5 Questions for Quito Turismo's Gabriela Sommerfeld

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Ecuador's capital, Quito, rises more than 9,000 feet above sea level in the Andes. In Quito, the past and present coexist and are framed within pre-Columbian and colonial architecture. The first city to be named a World Heritage Site, Quito is modern, artistic, and cultural. It is located only minutes away from forests and paramos (a series of alpine tundra ecosystems), national parks, snowy volcanoes, and areas designated for birdwatching.

Gabriela Sommerfeld has been the general manager of Quito Turismo since 2015. Previously she was the CEO of Aerolineas Galapagos (Aerogal), the first woman to lead an airline in the Americas.

What's new in Quito for groups?

The San Francisco Market, located in Rocafuerte and Chimborazo, is now open to the public. Here, tourists can enjoy seeing locals trade and haggle, taste homemade dishes and fresh fruit only found in the country, or simply enjoy the market's colors, aromas, and flavors.

In the heart of Quito, tourists will find the traditional neighborhood of La Ronda, which offers various activities through the day and night. In La Ronda, tourists can see and learn about local traditional crafts from artisans including hat makers, tinsmiths, and spinning hop makers, which are all trades that have been taught from generation to generation with the goal of saving and promoting national/traditional crafts. In this neighborhood you can also find chocolate tastings in Chef Tizz and a delicious ice cream shop called Dulce Placer. At night, the bohemian nature of this neighborhood comes to life, showcasing bars with live music and restaurants. La Ronda is an excellent place to taste a canelazo -- a hot alcoholic beverage typical in Quito.

Quito Turismo has also been working to provide unique experiences around local craft beer, coffee, and chocolate. There are around ten places where tourists can learn the brewing process, which in Quito includes traditional Andean ingredients that make the beer unique. Quito was the cradle of beer in the new world and is home to the brewery of San Francisco, which was founded by Friar Jodoco Rique in 1566. Ecuadorian chocolate has also been recognized worldwide. One of the most unique experiences is to see the production process, learn about Ecuadorian cacao, and taste the final product. Coffee is also a unique staple in Ecuador as the coffee is grown in the high altitudes of the Metropolitan District of Quito, which gives it a distinct flavor. You can find various cafes in La Floresta neighborhood that offer coffee tastings.

Other areas not to miss include Bosque Nublado (Cloud Forest), 45 minutes from Quito, home to a great number of bird species, mammals, and flora. In this forest, visitors will find waterfalls, wood trails and a great place to enjoy birdwatching or adventure sports like mountain biking. Additionally, in this forest, you can find the spectacled bear, sometimes called Andean bear, a species that is currently vulnerable and is the only surviving species of bear native to South America.

What's a venue or activity that's a "hidden gem" for visiting groups?

Quito Eterno, a non-profit organization that offers cultural and educational tours in Quito, can arrange a tour of Bolivar Theater, one of the most important places in Quito for culture and art. Visiting groups can consider this theater for an exclusive concert and even enjoy a tasting onstage.

The Bolivar Theater was inaugurated in April 15, 1933 with capacity for 2,400 people. It would later become the main stage for large events on the Pacific Coast. In 1997, Empresa de Teatros took over the management of the theater, restored the building, and created an ambitious calendar of national and international events. In 1998, it reopened to the public as the City Theater.

On August 8, 1999, the building caught fire due to a gas leak in a commercial restaurant space on the ground floor of the same building. The theater is currently in the process of being fully restored.

What's a good outing for a group looking to get a sense of the culture or history?

An interactive tour through the historic district should include local landmarks like the Church of the Society of Jesus and the San Francisco Convent. Another great site to visit is the Guayasamin Museum, which is home to "La Capilla del Hombre" (The Chapel of Man) and offers a homemade lunch for 15 people and a piano concert of national music. Guayasamin was a prominent Ecuadorian painter, sketcher, sculptor, graphic artist, and muralist.

In the evening, make time to visit a local lounge like Misquilla, which comes from the words "kichua mishkilla," meaning sweet, to enjoy live shows and local foods.

Another exciting nighttime activity is the Jacchigua Show, which is showcased every Wednesday at the Ecuadorian Cultural Center. Jacchigua celebrates the Ecuadorian culture in its many forms: from traditional dance to folkloric music. Groups can also tour the historic center at night and visit Casa 1028, a mobile gourmet restaurant that offers typical Ecuadorian cuisine and stories of local legends and traditions inside the food truck.

Where should a group go to get a truly local culinary experience?

Quito offers a variety of experiences to taste the national cuisine such as visiting San Francisco, one of the oldest markets in the city with over 120 years of life, tradition, and good taste of Quito's savory cuisine. The San Francisco market has more than 120 tents showcasing local foods and herbs. In this large market, guests can sample dishes such as mote, llapingachos (fried potato cakes), yahuarlocro (a light meat stew), chicken broth, and fresh juices made ​​from local fruits and vegetables. The charm of the San Francisco Market is that the vast majority of sellers has been working in the market for years and have passed this tradition from generation to generation.  

Is there anything else that you think makes Quito a great destination for groups?

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, declared the first cultural heritage by UNESCO in 1978, is an emerging tourist destination and is known worldwide as the most beautiful historic city in Latin America. It is a metropolis with a fascinating diversity. Adventure, relaxation, culture, gastronomy, and traditions make up the essence of the 33 magical towns of Quito. Rural life is still alive in the multicultural and colorful city. With a wide range of exciting experiences in every corner, groups have many activities to choose from in Quito.