If you find yourself in Ecuador’s beautiful capital city Quito, there is one spot you cannot miss – literally it can be seen from all over the city. At 545 feet tall, El Panecillo is a hill protruding from the city center and is as famous for its history as it is its views. Although seeing this massive hill from the city below is a sight to be seen, the real beauty lies at the top.
At 9,350 feet, Quito holds the title of the worlds second highest elevated capital city, and El Panecillo takes you up even higher to an altitude of 9,895 feet. Standing at its peak, over 50 stories high, you have panoramic views of the town below and the surrounding Andes Mountains. On a clear day, you can even see Cotopaxi, one of South America’s most active volcanoes.
Standing at the edge of the hill really feels as though you are on top of the world. From almost every direction, Quito looks like a wave of buildings appearing to go on forever, with only the surrounding mountain range to define its end. It truly is an unforgettable scene.
If you are seeking even greater heights, you may enter the statue of La Virgen del Panecillo, and for a small fee climb to the viewing deck for even more impressive views.
La Virgen del Panecillo
The impressive statue overlooking the valley below, La Virgen del Panecillo, was completed by Agustin de la Herran in 1976. It is a much larger replica of Bernardo de Legarda’s original, with the only difference being the addition of the wings. It is said to be the only statue of the Madonna in the world that is graced with the wings of an angel.
At 148ft, this massive statue of the Madonna is made of 7,000 aluminum pieces. With a ring of stars upon her head and a serpent and globe beneath her feet, she is meant to represent the “Woman of the Apocalypse,” as described in the Bible.
The erection of this statue was pivotal to Quito’s art world, as it shows the Madonna in movement, which is a stark contrast to her purely static predecessors.
El Panecillo wasn’t always known as the ‘little loaf’ hill. Before the Spanish invaded in the 1500’s, the ancient Incans built a temple atop the hill to worship the sun; it was called ‘Shungoloma,’ the Quechua word meaning ‘heart hill.’ And before the Incans, the hill was referred to as ‘Yavirak.’
Although its name has changed throughout the centuries, the one thing that has remained is its significance to the local people. Whether used as a temple of worship for aboriginals, a military fortress for invaders or a landmark to separate the city, El Panecillo has indeed stood the test of time.
Located in the heart of the city, El Panecillo marks the division of northern an southern Quito. From Old Town, take the winding and scenic Melchor Aymerich (street name), and be to the top in less than 10 minutes. It is best to take a taxi or tour bus – rather than walking – as the area is known for pickpockets and even armed robberies; although recent heightened police presence has lessened the number of incidents.
You can visit El Panecillo any time of day, but it is recommended to go between 9:00 and 6:00. There is no cost to explore the hill, but expect to pay a small fee to use the restroom. For $2 you may enter the statue to visit its museum and climb to the viewing platforms.
There are some stalls set up along the plateau, where you can purchase souvenirs or indulge in some local Ecuadorian cuisine. Be sure to sample the canelazo, a delicious warm adult beverage, popular among the people of the Andean highlands.
From nature enthusiasts to history buffs and adventurers alike – there is something for everyone at this ancient landmark in the heart of Ecuador’s capital.