Comparing Quito & Guayaquil
Before I talk about Quito, I want to put in a good word for Guayaquil – the starting point for Galapagos cruises, in the south of the country. Guayaquil gets a bad rap – locals lovingly call it “Guayami”, simply because it’s tropical, urban and everything is relatively new. Ecuador is quite diverse in culture, climate, and interests. I really liked Guayaquil - to me it seems very Latin and vibrant. The population is young, and that gives it energy. I was just there for one overnight before the cruise – but it’s one of the places I would like to see more of.
Why everyone loves Quito...
Everyone told me Quito is great – but I didn’t understand why. Now I do. It has a large historical district that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site – a living museum. It’s more Andean in flavor compared to Guayaquil, as it should be since it’s more than 9,000 ft above sea level. And it’s more traditional. That makes it sound stuffy – it is not. I was surprised to find that in the neo-Gothic Basilica de Quito cathedral you have access to the entire building – you can climb up inside the spires and wander on the catwalk all over the roof. You can’t do that in European cathedrals. It felt like a playground – my adrenaline was definitely pumping!
The cathedral is in the middle of the city, and from the top, you have spectacular views. You can see the mists of the Andes. I’ve never been eye-level with stained glass like that before and I recommend anyone visiting Quito include this on their must-do list! The cathedral construction is not completely done – local legend has it that when it’s finished, the end of the world will come.
Going to Quito would be worth it just to see both the Guayasim Museum and the Chapel of Man (La Capilla del Hombre) that Oswaldo Guayasim designed and built. This 20th-century multi-media artist and sculptor knew Chagall and many other famous artists. His work is amazing – he portrays people with exaggerated features and emotions. It is somewhat like Picasso, but with much more feeling. He dedicated his art and life to calling attention to the suffering and violence against indigenous people in Latin America and around the world. Viewing his work is a powerful, moving experience.
While Guayasim’s house, which is now the museum, is a combination of daring modern architecture and a colonial hacienda overlooking Quito, the chapel is stark and somber. The art and the architecture work hand-in-hand to convey his message, which is both tragic and hopeful.
Getting around the city is so easy. Taxis are really inexpensive - I took them everywhere. My Quito hotel was the Casona de la Ronda, which is a renovated historic mansion in the center of the colonial old town, a perfect location. There are shops, bars, food vendors all within walking distance. The hotel has wooden floors, traditional tile floors, very high ceilings, and a courtyard which some of the rooms face. You can have any food you want in the breakfast room, plus that wonderful Ecuadorian coffee!