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!”