hacienda Zuleta (Imbabura Province, Ecuador)

Situated at an altitude of 1.8 miles above sea level (2,900 meters), and located only two hours from Quito, the Zuleta Hacienda dates back to the late 17th century. Its history is linked to a former president of Ecuador, whose descendants still own this traditional hacienda that is accessed through a beautiful eucalyptus-lined roadway.

The hacienda is located on land that has become an organic farm that is the principal supplier of the dishes served at the on-site restaurant. Completing the setting of this ranch is the famous Zuleta Cheese Factory and the warm and luxurious interiors of this hacienda/hotel.

For those who wish to learn about rural life in Ecuador’s northern highlands, you can participate in harvesting crops, milking cows, meeting people from the community, learning how cheese is made, or going horseback riding or mountain biking. You can also visit the Huasi Condor Project, which is working to repopulate the Andean condor.

The rooms of the hacienda are rustic yet comfortable. Each one features a fireplace and Wi-Fi, in addition to parquet floors, sloped ceilings, elegant furnishings, and appointments, as well as a private bathroom to guarantee guests’ comfort.

In the dining room, guests will find a cozy and elegant ambiance. La Hacienda Zuleta has been recognized for its personalized service in a tranquil and comfortable environment.

Moreover, there’s an additional feature that makes this hacienda a special place. Born on the grounds of this hacienda was the Galo Plaza Lasso Foundation, which runs social development initiatives in the interest of the local community. An embroidery project that involves women from the community and an organized effort to maintain the condors are two of these efforts. The foundation also supports schools, community libraries, an archaeological project, and a volunteer program in schools.

All this makes the Hacienda Zuleta a special place that combines the comfort of a good stay with a social mission that leaves its mark on the community.

Hacienda La Mirage (Cotacachi, Ecuador)

Nestled in a stunning Andean landscape, just an hour from Quito’s new international airport, this 200-year-old hacienda has been transformed into a chic oasis where guests are met with delicious food, elegant surroundings, and irresistible hospitality.

One of the most elegant and prestigious hotels in Ecuador, La Mirage is the only member of the Relais & Chateaux chain in this country.

The La Mirage Garden Hotel & Spa is a perfect blend of tradition and classicism. Antique furniture, crystal chandeliers, high ceilings, spacious seating areas, and fresh flowers give each room a warm touch … as every detail is seen to. Each of the hotel’s 23 rooms and suites, in addition to its four-guest family suite, is arranged differently, though each has a fireplace, separate social area, telephone, internet access, cable TV, and a private bathroom. Then too, the fine cuisine served at The Mirage is one of its unquestionable strengths. Dining under the stained-glass ceiling of its exquisite restaurant, guests can revel in sumptuous gourmet specialties, with dishes like fresh quail and turkey baked golden over an open fire.

On the grounds of the hotel is a water lily covered pond, as well as beautiful gardens with unique flowers. Other features include a Jacuzzi, a lounge, a pool, and a spa area where 11 types of treatments are provided. The La Mirage Hotel-Spa is located near the town of Cotacachi, famous for its leather goods and American ex-pats, though guests can also visit the Otavalo market – the largest, most colorful, and most important of the country’s traditional, indigenous-run markets.

Hacienda Chillo Jijón (Pichincha, Ecuador)

Arguably, guests are privileged when staying in this old farmhouse, converted into an exclusive hotel. It is not an exaggeration, if one thinks that only 20 people can stay at the ago-old hacienda that was built in 1730.

Hacienda Chillo Jijón has always been owned by the same family, which just recently decided to open it up to small groups — always by reservation — and give them warm attention, personalized service, and guaranteed comfort.

The farm is located in the Valley of the Chillos, a 30-minute drive from the capital city of Quito. The hacienda/hotel has ten very exclusive and comfortable suites, and welcomes guests in all-inclusive. Each of the suites has a comfortable yet luxurious decor with canopy beds, colonial art, antiques, and fine furnishings. They also have fireplaces and private bathrooms.

