Quito ranks among South America’s most underrated cities. Surrounded by towering green mountains and overlooked by immense snowcapped volcanoes, Ecuador’s capital enjoys a surprisingly mild and pleasant climate. The center retains its colonial splendor. Ornate mansions line the narrow, sloping streets, which periodically open onto plazas fronted by grand municipal buildings and elaborately decorated churches.
The neo-Gothic Basílica del Voto Nacional towers above the skyline from its hilltop perch, but most spectacular is the 17th-century Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús near Plaza Grande (also known as Plaza de la Independencia). The interior is a riot of gold, with golden Moorish-style latticework encrusting the nave’s barrel vault and golden grapevine-clad columns framing niches with life-size statues of saints.
Some of the mansions in the historic center — a UNESCO World Heritage site — have been converted into hotels, such as my recommended Casa Gangotena and Hotel Plaza Grande. A new addition is the chic 12-room Carlota, a five-minute walk from the Plaza Grande and Plaza San Francisco. Built in 1905, the immaculately renovated building has a pink-and-white Beaux-Arts façade and rooms surrounding a small but bright internal court. Owner Renato Solines sat down to chat with us on the panoramic rooftop deck — we were the only guests that evening — and over cocktails of gin, tonic and naranjilla (a local citrus fruit), he told us that he was born in the house, which is where his grandmother, Doña Carlota Echeverría de Moreno, had lived. He and his wife, an architect, started the conversion in 2013, and the hotel opened to guests just a few months ago. With justifiable pride, Solines related how Doña Carlota had toured her former home, now the first “design hotel” in the center of Quito, and exclaimed, “You transformed my house into a palace!”
The design is undeniably striking: An exposed-brick wall backs the reception desk, which faces an atrium supported by slender stone columns and centerpieced by a grand piano. Between the atrium and the street is the stylish Bistro, with polished concrete floors, a textured leather banquette and a dramatic black accent wall. (We indulged in the chef’s chocolate fondue one evening after dinner, and it was as decadently delicious as any I’ve had in Switzerland.) Upstairs, a lounge with elaborate wood wainscoting successfully mixes French, mid-century modern and industrial-style pieces, and on the rooftop deck, dozens of brightly colored pillows engender a cheerfully festive atmosphere.
We booked one of the largest accommodations in the hotel, a Loft Suite. Windows overlooking the street punctured a double-height exposed-brick wall. The living room had understated but attractive contemporary furnishings and décor, and the wood-and-metal loft supported a queen-size bed.
It was an attractive space, but not as comfortable as I would have wished. The suite had no storage space of any kind — a small rack at the top of the loft’s metal stairs was the only place to hang clothes, and we had nowhere to put our luggage. I loved the bath’s black-and-white painted tile floor and slightly irregular white wall tiles, but it felt cramped, and the rectangular sink afforded no counter space. There was no turndown service, nor climate control, nor bathrobes. I wish I could recommend this hotel — the staff were warm and unfailingly helpful, and Solines’ story is an engaging one — but the small bath and lack of storage proved too irritating.
The chic design; the stylish restaurant; the cheerful staff; the panoramic rooftop terrace bar; the history.
The nearly complete absence of storage; the small bath; the lack of bathrobes.
Once the process is complete, the hotel expects to become the only property with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification in Ecuador.
Our next stop was the 14-room Mansión del Angel, located between the historic center and La Mariscal, a newer neighborhood with numerous restaurants, the freshly renovated National Museum and several galleries offering artworks and crafts for sale. The former home of a tobacco magnate, this Italianate property is resolutely traditional, with an extravagant Victorian-eclectic décor. I liked the lobby, with its gilt-framed mirrors and intricate gold moldings, and the bric-a-brac-filled lounge one floor above, though I could have done without the peacock-feather bouquet and dancing-Moor candelabras.
The hotel kindly upgraded us to a Deluxe Suite just off this lounge, which had similarly high ceilings with crystal chandeliers, parquet floors with brown-and-cream Oriental rugs and a pretty white mantelpiece framing what once had been a woodburning fireplace. Seating surrounded the moss-green canopy bed, including a wingback chair and ottoman, two small Chesterfield chairs and a large sofa upholstered in green silk damask.
Unfortunately, the bath proved dated and small, and the décor did not achieve the intended sense of opulence. Atop the wardrobe stood a hideous dried flower arrangement, and inside was a sachet of powerfully unpleasant potpourri. An arched niche faced the bed, but the faux fresco inside it looked cheap, as did the faux oil portrait above the fireplace. And at night, unfortunate lightbulb choices gave the public rooms a vaguely clinical pallor. Alas, friendly service couldn’t quite make up for the aesthetic errors.
The Italianate architecture; the rich period details; the friendly service; the spacious accommodations.
The cheap-looking painting and fresco reproductions; the jaundiced lighting in the public areas; our smallish bath; the unpleasantly strong potpourri in our wardrobe.
Many taxi drivers are unfamiliar with the hotel; be sure to bring its address with you when going out.
The hotels I recommended on my last visit to Quito remain my favorites in the city. The 31-room Casa Gangotena has converted its colonial building with more design savvy than the Mansión del Angel and more attention to comfort than the Carlota. Its rooms tend to be smaller than at the Mansión del Angel, but they have high ceilings, attractive décor and marble baths (though I’m not a fan of the shower-tub combinations). An airy, flower-filled lounge serves afternoon tea and cocktails, and the Restaurante Cedrón presents upscale renditions of traditional Ecuadorian recipes. Service remains unfailingly helpful and gracious; the concierge quickly arranged restaurant reservations for me, and the front desk was happy to assist with tasks such as mailing postcards and printing boarding passes.
The well-considered integration of period details and contemporary comforts; the fine restaurant; the always-helpful staff; the central location.
The present construction on the plaza in front of the hotel.
The hotel has fine views other than that of the plaza, notably of El Panecillo hill, which is topped by a tall statue of the Madonna.
At the 15-room Hotel Plaza Grande, the suites and baths are delightfully spacious, and the location couldn’t be more central. The two restaurants and four of its suites overlook Quito’s main square. The hotel offers accommodations that provide an international level of comfort, but I prefer the décor of the Casa Gangotena. The Plaza Grande’s furnishings feel heavier and less stylish than those at its competitor.
In addition, the service at the Plaza Grande sometimes proved disorganized. We had a reservation for dinner one evening in its La Belle Epoque restaurant, reconfirmed by the front desk a few minutes before we walked in to eat. On arrival, a waiter told us that the restaurant was actually closed (the front desk hadn’t been informed). He thoughtfully offered to seat us at a table with a view, however, and brought the menu from the more informal café downstairs. He returned with still water and Malbec, when we had ordered sparkling water and Sauvignon Blanc! Nevertheless, the comfort of the accommodations, the splendid view and the warm (if sometimes befuddled) staff make the Plaza Grande an excellent alternative.
The peerlessly central location; the impressive views over the Plaza Grande; the spacious accommodations.
The occasionally disorganized service; the heavy décor.
Protests sometimes draw crowds to Plaza Grande, as occurred on our recent visit, but the hotel’s main entrance on a side street remained easy to access.