Gateway to Historic Quito.

Cuenca Expats Maazine, Special Issue
Photos: Expats Magazine Group
Sponsored: Casa Gangotena

casa gangotena - special issue 2

Ed. Note. Like many expats, I have barely scratched the surface of discovering the vast diversity of culture, geography, and ecosystems Ecuador has to offer. My New Year’s resolution is to take a trip once a month to explore with Metropolitan Touring assistance the beauty of my adopted country. I invite you to come along.

My first Travel and Adventure trip is to visit the historic center of Quito. Quito is the number one tourist attraction in Ecuador (Galápagos Islands is second, Cuenca third). So, this is a great place to start.

I have been to Quito’s airport many times, but have never spent any time in the historic district. So, I wanted to spend as much time as possible exploring old Quito. I took the earliest flight I could—the LATAM 1400 leaving Cuenca at 7:52 am. The worry-free airline flight is a comfortable 40 minutes. Btw, you’ll appreciate the priority boarding for those of the Third Age (65+). And, instead of the chaotic debarking scrambles on US flights, LATAM dismisses passages by rows.


A much more pleasant way to end a flight Quito’s airport is 55 minutes from the city center. Taxi is a flat fee of $25, or via bus ($7.99).

Presidential palace - Hotel Casa Gangotena. Gateway to Historic Quito.

I made reservations at the Hotel Casa Gangotena. I wanted a hotel that was the ideal pivot point for the City discovery (as well for day excursions to Otavalo, Cotopaxi and other areas nearby areas of interest like the zoo, Middle of the World monument, etc.) I had never stayed at this luxurious boutique hotel before. Hotel Casa Gangotena has a long and colorful history—home of an ex-president of Ecuador and even a ghost that some say can be seen at night in an antique hall mirror. Check-in was a breeze: English-speaking and very professional. They even had my room ready early, so I was able to drop my luggage. And, I appreciated the hand-writen note on the suites’ table from the hotel manager welcoming me.

Now, it was time begin exploring the city center by mid-morning. What to see first? Casa Gangotena is located on San Francisco Plaza in the heart of the historic district (and once the center of the northern capital of the famous Inca Huayna Capac’s empire).

In walking distance from the hotel are 12 parks and plazas, 19 museums, 11 theaters and cultural centers, and 25 churches. It is Impossible to take in so much in a day, so I decided to amble around and do a survey of things I wanted to visit on my next extended trip.

First stop: the Presidential Palace. I walked down a few blocks to the Presidential Palace located on Plaza Grande. It is open to the public for free tours. To my delight, it happened the army band was playing a concert of martial music during my visit. In the plaza is the monument to honor those Quiteños (300 or so) who were executed as a result of the first cry for independence from Spain on August 10, 1809.

Near the plaza is Iglesia de El Sagrario (“Church of the Sanctuary” or “Church of the Shrine”) It is a large 17th-century chapel. Work on this church was from 1617-1747. This church is adorned with more gold leaf than I have even seen. It is also the resting place of Marshal Antonio José de Sucre, hero of Ecuadorian and Latin American independence.

August 10 Monument. Hotel Casa Gangotena - Gateway to Historic Quito. - Special Issue
Presidential palace - Hotel Casa Gangotena. Gateway to Historic Quito.

Next, I wanted to tour the Basilica of the National Vow. It is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. Most gothic religious structures in Europe date from the mid-12th to the early 16th century and are characterized by large stained-glass windows, pointed arches, ribbed vaults, flying buttresses, and ornate decoration.

This basilica looks like it dates back to the middle ages, but actually construction was started in 1887.

The basilica was blessed by Pope John Paul II on January 30, 1985, and it was consecrated and inaugurated on July 12, 1988.

I paid the $2 entrance fee, and spent over an hour looking at this magnificent structure.

Difficult to imagine how this was built without the use of modern tools.

One difference I noticed from the ones I saw in Europe: Instead of scary-looking gargoyles, here you see the animals of Ecuador. The basilica remains technically “unfinished.” Local legend says that when the basilica is completed, the end of the world will come.

Basilica del Voto Nacional. Hotel Casa Gangotena - Gateway to Historic Quito.

It was late in the afternoon, so I went back to the hotel for lunch. The official lunch serving had ended, so I went up to the bar. Here I met the server Josbert. His family was originally from the Congo and he was born in a village with the same name. The bar is an elegant replica of a private gentlemen’s club of a couple of centuries ago.

Basilica del Voto Nacional. Hotel Casa Gangotena - Gateway to Historic Quito.