The tranquility of the colonial corridors and patios of this hacienda, as well as the grounds 20 acres of woods and fields, give the visitor the feeling that time has stopped. In addition, a charming Italian-style church attracts the attention of guests. The hacienda, built of wood, tiles, and adobe, was constructed on sloping land. The hacienda has an outdoor courtyard that features a stone cross, a detail that characterizes many Andean haciendas. A second courtyard, at the lowest level, has an octagonal basin and carved stone benches. This space is part of the Italian church, an exquisite building, which was built to service both the family and the surrounding rural population.

Top Destinations for Vacationing in the Andes in 2021

Top Destinations for Vacationing in the Andes in 2021

As we slowly return to normalcy, 2021 offers the possibility of again exploring the world around us. One of the sites worth discovering is the longest continental mountain range in the world: The Andean highlands, which stretch the length of South America’s western coast. Amazingly long (4,300 miles in length), and surprisingly thin (between 120 to 430 miles wide), the Andes is also the world’s highest mountain range outside of Asia …high enough to leave you breathless in more ways than one.

The Andes extend from north to south through seven South American countries: Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Within this region are of several high plateau, some of which host major cities that are ideal destinations for a 2021 summer vacation.

The following five Andean cities deserve special consideration for those seeking unforgettable Latin American travel experiences ahead.

Bogotá, Colombia

Today, as the Colombian Tourist Board’s slogan boasts, “The only risk in visiting Colombia is wanting to stay.” While this expression acknowledges the country’s turbulent past, it also highlights the new feeling of hope and optimism that defines travel experiences here.

This new spirit is no more apparent than in the nation’s vibrant and passionate capital city of Bogota. Home to 10 million people, Bogota’s energy as the metropolitan heart of Colombia is in part fueled by its hundreds of eclectic dining hot-spots, fantastic wines, and increasingly frequent “foodie” festivals. Whether you visit its historic Candelaria district or go on an indulgent shopping adventure on the city’s North Side, Bogota is well worth a visit.

Medellin, Colombia

This is another Colombian city deserving of serious consideration and a good look. Though infamous 30 years back for dangerous gangs and drug activity, Medellin has been transformed: It’s now a vibrant destination for travelers seeking a culturally rich vacation.

The city’s pleasant climate has earned it the nickname of the “City of Eternal Spring,” putting pep in the step of locals and visitors alike. Meanwhile, the city’s skyline seems to grasp for the heavens, as the clean lines of modern high-rise apartment contrast sharply against a backdrop of jagged mountain peaks. This bounce is especially apparent on weekends, when Medellin lets its hair down. This is when the city’s throngs of discos attract some of the most beautiful people in all of Latin America.

Quito, Ecuador

With a historic district considered the most beautiful city in all of South America, Quito is the jewel in Ecuador’s crown. Ensconced in a long and narrow Andean valley, while skirted by the peaks of the area’s “Avenue of the Volcanos,” most travelers sense of a wave of sheer awe the moment they touch down in the Ecuadorian capital city.

Because of its remarkable colonial architecture, the city was designated the planet’s first UNESCO World Heritage City in 1978 (ahead of cities like Bruges Belgium and Venice, Italy). Strolling through its narrow, cobblestone streets is like taking a journey back in time. Only a 20-minute walk from the history “old town” is Quito’s modern “new town.” A completely different world, here you will come upon trendy cafés, international restaurants, travel agencies, cybercafés, bars, and small hotels. For travelers, its heart is the colorful Mariscal Sucre district, which definitely lives up to its nickname of gringolandia (“gringo land”), though locals also flock here in droves on the weekend.

[As an aside, keep in mind that Quito also serves as a convenient jumping-off point for traveling to the nearby Amazon rainforest as well as for taking a short flight to the country’s legendary Galapagos Islands.]

Machu Picchu

Still the uncontested Mecca of Latin America, Machu Picchu reigns supreme. In a spectacular location, it’s the best-known archaeological site on the continent. This fabled “lost city of the Incas,” is South America’s greatest attraction, one that draws ever-increasing numbers of visitors from across the globe.

