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Quito has one of South America’s best-preserved historic centers, but it’s not the only thing Veronica Sevilla, general manager of Quito Tourism Board, is excited about. Sevilla thinks visitors should come to Quito to experience a city that mixes the old with the new — such as a brand-new convention center opening in August 2018 — and to experience the city’s unique natural surroundings.
Sevilla also urges travelers to stop doing Quito all wrong: It’s not just a one-night stopover before heading to the Galapagos. Below, she explains why.
What message are you trying to spread about Quito? We are educating travel agents all around the world, especially in the U.S., to show how Quito is part of the experience of Ecuador.
Quito is an Andean city with its own character, and it’s a city where you feel nature surrounding you. Even though it’s a vibrant, modern place, it has this contrast. For example, it has the best historical center in South America, but also modern developments such as the Metropolitan Convention Center that we’re building by August 2018.
During a visit, guests can appreciate the synchronicity of Quito’s indigenous culture and the culture of the West. It’s interesting to see how we mix everything together. The city’s new strategy is to show that to the world.
What are some characteristics of Quito that you think agents should know about?We have incredible monasteries. We have more than 30 monasteries in the historical part of the city, featuring our unique Baroque school of Quito, which is not like Cusco’s or Mexico’s baroque style. Quito’s is very rich in gold, and there is not a spot without decoration.
For example, visit La Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus and Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco. There are many others you can visit, and they are all still active monasteries. That’s what I’m saying — Quito is a city that still lives the way it lived 100 years ago. You will always be having authentic experiences with the locals and the places where we grew and continue to grow our families and traditions.
How can visitors interact with locals and immerse themselves in culture?You’ll find wood carving artisans whose families have been artisans for hundreds of years. You can visit them and buy very unique pieces of art that are not as expensive as they are in the U.S.
While Quito is not a shopping destination, it’s incredible for very special pieces of art and handicrafts of high quality. To find unique pieces for great prices, visitors can go to Calle La Ronda, La Mariscal district or various galleries of handicrafts.
And, of course, what kind of food can guests expect?Quito has incredible gastronomy. Because of our many altitudes, we have lots of different ingredients that we use. Expect soups based on potatoes, herbs from the Andes, pork, corn and avocado.
Does Quito receive a lot of North American visitors? Our main market is the U.S., which makes up almost 60 percent of foreign visitors because Quito is the gateway to Ecuador and the Galapagos. Usually people who travel to Ecuador travel to the Galapagos, and they don’t stay in Quito for more than one or two nights.
Once they are here, they notice they can do so much more — such as visit the Choco-Andean forest where we have such renowned lodges as Mashpi Lodge.
So, how many nights should someone spend in Quito?I recommend that travelers to the Galapagos spend at least three nights in Quito. Guests always say, “If I would have known that it’s so beautiful and has so much to see, I would have stayed in Quito for two more nights.”
What are some ways that Quito is a sustainable city?We take care of our patrimony as it was, and our nature as it is. We are very environmentally and culturally conscious. We have been taking care of our historical center for hundreds of years.
What is Quito doing to preserve its culture?What we are always concerned about is giving back to our people and the way they live. In this globalized world, everyone does the same things, dresses the same and eats the same. What we are doing is getting tourism to native people so they earn money with the traditional businesses they have and so they preserve our customs.
That way, our people can live off their traditions, and they don’t have to do something else to earn a living. Sustainable tourism is good for the people, but it must be sustainable economically, environmentally and socially. Quito’s people are getting a better way of life and a good lifestyle doing things their ancestors have done for hundreds of years. Tourism is the only way to preserve our culture.