The dark wood, classy color combinations, and antique prints on the wall make this a very gorgeous and relaxed area to eat. Josbert found me a delicious club sandwich (they added a fried egg to it), and made up a batch of the best ice tea I have had in Ecuador.

Am a bit of a history buff, so before returning to my exploration of historic Quito, I made an appointment with the concierge for a tour and history of the hotel at 6:30 pm that evening. In addition to the house tour, the hotel offers other complimentary exclusive activities for guests.

Casa Gangotena - Gateway to Historic Quito.

I spent the remaining hours walking around the historic areas and making notes of places I would like to see upon my return (a Museum of Numismatics at the Central Bank, caught my eye). Walking in Quito with its hilly terrain reminded me a lot of walking around San Francisco, California. Back to the hotel for my tour. Daniela, the concierge, was the tour guide. She also does two other free hotel guest favorites: a chocolate tasting and a presentation of historic Quito viewed from the terrace at the top of the hotel.

Daniela is Ecuadorian but was raised in London as you’ll recognize from her pleasantly accented English. My private house tour went for almost a full hour. Too much information to repeat here (you definably want to take the tour), but to summarize: The original hotel site (and all of San Francisco Plaza) was granted to Sebastian de Benalcázar in 1532 for his service by the King of Spain. The first house was built on this site in 1600 by the Ponce Castillejo family. In the 18th century a Basque Spaniard, Martin Gangotena, bought and moved into the residence, renaming it Casa Gangotena shortly thereafter from which the current hotel takes its name. In 1914 a fire destroyed most of the original structure, and it was rendered beyond repair.

Casa Gangotena - Gateway to Historic Quito.
Casa Gangotena - Gateway to Historic Quito.

The Gangotena family was determined to take advantage of the opportunity to transform the building into something completely new. They put the Russo brothers (famous Italian architects) in charge of the reconstruction project.

The new house did away with the original colonial style, opting instead for the elaborate European architecture that was in style. Most of the materials used in the rebuilding process were shipped directly from France, Germany, and Italy. On the tour you can still see elements of the earlier pre-fire mansion: some original flooring, a damaged hall mirror (the one with the ghost), ornate ceilings and some other antique elements. The property was purchased by Roque Sevilla, a former mayor of Quito in 2007, and is now a property of Metropolitan Touring.

Over three years were spent on restoration and transformation. In October 2011, the doors opened, and Casa Gangotena became what one guest commented, “Wow. Just wow. We have stayed at some stellar hotels around the world and this one is certainly among the very best. Luxurious barely begins to describe the hotel and the rooms. We had three rooms and each was stunning—large, comfortable, beautifully appointed, bathrooms fit for royalty.”

Daniela explained the hotel had been honored with the prestigious Relais & status for its world class service and gastronomy. This designation is not given lightly. Being awarded Relais & Châteaux status involves meeting a number of criteria, starting with quality. The organization looks at 300 different aspects of each gourmet restaurant, boutique hotel, resort, and villa that comprises its exclusive list of worldwide affiliates. Through a series of interviews and visits (some arranged, some discreet), along with references from peer properties, the admissions team at Relais & Châteaux thoroughly vets the candidate and determines if the “soul of the entity” authentically and inherently emulates the values of the organization.

Time for dinner. Chef Jose Tamayo, who started his career in Buenos Aires, suggested I try the tasting menu. It took me a minute to understand, I was not choosing just one course but tasting all six dishes, dessert, and a special custom-made cocktail.

I am not a foodie, so it’s a little beyond my ability to remember the explanation on how each dish was prepared, but Chef Jose calls it “Cocina Mestiza” which is the combination of indigenous and European-influenced cooking traditions, envisioned anew through modern techniques while celebrating fresh, native, and locally sourced ingredients. Take my word for, it was the best meal I have had in my eight years in Ecuador—food and service outstanding. Time to return to my room after a long but outstanding day. But before I did, I wanted to take one last view of historic Quito from the terrace on the top of the hotel. It was a clear night, so the almost 360 view was spectacular. The statue of the Virgin of Quito on a nearby hill was lighted and dazzling. I returned to my room. It was a spacious, quiet and conformable king-sized bed suite for a good night’s sleep.

I have been fortunate to travel Europe and Asia staying in and eating at world class establishments. Casa Gangotena numbers among them. I will stay at Casa Gangotena again soon for phase two of exploring Quito’s historic center



Ever think of a weekend trip to Quito? I am glad I did. So much to see. Make you Quito adventure reservations now at Casa Gangotena, and receive 20% off the restaurant menu (not including acholic beverages). Book today!

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