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Just down the hill from the gothic cathedral is Arenas market, a mismatched jumble of second-hand clothes, tools, pots, books and vinyls. At this locals’ bazaar you can find a cheap fur-lined jacket, or peep into the cramped stalls to see a crinkle-faced woman deftly working an ancient foot-powered sewing machine. Unlike many Latin American markets the mellow stallholders will leave you to browse as you please, with no one hassling you to make a purchase.
With an unremarkable interior, the Basílica is best viewed from outside or from the top of its tower. Here the gargoyles typical of the neo-gothic style have been replaced with Ecuadorian animals like turtles and dolphins that appear to dive out through the stonework. If you can handle vertigo, climb all the way to the top for a sprawling view of the city and the clock towers which never show the correct time.
La Compañía church off Plaza Grande has a dazzling interior, lined with frescoes and gold leaf. Head there on a Monday morning to catch the weekly changing of the guard in the adjacent square, and possibly spot President Rafael Correa giving an address from his balcony.
Casa de Guayasamín
The house of legendary painter, Oswaldo Guayasamín, opened to the public after his death in 1999. Voyeuristic tours sift through his dining room where he entertained Che Guevara, his bedroom with his collection of pre-Columbian erotic sculptures, his 1970s bathroom with a sunken tub and into his wardrobe to see his painter’s smocks. Half-indigenous Guayasamín built his Chapel to Mankind on the site, a huge stone temple filled with paintings depicting the suffering of Latin American people.
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As the Teleférico cable car climbs further up into the sky, the city below starts to look like a toy town. From the top – 4,053 metres above sea level – the whole world seems to unfold below, with volcano peaks mysteriously appearing and vanishing with the clouds. From the upper cable car station, the fit can hike to the peak of Pichincha, one of the four volcanoes in the area, or find the nearby horseback tours. A word of warning: 1,000 extra metres of altitude makes a difference, and can lead to a loss of coordination, and helpless giggles.
Casa de Guayasamín
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