Ecuador: The Best of Both Hemispheres
By Prof. Barry Goldsmith
Are your clients looking for an exotic foreign country that’s warm all year round? How about a country that’s not only on the same currency and voltage, but also in the same time zone as Florida?
Such a country does exist, and it can be found in South America. Don’t think you have enough time to go to the Southern Hemisphere, so you want to stay in the Northern? Then this is the perfect country for you, where you can have your cake and eat it in both hemispheres at the same time! In what country can you visit both hemispheres in a single vacation? In the country named after the equator—Ecuador.
Thanks to AeroGal there are now nonstop flights from JFK to Guayaquil, Ecuador. From there, AeroGal flies to two of the most fascinating South American destinations, Cuenca and Quito—both in tiny Ecuador.
Unlike many old, historic, picturesque South American colonial cities, Cuenca (a compact city of almost 500,000) does not have a precious “Old City” filled with tourists during the day and vacant by night. Cuenca’s city center is a vibrant business and residential area. The city center boasts of many architectural styles from 18th-century baroque, early 19th-century neoclassicism, middle to late 19th-century historicism and even late 20th-century modern – the good, the bad and the trendy – often sharing the same block.
Calderon Park is Cuenca’s main square. Most main squares in South America and Iberia have a major cathedral. Cuenca tops them. Calderon Park has a spare – Cuenca’s original, 18th-century cathedral faces the new one. The picturesque new cathedral looks as if it has more domes than the entire skyline of Florence, Italy.
Most of Cuenca’s major squares have fountains – giving them a European – almost an Italian — feel. With the squares’ numerous flower kiosks, I smell the beauty of Cuenca. With their fountains, I hear it. (When it’s windy, I feel it.)
Likapaay, a restaurant/night club perched on a hill, has dazzling views of Cuenca aglow at night. Likapaay’s costumed, native dancers are professionals, not waiters doubling as talent as on a tacky cruise. Likapaay’s floorshow had only one drawback – it distracted me from the spectacular view. However, for dessert they served Flan Queso, which distracted me from both the dancers and the view.
Quito, the world’s second highest capital city after La Paz, Bolivia, was the first world city to be designated a World Heritage Site and deservedly so. Quito has South America’s best Spanish Colonial ecclesiastic architecture, spanning many different styles incorporating the best European architecture of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Yes, Quito is “European old.”
Almost every major church defines and dominates its plaza. These plazas define the urban beauty of Quito as in no other “Old City” in South America. Barrios with narrow streets surprisingly open onto magnificent squares centered by fountains and statues.
Santo Domingo’s fan-shaped pavement reminds me of Siena’s great Piazza Publico.
San Francisco’s church dominates its eponymous plaza, the largest in Quito, where even modern buildings are designed to blend in with historic. San Francisco’s two-toned facade is as artistically unique as America’s two-toned cars from the 1950s. The façade’s dark stone portal recalls the great ascetic Spanish palace/monastery, El Escorial.
La Compañía de Jesus’ facade is adorned with brown stone Baroque twisted columns looking as if they were ripped off Bernini’s Baldachino from the Vatican’s St. Peter’s. La Compañía’s interior is the most dramatic of any South American church – gold-gilt carving everywhere. And yet, it’s not overdone. The effect of this gold is delicate and ethereal. The only interior that comes close is Venice’s San Marco, when its heavenly gold mosaics are illuminated at night.
Enough churches? Quito has numerous historic secular buildings. Visit the 18th-century home of Quito’s George Washington, Ecuador’s Liberator, Mariscal Sucre—so completely furnished that it doubles as a museum of 19th-century decorative arts. Like Quito’s churches, most secular buildings are built around courtyards (secular cloisters).
Hungry but don’t want to kill time eating lunch? Grab the typical and filling Ecuadorian soup: Andes potatoes, avocado and cheese at one of the many courtyard restaurants in the Archbishop’s Palace on the Plaza Grande, where you can simultaneously absorb nutrition and history in record time. (Also in this Main Square is the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace Mondays at 11 a.m.)
Quito has the ultimate “Green” historic center, where old crumbling buildings have been recycled as 21st-century museums. The new Museum of the City of Quito was once the 16th-18th century Hospital of San Juan. It still has its original functioning fountains and wells competing for attention with 21st-century interactive museum displays. The new Bicentennial Museum of Liberation is in a former military hospital. And the Quito Museum of Colonial Art — apropos to its name – is housed in an 18th-century colonial house. While the Quito Cultural Center was an 18th-century barracks.
Quito is ensuring that renovation will also be part of its future with the Escuela Taller. Since 1992 this school has trained disadvantaged young adults (ages 16 to 22) in many aspects of restoration: wood carving, gilding, textile repair, stone masonry, carpentry, metalwork, etc. Their work not used in restoration is for sale in their shop, helping fund the school.
The perfect place to finish the day is the Hilton Colon Quito—Quito’s only luxury hotel, ideally located on the cusp of the old city and the beginning of the new—just across the street from the fascinating Central Bank Museum. (www.Hilton.com)
Contact the Ecuador Tourist Board at 800-ECUADOR or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ecuadortouristboard.com