The attraction of Machu Picchu (which in the Quechua language means “old mountain”) is apparent: this 550-year old citadel was constructed by the most advanced pre-Columbian society. There is still no agreed-upon explanation as to how the Incas could have moved 20-ton stones to the top of the fortress … a mystery that adds to this uniquely spiritual and beautiful site.

Rising to 7,973 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu is high; so high in the clouds that this awe-inspiring ancient city was never revealed to the conquering Spaniards. Machu Picchu is also large. The ruins are the size of a small village, and —combined with the adjoining jungle and wilderness park — its area covers more than 116 square miles. Though the Incas carefully concealed Machu Picchu, it is no longer the “Lost City.” These days, you can reach it by high-speed train or a more labored two- to four-day trek. But no matter how you get there, though, Machu Picchu will remain unequaled in its mystery and magic.

Bolivia

“Nuestra Señora de La Paz,” commonly known as La Paz, is the Bolivian capital city that’s dizzying in every respect. Located in western Bolivia at an altitude of 3,650 meters (almost two miles above sea level), its height alone is enough to induce a touch of vertigo. At the same time, its striking beauty — with the city’s buildings clinging to the sides of a canyon and spilling spectacularly downwards — is likely to leave you woozy. Overlooking all of this is the towering triple-peaked Illimani Mountain, always snow-covered and visible from many parts of the city on clear days.

Bolivia’s harsh mountain landscapes and thick Amazonian jungles impeded Spanish conquest and large-scale European immigration, which has meant that La Paz has suffered few changes. You can see this in the way indigenous peoples of the city have managed to retain many of their traditions, while villages around the capital have remained virtually untouched for centuries. The result is that many people consider La Paz the most quintessentially South American capital city. You can absorb all of this by wander at your leisure through the alleyway and lively markets, marvel at the city’s fascinating museums, chat with the locals while having lunch in a comedor, or relax over some freshly brewed coffee in a neighborhood café.

(In addition to this colorful capital city, the jaw-dropping Uyuni salt flat is just a few short hours away)

In sum, on a summer vacation to this region, you’ll find snowcapped Andes Mountains towering above you as they seem to glow in the moonlight. The Andes of Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia or Peru are well suited for everything from active travel adventures to indulgent shopping and dining in its big cities. The Andes are also perfect for more relaxed activities like city exploring, hikes, and archeological digs. All of this earns this region definite consideration when planning your 2021 summer vacation.

5 Must-See Day-Tour Sites & Attractions in Quito, Ecuador

5 Must-See Day-Tour Sites & Attractions in Quito, Ecuador

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, has one of the largest historic districts in Latin America. Discover its narrow stone streets, colonial homes stretching a block and a half, houses from the Republican era, steep stairs in unexpected places, beautiful Catholic churches, and squares with birds everywhere.

Quito’s historic district has an area of 926 acres (375.2 hectares) and is home to 130 buildings that are considered monuments. In many of these — which include museums, churches, monasteries and convents — there exist diverse examples of sculptural and pictorial art, especially religious works. In 1978, UNESCO declared Ecuador’s capital a “World Heritage Site,” based on the fact that Quito’s historic district is the best-preserved in all of the Americas.

Below, we have created a list of five of the most interesting places to visit on a day-tour in Quito. These are the “must-see” attractions in this most historic area of the city:

1. Basilica del Voto Nacional:

This neo-Gothic structure is the largest in Ecuador and one of the largest in Latin America. Located just within the bounds of the historic district, it reaches a height of 115 meters, while within it are 24 chapels representing the number of provinces in Ecuador.

For its majesty and style, this Catholic church — which is in the shape of a Gothic cross — has been compared with other large cathedrals in the world, including the Basilica of Notre Dame (Paris) and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral (New York). Although the decree for its construction was signed in 1883, the building’s first stone was laid in 1892 by Emilio Tarlier, a French architect. The church was built in large thanks to contributions from Ecuadorians (mostly from Quito). One feature of this towering cathedral is that its famous gargoyles on the facade and exterior do not have classical motifs. Instead, these have been replaced by amphibians and reptiles of Ecuador, specifically animals from the Galapagos Islands. Visitors on a day tour in Quito can ascend to the building’s cafeteria/observation deck to appreciate striking views of the city and Andean mountains beyond.

  • Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Admission: $1 (Ecuadorian citizens), $2 (foreigners)
  • Address: Santa Prisca neighborhood, between the Carchi N122and Venezuela streets

2. Catedral Metropolitana de Quito:

Located near Quito’s main square (“Plaza de la Independencia”), in the city’s historic district, the Metropolitan Cathedral was built of stone using the communal “minga labor system” for hauling and carving of the masonry. It stands as yet another must-see attraction on a day-tour of the Ecuadorian capital city.

The building’s construction began in 1560 on land that currently borders the Carondelet Palace (seat of Government) to the west, and the Municipal Palace to the east. An eruption of the Pichincha Volcano forced the rebuilding of the temple in 1660. Then, after two separate earthquakes in 1755 and 1868, additional work was required.

The Cathedral has a longitudinal arrangement that consists of three naves supported on stone arches. Several chapels are located in its right side nave, while the central nave has a coffered ceiling paneled in cedar. Behind the main chapel is a smaller nave. Experts consider its style of construction to be Gothic-Mudejar style, especially in the form of its arches, pillars, and carved ceilings. This Catholic church is the seat of the Archdiocese of Quito and occupies all of the south side of Quito’s Independence Square.

  • Hours: Monday through Saturday, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Address: Venezuela and Espejo streets
  • Cost: $1. 50 (adults), $1 (children and elderly)

3. Church of the Compania of Jesus

Built and embellished over a span of 160 years (1605-1765) by artists of the “Quito School,” this church is one of the most important representatives of Latin American baroque architecture. Its arches, altarpieces, sculptures, altar, and even its picture frames are all covered in gold leaf.

Some people consider it the best Jesuit church in the world. Its facade is completely carved in gray volcanic stone and draws the attention of visitors not only for its beauty but by the combination of styles and expressions of syncretism that combines European and indigenous features.

The construction of this temple took 160 years. The church is now visited by about 120,000 people each year. One of the biggest attractions is the picture of hell, attributed to Hernando de la Cruz. The work, supposedly based on The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri plays with violent scenes and intense reds, assumptions punishment and the torment of sinners.

  • Hours: Monday through Friday, from 9:30 to 17:30. Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Phone: 2584175
  • Email: ficj-turismo@fundacioniglesiadelacompania.org.ec
  • Address: García Moreno and Sucre
  • Cost: Adult abroad: $4. International Student: $2. National Adult: $2. National students (6-18 years): 0.60. Children and seniors: free.

4. Church of San Francisco

No day tour in Quito is complete without visiting this site, one of the largest religious complexes in Latin America. Its size is 3, 5 hectares, including the church, the Museum of Religious Art Pedro Gocial, the Franciscan convent and the large square, one of the most popular and iconic spaces from downtown.

The temple of San Francisco was built between 1536 and 1605. It’s another sample of the Quito Art School, which combines inside the Mudejar, Mannerist and Baroque styles. Its main altar, side chapels and the pulpit, of great beauty, to attract tourists. Just at the altar, the image of the Virgin of Quito, authored by Bernardo de Legarda, one of the representatives of the call is displayed Quito School.

On one side of the church is located Cantuña Chapel, which houses a legend known to all Quito. According to this story, which is transmitted from generation to generation, an Indian named Cantuña promised to build the court within a certain period. But, seeing that it was very short and was not going to make it, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the latter and his assistants finish the work on time. However, the Indian could save his soul because the devil and his assistants were lacking placed the last stone…

Another attraction of the churches is the procession that takes place every Good Friday in the city; it is one of the largest religious public displays of the country.

  • Hours: Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 18:00
  • Address: Cuenca 477 and Sucre
  • Cost of revenue: $2.

