The Most Beautiful Historic Churches in Quito

Twilight in Plaza de San Francisco, home to San Francisco Church and Convent and Palacio Gangotena
Twilight in Plaza de San Francisco, home to San Francisco Church and Convent and Palacio Gangotena | © Bogdan Lazar / Alamy Stock Photo
Rick Segreda

Cultural Activist

Quito has one of the largest concentrations of beautiful ancient churches in Latin America. It’s a rewarding experience to visit them, both for their aesthetic appeal and also to learn about their rich history. Most of the Ecuadorian capital’s churches are within walking distance of each other in the historical district – a Unesco-listed site. Here’s our selection of the must-visit churches in Quito.

You can visit many of Quito’s architectural landmarks on a guided walking tour of the historic center as part of Culture Trip’s exclusive eight-day Ecuador adventure, led by our Local Insider.

The Basilica del Voto Nacional

The largest of all Quito’s churches, inspired by Bourges Cathedral in France, is an awe-inspiring edifice with towering spires. It’s also the largest neo-Gothic cathedral in South America. Construction began in 1887 and was largely completed by 1909. According to local urban legend, the final completion of the site will occur shortly before the end of the world. For a small fee, you can tour the interior upper levels of the structure.

The Church of la Compañía de Jesús

La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, with its ornate design and gold leaf covering much of its vast interior, is widely regarded as one of the most visually striking churches in Ecuador. Construction began in 1605 in Spanish baroque style, also incorporating elements of French and Italian baroque, and even Moorish influence, before its eventual completion in 1765.

The Church and Monastery of San Francisco

The oldest of all of Quito’s churches – and indeed, the oldest in Ecuador – the Church and Monastery of San Francisco began construction in 1534 and continued for 150 years. The curved steps leading up to the main entrance were originally designed for the Belvedere of the Vatican before the plans were utilized instead for this structure. The church, convent, and accompanying museum contain a total of 3,500 works of colonial art.

The Santo Domingo Church

Facing Santo Domingo Plaza, the Santo Domingo Church, like the Church and Monastery of San Francisco, also began construction in the 16th century and features a museum. From the high tower, featuring a large clock, and throughout its interior, its style ranges from Baroque to Moorish. The church also serves as one of the primary showcases for Quito School of Art, noted for its realism and incorporation of indigenous themes.

Basilica of our Lady of the Merced

Founded by priests of the La Merced order in the 16th century as a basilica, it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1660 before rebuilding began in 1701. Some of its more unusual aspects include pagan motifs, such as the stone pillars at the entrance with images of the sun and the moon, and a fountain featuring a statue of the Roman god, Neptune. It also features a library with historical parchment books and a museum with antique jewelry and paintings.

The Church of El Sagrario

The Church of El Sagrario, built between 1607 and 1747, is adjoined to the Cathedral of Quito and is renowned for its elaborate decoration by local artist Bernardo de Legarda – one of the most important figures in the Quito School of Art. It features a range of architectural styles, including baroque, Moorish and neoclassical.

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito

The seat of Quito’s Archdiocese, facing Plaza Grande, this 16th-century cathedral features the tomb of José Antonio Sucre, a hero of Ecuador’s independence, and a plaque noting where President Garcia Moreno bled to death in 1875 after being attacked by an assassin. There is a curious contrast between its reserved orthodox Spanish exterior and florid baroque interior.

Carmen Alto Church and Convent

This Carmelite convent and church was built in 1653 and is the burial place of Santa Mariana de Jesus, the first native-born Ecuadorian to be canonized by the Catholic Church. The interior of the church features intricate carvings, sculptures and paintings by artists such as Diego de Robles and Bernardo de Legardo, and a museum that offers an insight into the monastic way of life. The nuns who live there make traditional sweets, baked goods and other organic products which are available to buy.

Carmen Bajo

The church and convent of Carmen Bajo, or Carmen Low, was completed in 1745, and is named as such to distinguish it from Carmen Alto, or Carmen High, because it sits at a lower elevation than the latter church. The cloistered design of the building shelters the practicing nuns from the world outside, but also provides safe haven for some of Quito’s most historically valuable art, including the sculptures and paintings of 18th century Mother Superior, Magdalena Dávalos.

Church of San Agustin

Dedicated to the Catholic saint and philosopher, Saint Augustine, whose life the church honors through a series of paintings on its walls, it features a moody and evocative 17th-century conference hall where scholarly Catholic monks debated faith and theology. The carillon tower contains two period bronze bells.

Santa Catalina de Sienna Church and Convent

Both a museum as well as the site of an active convent, the Santa Catalina de Sienna Church has significant historical resonance for dedicated Roman Catholics. The property upon which this house of worship was built in 1594 belonged to Don Lorenzo de Cepeda, brother of Saint Teresa of Avila – one of the most famous Catholic saints. The small museum features more than 100 works of 17th and 18th-century religious art, and through a cloistered door that preserves the privacy of the cloistered sisters, you can buy the products they make such as wine, creams, and syrup.

The Church of San Blas

San Blas is not only one of Quito’s oldest churches, dating back to 1573, but the first specifically intended to serve the indigenous population, where Ecuador’s first Mestizo priest performed mass. The walls feature classical, baroque-era portraits of the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus, as well as Mary Magdalene and the apostle, John. The ornate altar features sculptures, not only of the namesake Saint Blas, but the philosopher-saints Thomas Aquinas and Augustine, along with Sebastian, Barbara, and Domingo.

El Belén

El Belén is the site of Quito’s first official place of worship. It began as a hermitage in 1546, but the area has a historical resonance preceding that as a sacred spot for the native Quitu population, who named it Chuquiguada or “spear tip”. It was nearly a century later, however, in 1640, when an actual church was constructed, with the name Santa Cruz de Belén, but the church now seen today on Luis Sodiro between 10 de Agosto and Gran Colombia was constructed in 1787.

The Guápulo Church and Convent

This historically and architecturally important church is not located in Quito’s historical district, but north of here at the base of the Guápulo valley, which itself is worth walking down to for the views, art galleries, taverns, and heritage architecture along its cobblestone path. Both the valley and the church get the unusual name from an indigenous mispronunciation of Guadalupe. It originated as a hermitage in 1956 and is now part of the campus for the SEK International University.

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