Small-town Charm in the Heart of Ecuador’s Capital City

San Marcos

When you stay at Illa you will be hosted by historic San Marcos, on one the most welcoming traditional barrios in Quito. Its central axis runs along the iconic calle Junín. For generations, San Marcos has been home to a dynamic community of writers, artists, and musicians, and its present day charm owes much to the tight-knit community of residents. Neighbors still greet each other in the street, stopping by in the plaza to chat on a warm evening. And at minutes walk away from the historic center’s main attraction, this residential neighborhood is especially convenient for visitors.

Hidden Treasures: History and Architecture in San Marcos

Espumilla San MarcosWhen San Marcos was founded in 1580, it fell along the boundaries of Quito’s original colonial city. So when you’re walking around the area, imagine that the now-urban landscape was originally dotted with small fields for crops and lots for livestock. The area maintained its colonial arrangements until the beginning of the 20th century, when hard times forced many home-owning families to convert portions of their large properties into rental housing.

Geographically, San Marcos begins at the corner of calle Flores and calle Espejo– what is now the Monasterio de Santa Catalina– and ends at the cul-de-sac on the far-end of calle Junín. Santa Catalina is a convent; the cloistered nuns who live there have a small store where they sell shampoo and herbal remedies through a rotating wooden door. When President Gabriel García Moreno was assassinated, the nuns hid his body in the convent in order to protect the corpse from his political enemies. It was In the colonial period, this land belonged to conquistador Lorenzo de Cepeda, and the building that now houses the convert was originally Cepeda’s family home, built in 1613. If we go back even farther into history, some sources suggest that this was once the location of an Aclla Huasi (a Quechua term meaning “House of the Chosen Ones”), a residence for women who were designated to entertain the Inca ruler.

Many buildings in San Marcos house deep layers of history, now hidden within their walls. As you continue down the street, you will notice that the facades represent a variety of architectural styles. Most of the houses were constructed around the year 1700, and while some buildings maintain their original appearances, but many others were given an urban makeover in the early 20th century, when quiteños wanted to show themselves off as members of the modern world. Houses remodeled in that time period largely reflect the influence of French and Italian styles.

What to do in San Marcos: Museums and Artist Workhops

Artist Workhops San Marcos

The area is primarily residential, but you can still find enough restaurants, museums, and plazas to keep you occupied during your visit! On the corner of Junín and Montufar, you can find a museum dedicated to the legacy of Independence-era icon Manuela Saenz, the lover of Simón Bolívar. The Museo de Arquitectura de Ecuador includes displays of Quito’s architectural history as well as a library. One place that you can’t miss is the Museo de Acuarela y Dibujo Oswaldo Muñoz Mariño. Follow the life and work of this remarkable artist through this collection of watercolor landscapes and sketches.

Learning the stories of San Marcos will take you through centuries of history.Don’t miss out on you chance to be a part of it! The street is full of artists and artisanry. Ask about the house of Jaime Zapata, an Ecuadorian painter whose residence  operated as a pasta factory at the beginning of the 20th century. You’ll also notice the workshops of a guitar craftsman, a woodworker, an antiques restorer, and a group of silkscreen printers who call San Marcos home. The  neighborhood’s 17th-century church, the Iglesia de San Marcos, as well as the attached parsonage, have been recently restored, and the local priest has even opened up the foyer as a public art gallery.

Painter in San Marcos


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