5. Palacio de Carondelet

It is the seat of the national government and is located on the western side of the Plaza de la Independencia, also known as Plaza Grande, surrounded by the Archbishop’s Palace, the City, and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito. In colonial times, it was known as the Royal Palace in Quito, as the home of the Royal Court. According to tradition, was the liberator, Simon Bolívar, who named the building as Palacio de Carondelet.

In the staircase leading to the first floor, a painted mural by Oswaldo Guayasamín, which recreates the discovery of the Amazon River in 1542 is displayed. The first body of the building is built in stone. In the second, there is a gallery that faces the Plaza de la Independencia. Today, the President, Vice President and Ministry of Government Complex occupy Carondelet. The Government House has been open to the public since August 2007. Entry is free, with only the presentation of identification required. On your day tour in Quito, you can visit this site at the location and time below:

  • Hours: Tuesday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and Mondays from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
  • Saturday hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 4: 00 p.m.
  • Address: N10-43 Garcia Moreno between Chile and Espejo streets
  • Admission: Free

To discover exciting experiences like these while on a day tour in Quito, we suggest that you select a knowledgeable tour operator (Surtrek, of course) who can work with you to custom design such adventures. Expert travel coordinators will help you to plan and seamlessly carry out a tour that introduces you to the real – authentic – Ecuador, in a sustainable manner that leaves the most minimal impact on this nature-rich land.”

Quito: Among Latin America’ Best Tourist Destinations

Quito: Among Latin America’ Best Tourist Destinations

Seeking an unforgettable South America travel experience in 2021? Consider the Andes as one of your best tourism options for a 2021 vacation. The longest continental mountain range in the world, the Andean highlands stretch the length of South America’s western coast. Amazingly long (4,300 miles), and surprisingly thin (between 120 to 430 miles wide), the Andes is also the world’s highest mountain range outside of Asia…high enough to leave you breathless in more ways than one.

The Andes extend from north to south through seven South American countries: Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Within this region are of several high plateau, some of which host major cities that are among the best tourism destinations for a 2021 summer vacation. One of the most outstanding cities is the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, which we believe deserves special consideration for those seeking unforgettable Andean travel experiences this year.

Quito, Ecuador:

Ensconced in a long and narrow Andean valley, while skirted by the peaks of the area’s “Avenue of the Volcanos,” most travelers sense sheer awe the moment they touch down in Quito. Possessing a historic district that’s considered the largest, best-preserved, and most beautiful in all of South America, Quito is the jewel in Ecuador’s crown. Because of its remarkable colonial architecture, with 375.2 hectares of historic downtown buildings, the city was designated the planet’s first UNESCO World Heritage City in 1978 – ahead of cities like Bruges Belgium and Venice, Italy. Strolling through its narrow, cobblestone streets is like taking a journey back in time.

Only a 20-minute walk from the history “old town” is Quito’s modern “new town.” A completely different world, here you will come upon trendy cafés, international restaurants, travel agencies, cybercafés, bars, and small hotels. For travelers, its heart is the colorful Mariscal Sucre district, which definitely lives up to its nickname of gringolandia (“gringo land”), though locals also flock here in droves on the weekend.

Then too, no trip to Ecuador (which means “equator” in Spanish) would be complete without a visit to that imaginary line that divides the planet in two; and since Quito is less than an hour from the equatorial line, such a visit is especially easy. In an afternoon, you’ll experience the amazing Mitad del Mundo (“Middle of the World”) complex. At this site located at 0° 0’ 0” latitude, you can straddle the planet’s two hemispheres – a great photo op..!!

In sum, on a summer vacation to this city, you will find snowcapped Andes Mountains, towering above you as they seem to glow in the moonlight. Quito is well suited for everything from active travel adventures and to indulgent shopping and big-city dining, just as it is for more relaxed activities like day walks, hikes, and cultural experiences.

