Right in the centre of Ecuador's capital Quito, in the old town on San Francisco Square, you can't really get any closer to the city's heart than this. The area is filled with beautiful historic buildings and cobbled streets. The square has long been a place where the wealthy families of Quito would build their mansions and Casa Gangotena sits on the former site of the homes of several Ecuadorian presidents.
Once a family home, Casa Gangotena is now a boutique luxury hotel of 31 suites. Completed in 1924 by the Gangotena family after a fire destroyed the original building 10 years earlier, the mansion became a hotel in 2011. The building's small number of rooms belies its grandness. It has the feel of a grand old world European hotel, with its white marble lobby, Roman columns and arches. A steep, spiral staircase rises to the top of the building (there's also a lift). There is a beautiful conservatory where high tea is served and a terrace at the rear. The bar is filled with the lush, dark wood and leather of a classic gentlemen's club.
My room features bright, floral wallpapers and high, patterned ceilings. A dark wooden desk and dresser. The high bay windows keep the room bright even in the overcast weather. I have two double beds to choose from. The bathroom is also bright – the large space, with a spacious shower and separate bath – is covered in white marble. The service from staff is top-notch and those I encounter have excellent English. I am even given a later checkout due to my late flight out of the city. There's no minibar in the room but sparkling and still water are provided free.
The restaurant does breakfast (a quality buffet), lunch and dinner. High tea is a speciality and, with its elegant design and quality silverware, this is definitely the sort of place that says "high tea". Ceviches are also a speciality, although I opt for a tasty beef broth and plantain soup followed by sea bass with scallops, prawn and octopus in a coconut and ginger sauce. Even the fries here are luxurious – they come with six dipping sauces. The restaurant is not only popular with guests, it also attracts tourists staying at other hotels.
Quito suffers many of the same problems as other big South American cities. It is clogged with cars, pollution and has a lot of petty crime. San Francisco Square is currently a construction site as a station is built for a much needed metro rail project. The old town is one of the prettiest and best preserved neighbourhoods in South America – in 1978 it became the first city to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Poland's Krakow.
The hotel offers a daily activity for guests, including guided tours explaining the history of the building and the family behind it, or guided walks around the old town. Once you have adjusted to Quito's high altitude (at 2850 metres, it is the world's second highest capital city) take a walk to the Basilica del Voto Nacional, where you can enjoy stunning views from the church's towers over the mountain city.
The Casa Gangotena offers exceptional luxury in the heart of Quito – it is the perfect place to explore the city or to recuperate after visiting the Ecuadorian wilderness or Galapagos Islands. It's easy to see how this hotel was ranked the best hotel in South America by US publisher Travel + Leisure, where it came eighth in the global top 100 rankings, as well as being named in the world's top 25 by TripAdvisor for the past three years.
Twin rooms at Casa Gangotena start from $715 a night, including VAT. See https://www.casagangotena.com/en
See and do
The South America Travel Centre can create tailor-made itineraries, including accommodation, transfers, activities and domestic travel across the continent. See http://southamericatravelcentre.com.au
Stepping from the pretty, if grungy, old town of Quito to the beautiful lobby and conservatory of the hotel is a breathtaking moment.
Nitpicking required, but there is no power outlet by the bed for charging your devices without unplugging the clock or phone. You will need to power them up across the room.
Craig Platt travelled as a guest of the South America Travel Centre and LATAM.