The hustle of rush hour outside the sealed climate controlled window of the sleek high-rise Hotel Dann Carlton was as busy as in any financial district for a city of three million. The lobby courtyard of Hotel La Casona de La Ronda, reborn from a c.1738 Spanish colonial mansion, was meant to shield residents from the noise of Quito while framing beloved mountain views. From a balcony of the century old Hostal Quito Cultural, a sweeping vista of life can be observed in this old Andean capital.
Quito is a narrow city nearly 25 miles long but only four or so wide. Hemmed in a narrow Andean mountain valley at over 9,000 feet elevation surrounded by five active volcanoes, the city has seen tremendous growth in the past quarter century. For visitors most attractions and hotels are either in the Old or the New City districts.
The Hotel Dann Carlton is a prime example of New City growth. This 21st century luxury hotel, complete with spa, caters to business clients in an area where building cranes jostle for space with taxis on the street. Quito’s New City expresses the vitality of a nation with a rapidly growing middle class and international export economy. Within three blocks is Quito Centro, the city’s largest, most fashionable mall offering several floors of luxury goods.
The Dann Carlton, a Columbian luxury hotel chain, offers all the first class amenities expected in any cosmopolitan city. The spacious room has a sitting area, ample desk, luxury linens and is exceptionally sound proofed. The white marble lobby is accented with voluminous and artistic flower arrangements – cut flowers are one of Ecuador’s major exports.
The breakfast buffet is outstanding on many levels – imagination, presentation and size. A glistening array of fruit is spread along side meats, cheeses and salads. Hot foods range from omelets and pasta to traditional potato dishes and plantain balls. Fresh whipped cream, jams and nuts are available to top waffles and pancakes along with a dozen breads and pastries.
Less than four miles distant is Quito’s Old City or the Centro Historico – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the 1970s. It has been a capital for a millennium: Quichua, Inca, Spanish colonial and Ecuador’s national since the mid-19th century. Although the center of political life, the Old City continues to be the cultural heart of the nation offering attractions including the great 17th and 18th century churches that gave birth to the Quito style of painting.
La Casona de La Ronda and Hostal Quito Cultural may be separated by rack rate and certain amenities but both offer historical atmosphere. At 9,000 feet elevation, a first time visitor needs to prevent over exertion. The Centro Historico is built on a hill within a series of hills and the restored arts and crafts district of La Ronda hugs an area below Plaza San Domingo.
With narrow cobblestone streets often closed to traffic, as is the case in front of La Casona de La Ronda, a bevy of staff members fetch luggage from taxis. Like many historic structures the nearly 300-year-old building lacks an elevator, but the staff will carry your bags to the room. The interior of both the atrium courtyard and the rooms of the three-story mansion is an expression of artistic and gardening exuberance.
The individually decorated rooms are spacious and, given the age of the building, quirky in layout. But the room amenities of La Casona de La Ronda are first class with the breakfast buffet an excellent mix of eggs and meats with local fruits, cheeses and juices. Through the room’s window is the 150 foot tall aluminum clad Virgin de Quito. The winged statue is a city logo and topping El Panecillo Hill it’s clearly visible illuminated in early morning sunlight.
Up the hill from La Ronda within two blocks of Plaza Grande, the Old City’s center, the street vendors from the countryside start hawking bags of fresh apples, finely woven wool shawls or boxes of baby diapers literally singing their praise with endlessly repeated jingles – like human birds chirping in the morning. From the balcony of Hostal Quito Cultural the panoply of activity passed below on pedestrian only Calle Chile – vendors in native dress and schoolchildren in freshly starched uniforms to politicians in expensive suits .
The hostal designation indicates a hotel of modest amenities, but that hardly means foregoing comfort or cleanliness. The Hostal Quito Cultural was built as a hotel in the early 20th century but in the pre-air conditioning style of a colonial mansion. The rooms surround a large three-story courtyard, now partially covered, like La Casona. The third floor offers sweeping views of the city.
Owner/manager Alicia Vega is a talented painter and many of her works decorate the rooms and public spaces of Hostal Quito Cultural. Rooms range from small singles to spacious family size with several beds and all have private baths. Breakfast is modest but fresh and the thick puree of fresh fruit that Ecuador calls juice is fine.
High speed Wi-Fi is free at all three hotels, but given the mountainous geography of Quito, connections can be inconsistent and were best in public areas rather than the rooms. Whether it’s in the heart of modern shopping, business or immersed in a centuries old neighborhood, Quito offers cultural diversity and an attractive selection of hotels. Pick your view then step out the window and live Quito.
Disclaimer: the author was a guest of Quito Turismo, Hotel Dann Carlton and La Casona de La Ronda. The Hostal Quito Cultural was an independent choice.