Juan León Mera
Modernity finds mid-20th century Quito longing to expand northward and create a new, exciting city, one that does not retire as early in the evening and is not overwhelmed with churches and cloisters on every block. La Mariscal was just the pioneering experiment in urban planning Quito required, and in only half a century, it transformed itself into what it has become today. There were stages to that transformation. The original rural north of the Colonial city center, a place for cattle grazing and agriculture, became a country-house haven with about 30 houses and a horse-racing track. It then turned into a commercial hub, and with that came tourism, the first large-scale hotels, and the nightclubs and wall-to-wall bars and entertainment we find today.
As you walk the streets, you somehow feel the many versions that layer this unique part of town, from castle-wannabes to stoic white mansions with neo-colonial ornaments, tiles, and wrought-iron gates to hip bars and discos that spice up Quito’s nightlife. From the moment Quiteños dreamed of fleeing beyond the confines of their Colonial funnel, La Mariscal has meant modernity, modernity in its many unpredictable forms.
Walking La Mariscal
To suggest a walking tour for La Mariscal is not always practical, since the area is large and sightseeing activities can involve large stretches without “sights” to behold. But if you’re so inclined, here are two separate walks that may catch your fancy.
The Plaza Foch Area
If you begin at Plaza Gabriela Mistral, next to the oddly-conceived 1970’s La Ecuatoriana building (on Cordero and Diego de Almagro) – you can get good pizza with a good view of the square at corner Cosa Nostra – walk one block over (south) to the neighborhood’s most shaded and picturesque block, Calle Juan Rodríguez between Diego de Almagro and Avenida 6 de Diciembre. Its appeal is defined by the many mid-XXth century residences that have been left pretty much as is, though most have been converted into accessibly-priced hostals. Two blocks past, you approach Plaza Foch, bizarrely branded the “Foch Yeah” plaza, surrounded by bars and eateries. One place worth visiting is the Republica de Cacao café on the left, past Juan Valdez, for its step-by-step display on how Ecuador’s fine dark chocolate is made (purchase a range of products in the chocolate boutique). Double back and turn left onto Mariscal Foch find good brunch (and stay) at Magic Bean, and then left again onto Juan Leon Mera where internet café/chocolate house Kallari, inspired on the Amazonian region its products come from, offers the one-and-only guayusa tea, an Amazonian replacement of coffee.
Mercado Artesanal and beyond
The starting point of our second suggested route is the Artisanal Market (Mercado Artesanal), a wonderful place to shop, simply because it seems to have everything, especially things that one would identify Ecuador’s Andean world with, from ponchos, panflutes, silver jewellery, Panama hats, the always popular “I love Boobies” (as in Blue-footed Boobies) t-shirts to shawls and scarves of every color. Perhaps you can muster places that sell more authentic items, including La Bodega, a shop some three blocks north of the Artisanal Market, on Reina Victoria (if you arrive here, also take a look at AG, Argentum, to pick up some unique trinkets). Boutique hotel Café Cultura is also on the way here, a stoic mid-XXth century residence good for tea, and across the street from the Artisanal Market, Galeria Beltrán, where you will find the fine canvases of Ecuadorian Impressionist artist Mario Ronquillo. Straight south from the market, across the wide Avenida Patria, reach Parque El Ejido (p. xxx), one of Quito’s busiest parks. Across the street, you’ll find several institutions dedicated to the arts and culture: Casa de la Cultura, Teatro Prometeo and the large glass building, the Museo Nacional de Cultura, that apart from an important art collection, houses an auditorium and the Alfredo Pareja projection room. Heading back across the street, and back across Avda. Patria under the Circasiana Arch, walk onto Avenida Amazonas, where one of Quito´s first grand hotels, Hotel Hilton Colon, rises. The second left past it, on Jorge Washington, takes you to the small but quaint Benjamín Carrión Cultural Center, which sometimes houses temporary exhibits (check out the ceiling décor!). Then, one block over, right on Robles, you will reach a church worth visiting, Santa Teresita. You can head back north on 9 de octubre to Plaza Yerovi, a perfect spot to take a load off, surrounded by tall trees and the view of the colorful houses whose walls have been painted by graffiti artists.
OTHER PLACES OF INTEREST
Mindalae Museum (Niña & Reina Victoria) – This museum of craft heritage is dedicated to Andean worldview, shamanism, ceramics and crafts, as well as a section dedicated to forests and its ecosystems.
Camari (Darquea & Versalles) – A health food store with all the superfoods and native nature products.
La Circasiana (10 de Agosto & Colón)– One of the neighborhoods most grandiose mansion-like constructions.
Achiote (Reina Victoria y Juan Rodríguez) – A restaurant to try all things Ecuadorian.
Balbek (6 de Diciembre & Wilson) – Excellent for sit-down Lebanese (across the street, you also have a tasty fast-food Lebanese joint)
Patio de las Comedias – (18 de septiembre, entre 9 de octubre y Amazonas) A theatre for intimate, small-scale productions.
NIGHTLIFE (a shortlist)
Bars and Nightclubs
The list is endless… here’s some of our recommended places:
The Hangout (and Tuesday night salsa): Café Democrático
The Nightclub: No Bar
Pubs: Cherusker, The Boot, Finn McCools
Cuban bar and live music: Varadero