Ecuador: A Well Deserved Bath

The hotel kitchen herb garden.
The hotel kitchen herb garden.

Bathing in Luxury at the Casa Gangotena in Quito, Ecuador
By Karin-Marijke Vis

I am looking out over the Mediterranean dotted with a couple of sailing boats. Low rolling hills line the horizon. The image is framed by Corinthian columns covered in flowering vines. I feel as if I’m on vacation in Greece, Italy, or Spain. Does that make sense, with my being 9,350 feet above sea level, in Quito, Ecuador’s capital? Not really.

Bathing in Luxury

 The Plaza San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador. Coen Wubbels photos.
The Plaza San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador. Coen Wubbels photos.

I enjoy this view from my spotless white bath in a marbled bathroom that is part of a comfortable and spacious room decorated in a blend of classic and modern. I am literally bathing in luxury in the three-story Casa Gangotena Boutique Hotel, which Trip Advisor’s Traveler Awards 2014 nominated “The Best Hotel in Ecuador and South America”.

After an extensive renovation of the more than 100-year-old, neo-colonial mansion, Casa Gangotena opened its doors in 2011. The hotel has preserved as many of the original architectonic features and decorative elements as possible, the wall-to-wall fresco painting across the bathroom and bedroom of the scene described above being one of them.

Casa Gangotena bedroom.
Casa Gangotena bedroom.

Among the others are two paintings at the reception and several mirrors in the hotel. They perfectly fit in with the modern design hotel with touches of Art Nouveau and neo-classical architecture.

Next to the tub that I am soaking in, my partner Coen is taking a shower which has the force of a waterfall after we found the bathtub a tad too small for two persons. He is shampooing his hair – ‘mmm, smells good’, he comments – without turning off the tap.

One of Casa Gangotena's luxurious bathrooms.
One of Casa Gangotena’s luxurious bathrooms.

What’s the big deal here? Aren’t we just taking a bath/shower? Well, for travelers who have lived in an antique Land Cruiser for the past eleven years and whose outdoor showers consist of five liters of cold water from a shower bag – for the two of them – bathing in warm, no hot, water with foamy bubbles and not having to turn off the tap while soaping up is sheer luxury.

A slight feeling of guilt of bathing in such opulence is soothed by the thought that the hotel’s water is heated by solar panels and all soaps and shampoos (as well as the hotel’s cleaning products) are biodegradable.

Downtown Quito

The hotel and gardens.
The hotel and gardens.

We cherish a moment of relaxation after an intensive day. We had chosen a perfect day to drive to downtown Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978, which despite its alluring colonial buildings, plazas and churches suffers just as much from traffic jams as any other major city in the world. But it is Sunday and the roads were practically empty.

When parking our Land Cruiser in front of Casa Gangotena we learned that the hotel has an underground parking lot, but not for 2.70-meter-high vehicles.

“No worry,” Diego, the porter, said. “We’ll find a solution while you get settled in.”

Jane, the receptionist, took care of the paperwork and while taking us to our room showed us the glass-roofed lounge and patio garden where we would later have our ‘Quiteño coffee‘; she enthusiastically shared background information on the boutique hotel, which until some ten years ago was owned by an influential family called Gangotena.

From our room we took some of the Ecuadorian fruits with us, such as tomate de arbol, granadilla and uvilla, that were waiting on a tray with a handwritten welcome note, and then walked up the spiral marble stairway to Casa Gangotena’s panoramic terrace on the third floor.

In easy chairs underneath a parasol we ate our fruits, and took in the view of the adjacent immense, cobbled San Francisco Square that is lined with majestic churches and colonial buildings.

 The view of beautiful Quito from the hotel's terrace.
The view of beautiful Quito from the hotel’s terrace.

As we left the hotel I wondered why so many travelers prefer staying  in the northern section of Mariscal. Casa Gangotena lies smack in the middle of Quito’s most scenic quarters.

The old town is characterized by charming plazas and pedestrian streets, making it easy to go for a stroll and visit Quito’s most beautiful churches (Iglesia de la Merced and Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco), interesting museums, and watch scenes from daily life.

We watched the shoeshine boys at Plaza Grande, and from some women from neighboring villages, dressed in traditional clothes we bought a portion of treinta y uno (thirty-one), an intriguing name based on the traditional 31 pieces of stomach and other intestines that make up this snack. In fact, to learn more about Quito’s daily life, we had planned the Metropolitan Tour’s Live Quito Like a Local Walking Tour for the following day.

More Pampering

Around five we returned to the hotel, in time for the Quiteño coffee which is pretty similar to the typical English high tea, and which is served daily between four and six pm in the lounge. When Victor, the waiter, asked us whether we wanted coffee or tea we got into a discussion about flavors of Ecuadorian high-quality coffee and teas.

“We have fresh herbs for infusions and if you like I’ll show them to you,” he suggested and off we were to the patio garden, smelling and tasting mint, hierba luisa, cedrón, and thyme. We settled for the mint, which was served with an array of homemade canapés, pastries and petit fours all based on Ecuadorian ingredients, such as turnovers made of green plantains and shrimp.

The patio garden.After having eaten our complimentary fruits upon arrival, snacked downtown, and enjoyed this elaborate high tea, our stomachs were so heavy that we skipped dinner. While Marco, the porter on duty, escorted Coen in the Land Cruiser to a suitable parking lot, I slid into a warm tub filled with bubbles and closed my eyes.

I feel the fatigue draining away. My eyes feel heavy and the image of the Mediterranean starts to fade. It is time to hit the bed.

A king-sized bed that is, with pillows in three sizes. Big enough to lose one another, I muse. The size of the bed is about that of the entire interior of our vehicle in which we have camped for eleven years.

And since I have never lost Coen in our car, I figure that I won’t in the king-sized bed either.

Further information
– Website Casa Gangotena
– Website Metropolitan Touring for the walking tour Live Quito Like a Local.

Karin-Marijke Vis and Coen WubbelsKarin-Marijke Vis and her partner Coen Wubbels, photographer, have been overlanding in Asia and South America since 2003. They have been assigned the Overlanders of the Year Award 2013. Their work has been published in 4WD/car monthlies and in travel magazines. Follow them on and instagram/photocoen.

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