La Floresta, Quito’s unknown gem of a neighbourhood
With so much attention paid (rightfully so) to Quito’s impressive Centro Histórico, visitors rushing through the Ecuadorean capital on their way to the Galápagos or the Amazon may not be aware that the city is full of other appealing sights and attractions, some of which are still not included in online and printed guidebooks.
La Floresta is one of Quito’s most charming neighbourhoods yet is virtually unknown to international visitors. Located northeast of the Centro Histórico, this self-contained little quarter makes a great base for those who want to explore the city of the locals rather than the tourists. The universities located nearby offer interesting cultural points of interest such as the Museo Abya-Yala, where aspects of Ecuador’s many indigenous cultures are showcased (literally) in beautiful displays. Further along Avenida 12 de Octubre is the Museo Jacinto Jijón y Caamaño where this time the displays of indigenous cultures are married with European items within the PUCE campus in the university’s Centro Cultural complex. The former home of a wealthy, cosmopolitan Ecuadorean family now houses its legacy in the form of collections reflecting the tastes of the upper class in early 20th-century Ecuador.
Not all the sights are static in La Floresta, which is known throughout the city for its lively restaurant scene. A variety of dining establishments present a surprising array of international cuisines, perhaps enjoyed before or after a performance at Casa Toledo, a theatre and performing arts space owned by two actors who decided to bring their profession directly to the audience by transforming a large house into a theatre. Casa Toledo epitomises both the building style of La Floresta and the entrepreneurial spirit of its residents; the many grand homes are not knocked down to make way for glass highrises but rather are repurposed for other uses, including hospitality.
One of the most charming hotels in Quito, Casa Aliso, is located in La Floresta. This former home of a wealthy doctor is now a charming guesthouse with a mere 10 rooms, all of which are in high demand among sophisticated travellers seeking something unique in their accommodation. The immaculate standards, comfortable surroundings, and attentive management all make for an enjoyable stay for guests who want to feel at home rather than in a hotel. La Floresta’s restaurants, cafés, boutiques, and cultural attractions are right out the door, yet the tranquil ambience of the house is rarely disturbed.
Right around the corner from Casa Aliso is one of Quito’s most moving sights. The Casa Cultural Trude Sojka is the former home of artist Trude Sojka, a refugee from the Holocaust who started a new life as an artist in Ecuador. Rather than dwell on the horrors of her past, Trude Sojka preferred to look forward to a happier future. Her home has been made into an exhibition space showcasing her intriguing works of art in which she applied a unique, three-dimensional style. Trude’s daughter, Ana, is the curator of the museum and is often on hand for information about her mother and the works she created.
Ecuador is making great strides, not to mention investments, toward improving its tourism infrastructure and easily provides for the needs of travellers in every category from budget to luxury. Arrangements for a visit to Ecuador can be made through Latin America Reservation Center, where the management has decades of experience in preparing itineraries in the country in partnership with VIP Ecuador Expeditions and a host of other tourism partners. LARC can organise every aspect of an itinerary from flights and airport transfers to hotels and tours. Ecuador’s national airline, TAME, currently flies to regional destinations to bring travellers from other parts of Latin America to Ecuador, though its flights from Fort Lauderdale and New York help bring more international visitors to the country. The schedule of the New York flight is convenient for travellers who want to make the most of their time in Quito.