Also, keep in mind that Quito also serves as a convenient jumping-off point for traveling to the country’s legendary Galapagos Islands as well as the nearby Amazonian rainforest

5 “Must See” Historic-Quito Attractions | Surtrek Day Tours

5 “Must See” Historic-Quito Attractions | Surtrek Day Tours

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Quito, the capital of Ecuador, has one of the largest historic districts in Latin America. Narrow stone streets, steep stairs in unexpected places, colonial homes stretching a block and a half, houses from the Republican, beautiful Catholic churches and squares with birds everywhere.
Quito’s historic district has an area of 375.2 hectares (926 acres) and is home to 130 buildings considered monuments. In many of these — which include museums, churches, monasteries and convents — there exist diverse examples of sculptural and pictorial art, especially religious works. In addition, in this old part of the city there are 5,000 properties recorded as part of the inventory of municipal property.
In 1978, UNESCO declared Ecuador’s capital a World Heritage Site, based on the fact that Quito’s historic district is the best-preserved in all of the Americas.
Tourists and specialized travelers (bloggers and travel journalists) who go on day tours in Quito leave with deep emotions of the city, as shown by these two statements:

“Quito’s officials are aware of the importance of the best-preserved, least altered historic district in Latin America. The streets are cleaned regularly and at the weekends there’s a car-free pedestrian zone. I felt safe walking around anywhere in the Old Town and past sunset,” wrote Wibke carter in the “The Scostman Sunday.

 

“Quito, the capital of Ecuador in northwestern South America, represents the cultural, cosmopolitan and social epicenter of the country. This metropolis, which hugs the equator, is cupped in a verdant valley formed by the volcanoes of the Andes. The city’s 1.8 million residents are spread across a latticework of diagonal streets that climb to different panoramas in every direction. The high-alpine air is thin and takes some getting used to, but once adapted you’ll be able to catch the aroma of fresh bread and coffee flowing from the nearest panadería. You’ll hear the voices of women in trensas selling homegrown fruit from giant baskets. And you’ll catch the smell of eucalyptus trees riding on the Quito breeze,” noted journalist Bani Amor.

A panoramic view of Quito

Below, we have created a list of five of the most interesting places to visit on a day tour in Quito. These are the “must see” attractions in the historic area of the city:

1. Basilica del Voto Nacional:
This neo-Gothic structure is the largest in Ecuador and one of the largest in Latin America. It is located just inside the historic district of Quito. Reaching a height of 115 meters, within it are 24 chapels representing the number of provinces in Ecuador.
For its majesty and style, this Catholic church — which is in the shape of a Gothic cross — has been compared with other large cathedrals in the world, including the Basilica of Notre Dame (Paris) and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral (New York).
Although the decree for its construction was signed in 1883, the building’s first stone was laid in 1892 – by Emilio Tarlier, a French architect. The church was built in large thanks to contributions from Ecuadorians (mostly from Quito).
One feature of this huge cathedral is that its famous gargoyles, which are seen on the facade and walls, do not have classical motifs. Instead, these have been replaced by amphibians and reptiles of Ecuador, specifically including animals from the Galapagos Islands. Visitors on a day tour in Quito can ascend to the building’s cafeteria/observation deck to appreciate beautiful views of the city.

Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Admission: $1 (Ecuadorian citizens), $2 (foreigners)
Address: Santa Prisca neighborhood, between the Carchi N122and Venezuela streets

2. Catedral Metropolitana de Quito:
Located near the main square (“Plaza de la Independencia”), in the historic district of Quito, the Metropolitan Cathedral was built of stone using the communal “minga labor system” for hauling and carving of the masonry – another must see on a day tour in Quito
The building’s construction began in 1560 on land that currently borders the Carondelet Palace (seat of Government) to the west, and the Municipal Palace to the east. An eruption of the Pichincha Volcano forced the rebuilding of the temple in 1660. Then, after two separate earthquakes in 1755 and 1868, additional work was required.
The Cathedral has a longitudinal arrangement that consists of three naves supported on stone arches. Several chapels are located in its right side nave, while the central nave has a coffered ceiling paneled in cedar. Behind the main chapel is a smaller nave. Experts consider its style of construction to be Gothic-Mudejar style, especially in the form of its arches, pillars and carved ceilings.
This Catholic church is the seat of the Archdiocese of Quito and occupies all of the south side of Quito’s Independence Square.

