Sunday and Colonial Quito is waiting!
With its narrow streets, restored colonial architecture and lively plazas, Quito's Centro Histórico (the old town) is a great place to wander around. It was built centuries ago by indigenous artisans and laborers, and Quito's churches, convents, chapels and monasteries are cast in legend and steeped in history. At times, it's a hectic area, full of yelling street vendors, rambling pedestrians, tooting taxis, belching buses and whistle-blowing policemen trying to direct traffic in the narrow, congested one-way streets.
On Sundays, they close the streets around the two- acre Plaza de Independencia so there is a throng of people. There are many people in the square, musicians, families, street performers and, alas, pick pockets. The square’s tall central monument has a “liberty” figure on top and is dedicated to the men of the 10th of August 1809. Sucre, the hero of Ecuadorian independence, is buried in the Cathedral. There is a huge police presence with many branches of the police represented.
As I breathed in the scene, I saw clean, beautiful buildings surrounding the Plaza. There was the Archbishop's Palace, now a hotel with a cafe where locals come for coffee and food. In addition, there is the Cathedral, a spectacular church and the Governor's Palace, with very colorful guards on each side of the entrance. The Municipal building is mostly offices and an information area where I found out that the tour wouldn't start until later that day. As I had no time to lose, I left to explore the rest of the city on my own.
I walked up the hill a bit through narrow city streets that are nearly at a 90· angle. The shop keepers were friendly and there were many people headed in the same direction as I was - toward La Basilica!
When I arrived at La Basilica, which is a beautiful cathedral with wonderful spires and stairs leading to the bell tower, there were old women selling corn, ice cream and other foods out of baskets on the steps. To get to the top of the clock towers, the way is arduous. You have to climb three flights of winding stairs, traverse a wooden bridge, then climb 3 steep, steel ladders to reach the top. It is the best $2 I ever spent, as the views are spectacular!
I could see Panecillo Hill and the rest of Quito. I stayed up there a long time just looking at the fantastic sights as the day was warm and clear. After I came back down to ground level, I went to see La Campania, another cathedral. The inside is gold everywhere you look! The people are so poor that they beg on the steps of the cathedral and it is so sad to see it with all that opulence.
Finally, I took a taxi to the top of Panecillo Hill, (which seemed to go straight up to the sky) where the Virgin of Quito protects and overlooks the people of the city with wings 50 feet high. The views here are unbelievable and I left with a sense of awe for the city and its people.