The Ecuadoreans take their festivities seriously and it’s fiesta time in Quito this week to celebrate the anniversary of the capital city’s founding on December 6, 1534. It’s a great time of year to be in Quito as it comes alive with parades, parties, shows, and performances as well as some must-see historical traditions. Everybody takes to the streets happy and smiling because who doesn’t love a good party? Here’s our guide to how to make the most of the week.
Free for all
Thanks to the city government’s generosity, most of the events during the week are free, from concerts and special parties in bars and nightclubs around the city to exhibitions and shows galore. This also means there’ll be crowds of people wherever you go so be prepared for some long lines.
Watch the coches de madera race
This is one of the city’s most-loved annual traditions in which children competitively race wooden carts around the city’s old town at speeds faster than their parents would like, starting in the El Tejar neighborhood. Some children build the carts themselves out of wood and rubber wheels. The tradition dates back to 1973 when two brothers Marco and Jorge Aguilar decided to revive their childhood memories of racing around their neighborhood in traditional wooden carts and organized the first race to raise money for charity.
The high-altitude nights in Quito can get pretty chilly and the Quiteños remedy this with , also known as puntas, that’s a hot alcoholic drink. While it’s consumed all year round, it’s often the beverage of choice during this festive week. It’s a homemade brew of the sweet smelling local citrus fruit naranjilla, cinnamon and some form of sugar cane alcohol. You’ll find street vendors selling it on virtually every street corner.
Ride a chiva
Be sure to hop on a chiva at least once this week. You can’t miss these famous party buses driving through the main streets and plazas blasting out dance tunes for revelers. They’re old wooden buses converted into mobile dance floors with poles to dance around. The chivas stop in prime nightlife spots around the city for the party animals onboard to get on and off as they pass around the canelazo. However ride the bus with care. They are not the safest form of transportation as there are no windows and only ropes and dancing poles to cling to instead of seats. If you’re not sure how to catch a ride, befriend some locals and secure an invite.
Hang out in La Ronda
This iconic old street is at the heart of the week’s activities and is always packed with merry people in the streets drinking, dancing and playing music. However you’ll find block parties and processions in most parts of town as some of the neighborhoods also celebrate their favorite saint during this week.
Play Cuarenta (40)
If party buses aren’t your thing, join the locals for a more civilized game of Cuarenta. It’s a longstanding tradition to play this local card game during the fiestas and whole offices will finish work early just to play it over a few beers. It’s an easy game to learn and any Quiteño will happily teach you the rules. It can be played either in teams or as individuals and the aim is to capture your opponent’s cards by matching their value and scoring points. The winner is the first person or team to get to 40.
Expect to get much sleep
There’ll be noisy parades and parties going on around the clock so if you’re not out on the streets having fun with the other night owls, it might be worth investing in a pair of earplugs for bed.
Get drunk and disorderly on the streets
Don’t overdo the canelazo and have your wits about you. The high altitude means you’ll feel drunk quicker and Quito does have some safety issues, particularly at night, so be safe and watch out for oncoming chivas in the streets. Stick to a group of friends and don’t veer off alone from the crowds.
Support the bullfights
Back in the day, the Fiestas de Quito used to take place within the city’s two bullrings and the week was centered on the tradition of bullfights in which large groups of bulls would die at the hands of matadores clad in their iconic red capes. For a lot of the locals then and now, this tradition was considered an import from Spain and doesn’t represent the true Quiteño spirit and identity. A law was passed in recent years to prevent the bulls’ deaths from taking place within the ring itself and a lesser number of lances being used on each bull but the event is still surrounded in controversy.
For more information and a full listing of events around town, visit Quito Cultura.
Got any other useful tips for the Fiestas de Quito? Tell our readers about them below.