Hours: Monday through Saturday, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Address: Venezuela and Espejo streets
Cost: $1. 50 (adults), $1 (children and elderly)

3. Church of the Compania of Jesus
Built and embellished over a span of 160 years (1605-1765) by artists of the “Quito School,” this church is one of the most important representatives of Latin American baroque architecture. Its arches, altarpieces, sculptures, altar, and even its picture frames are all covered in gold leaf.
Some people consider it the best Jesuit church in the world. Its facade is completely carved in gray stone, volcanic and draws attention of visitors, not only for its beauty but by the combination of styles and expressions of syncretism that combines European and indigenous features.
The construction of this temple took 160 years. The church is now visited by about 120,000 people each year. One of the biggest attractions is the picture of hell, attributed to Hernando de la Cruz. The work, supposedly based on The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri plays with violent scenes and intense reds, assumptions punishment and torment of sinners.

Hours: Monday through Friday, from 9:30 to 17:30. Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Phone: 2584175
Email: ficj-turismo@fundacioniglesiadelacompania.org.ec
Address: García Moreno and Sucre
Cost: Adult abroad: $4. International Student: $2. National Adult: $2. National students (6-18 years): 0.60. Children and seniors: free.

4. Church of San Francisco
No day tour in Quito is complete without visiting this site, one of the largest religious complexes in Latin America. Its size is 3, 5 hectares, including the church, the Museum of Religious Art Pedro Gocial, the Franciscan convent and the large square, one of the most popular and iconic spaces from downtown.
The temple of San Francisco was built between 1536 and 1605. It’s another sample of the Quito Art School, which combines inside the Mudejar, Mannerist and Baroque styles. Its main altar, side chapels and the pulpit, of great beauty, to attract tourists. Just at the altar the image of the Virgin of Quito, authored by Bernardo de Legarda, one of the representatives of the call is displayed Quito School.
On one side of the church is located Cantuña Chapel, which houses a legend known to all Quito. According to this story, which is transmitted from generation to generation, an Indian named Cantuña promised to build the court within a certain period. But, seeing that it was very short and was not going to make it, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the latter and his assistants finish the work on time. However, the Indian could save his soul because the devil and his assistants were lacking placed the last stone…
Another attraction of the churches is that there sculpture of Jesus del Gran Poder, main picture of the procession that takes place every Good Friday in the city and is one of the largest religious public displays of the country is.

Hours: Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 18:00
Address: Cuenca 477 and Sucre
Cost of revenue: $2.

5. Palacio de Carondelet
It is the seat of the national government and is located on the western side of the Plaza de la Independencia, also known as Plaza Grande, surrounded by the Archbishop’s Palace, the City and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito. In colonial times, it was known as the Royal Palace in Quito, as the home of the Royal Court.
According to tradition, was the liberator, Simón Bolívar, who named the building as Palacio de Carondelet.
In the staircase leading to the first floor, a painted mural by Oswaldo Guayasamín, which recreates the discovery of the Amazon River in 1542 is displayed.
The first body of the building is built in stone. In the second, there is a gallery that faces the Plaza de la Independencia. Today, the President, Vice President and Ministry of Government Complex occupy Carondelet. The Government House has been open to the public since August 2007. Entry is free, with only the presentation of identification required. On your day tour in Quito, you can visit this site at the location and time below:

Hours: Tuesday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and Mondays from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 4: 00 p.m.
Address: N10-43 Garcia Moreno between Chile and Espejo streets
Admission: Free

To discover exciting experiences like these while on a day tour in Quito, we suggest that you select a knowledgeable tour operator like Surtrek, who can work with you to custom design such adventures. Expert travel coordinators will help you to plan and seamlessly carry out a tour that introduces you to the real – authentic – Ecuador, in a sustainable manner that leaves the most minimal impact on this nature-rich land.”