La Ronda: The Bohemian History of Colonial Quito
Quito’s colonial downtown holds a myriad of secrets. Inner gardens in its Spanish-style houses that are only seen through half open doors. Old stores where shoemakers still repair footwear. Restaurants that serve traditional Ecuadorian sweets and pastries. Old houses that once served as meeting points for some of the most prominent South American liberators. And not very far from Casa Gangotena – the perfectly situated hotel within this World Heritage Site – is a street where Ecuador’s most famous poets used to gather to share their views on life, love, politics and religion. Walk to the Juan de Dios Morales Street, better known as La Ronda, to get a true sense of Quito in one full and intense swoop.
La Ronda, a Street Full of History
Before the time of the Spanish conquistadors, La Ronda used to be an Inca trail that was used by inhabitants to get water from a nearby creek. Not soon after the development of the colonies in the city of Quito, which was also the Inca’s northern capital, the creek started to become polluted. The once isolated path then transformed into an urban artery of the newly developed town. In the 17th century, La Ronda started to gain fame as the spot where artists, bohemians, poets and the misunderstood would meet. By the 19th century, the gully of the creek was filled up to give the city more room to grow, becoming what to this day is now known as 24 de Mayo Avenue. It was known as the home of some of the town’s most decadent bars, canteens and brothels.
All of Quito’s most extravagant and notorious characters – artists, sculptors, historians, musicians, writers, politicians, maniacs, and poets – walked this street at some point. However, by the end of the 19th century, La Ronda fell into oblivion. Its once beautiful houses started deteriorating and it lost the appeal that had once been so attractive to the inhabitants of Quito. It wasn’t until the year 2006, when the Municipality started the recovery of the whole neighbourhood that forms a part of the famous La Ronda Street, that it came back to life, becoming once again a traditional spot for nightlife.
How Do I Get There?
La Ronda is walking distance from Casa Gangotena. Walk two blocks down Bolivar Street up until García Moreno street, where you have to take a left towards the Museo de la Ciudad (City Museum). Walk under the beautiful colonial arch and follow the street up to the 24 de Mayo boulevard. Right before the boulevard, you will see Juan de Dios Morales Street, a small pedestrian alley that begins under a bridge. You have now reached La Ronda.
When Should I Go?
La Ronda wakes up when the sun goes down. We recommend you go at sunset on any day from Thursday to Sunday, and walk up and down the street until nightfall. You will hear the live traditional music coming out from its many bars, restaurants, and taverns.
What Can I See?
La Ronda is filled with little bars, coffeeshops, galleries and handicraft stores that will capture your attention. Huge empanadas de viento (cheese-filled pasties) and the sweet smell of canelazo (traditional spiced hot drink) fill the street. Take some cash with you in case you want to indulge in any local delicacy, or want to buy an amazing hand-crafted hat, a wood-carved spinning top, and/or some delicious Ecuadorian coffee and chocolate. Remember to leave your passport and other valuables at Casa Gangotena, as you won’t be needing them here. This beautiful but hectic pedestrian area receives hundreds of visitors every night, and even though it’s constantly guarded by the city police it’s better to remain low key.
Nathalie Moeller is of Ecuadorian and German descent. As a child she spent her summers in the Galapagos Islands, where her mother grew up, and from a very young age learned to love the beauty and uniqueness of the archipelago. She studied Journalism and Humanities in Barcelona, after living in Madrid and Germany for a couple of years. This gave her a culturally broader view of the world, which is reflected in everything she does. Blogging gives her the opportunity to combine her passion for travelling and writing.