Some travelers prefer to check out the nightlife in La Mariscal district, dancing and drinking until the cocks crow. But Quito has other ways to enjoy weekend nights, that even families may enjoy, right in the colonial heart of the city.
Once upon a time, La Ronda was the soul of Quiteña culture. Just two blocks south of Plaza Santo Domingo was where many poets lived, and here many of the old-time songs were composed. Already by the 1990s, this two-block-long neighborhood had become one of the most dangerous in the Centro Histórico, plagued with robberies, prostitution and drug dealing. For several decades, the residents tried to get the city to help them recuperate their barrio. Finally, in middle of the 21st century’s first decade, the city agreed—but wanted the people to move out. The families fought to remain, saying that they would work together.
In 2007, the renewed La Ronda opened as a tourist attraction. Generations-old family shops, making artisan candles, sweets and espumillas (fruit-flavored whipped cream), found new clientele. Some families opened restaurants featuring traditional Quiteño cuisine. Children played the barrio’s music. Visitors stopped to sing and dance along in the narrow, cobblestone lane.
Within months, La Ronda became THE place to go Friday and Saturday nights. The blocks around the district become one massive parking lot. The streets are crowded with couples and families strolling from café to café, drinking canelazo (a warm drink made of fruit juice and cane alcohol), dining and listening to music. Now many establishments are owned by non-barrio residents, and a variety of music is now heard (not just the traditional Quiteña sounds).
On Saturday nights, Quito offers Noches Patrimoniales. These tours, conducted by guides in period costumes, last 45 minutes and depart at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. from the tourism office (Calle Venezuela and Calle Espejo. Tel: 257-2445/295-4469, URL: www.quito.com.ec). Participants learn about the history and legends of the Centro Histórico, and visit different museums. The cost is $6 per person. Contact the tourism office for more details.
Also on Saturday nights, Biciacción (Tel: 245-6156) invites people to join it on bicycle excursions through Quito’s Historic Center.
After checking out the Centro Histórico’s nightlife on Friday and Saturday nights, take it easy Sunday morning when the entire downtown becomes a pedestrian mall until 2 p.m.
Artists, craftspeople and musicians perform along Calle García Moreno and Calle Sucre. The main plazas—Grande, San Francisco and Santo Domingo—vibrate with free theater, dance, music and puppet shows. Sometimes events also happen at Plaza la Merced (Calles Cuenca and Chile) and Plaza del Teatro (Calles Sucre and Manabí). Many of the churches and museums are open. Vendors come out, selling baskets of fresh fruits, cups of espumilla and toys.
There are plenty of happenings for children, too, with face painting, games and crafts.
Ciclopolis (Tel: 290-1920, URL: www.ciclopolis.ec) sponsors the Ciclopaseo from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. This 27-kilometer (16.2-mile) bicycling circuit runs from Parque de los Recuerdos in the North, down Avenida Amazonas, into the Centro Histórico and South as far as Quitumbre. Mechanics are posted at four spots along the way.
If you happen to not have a bike, you can lease one for the day, for $5.60. Rentals can be arranged at several points along the circuit (Jorge Washington, Tribunal del Sur or La Kennedy) or by phoning Ciclopolis. Some form of identification must be left as a “deposit.”
The carefree spirit in downtown Quito’s streets, however, continues well past the stages are broke down and the artists have packed their instruments. Until sundown, children continue to chase the pigeons in the squares, neighbors sit to chat and vendors to sell fruits.