Inside La Floresta, Quito’s Creative Quarter

Designer workshops, farm-to-table restaurants, and independent galleries pepper this artistic hub with a small-town vibe.

Words by Stephanie Granada
Photographs by Luisa Dörr

A farmer’s market in front of La Floresta Mercado Agroecológico.

As Quito expanded at the turn of the last century, wealthy landowners flocked to the flourishing city center, leaving parcels and houses to laborers — woodworkers, cobblers, gardeners — who formed the neighborhood of La Floresta in 1917. Since then, it’s grown into a district where creativity and community thrive — especially in the past decade. Those with an appreciation for the area’s history and architecture began going in on joint studios, restaurants, and galleries.

Five years ago, resourceful locals formed De La Floresta, a committee that spearheads events and policies that protect the enclave from gentrification. “You won’t find another place like this,” says Mariana Andrade, co-founder of De La Floresta and owner of the hood’s indie theater. “It’s the meeting point of cultures and social classes — a place where carnivals are celebrated as big as in any small town of the Sierra, and where gourmet food lives comfortably next to corn tortillas and empanadas.”

La Huerta y La Máquina co-owner Pablo Ortiz.
The lush interior of Botanica which serves farm-to-table fare.

Where to eat

Quito’s food scene easily rivals buzzy Lima’s, but it flies under the radar. 
 “In any major city, you’ll find Mexican, Argentinian, Italian restaurants — but when do you see an Ecuadorian place?” says Daniel Maldonado, chef-owner at the three-year-old URKO. The young chef aims to change that by championing the eco-diverse country through his kitchen, where he pulls inspiration from regional farms and ancestral cooking traditions.

A more low-key approach to authentic fare happens at Parque Navarro, where nearly a dozen home cooks set up food carts at 5 p.m. to dole out tortillas with sausage, tripe stews, and empanadas. At the city’s first organic market, La Floresta Mercado Agroecológico, you can pick up produce or a hearty $3 almuerzo (a customary three-course lunch) from 20-plus vendors. You’ll go to Botánica for the artisanal panini and fig cheesecake; you’ll stay for the ambience. The welcoming space is adorned with found objects and greenery — a nod to the section’s agrarian beginnings.

The bounty from a local market.
Food vendors grilling meats at Parque Navarro.
A tempting dish from one of Parque Navarro’s street stalls.

LOCAL INTEL

Gabriel Pérez
Quito artist and Superhost

“La Floresta is 10 minutes from the historic center and next to the bohemian area Guápulo and La Mariscal, known for nightlife. Everyone passes through La Floresta at some point, which creates an interesting meeting of minds.”

What to do

“Much of what happens in this area takes place behind the scenes,” says Emerson Sample, founder of Quito Street Tours. Get the lay of the land with someone in the know. The company’s La Floresta circuit offers a three-hour jaunt through the main streets and workshops, where you’ll learn about the district’s ­history and notable pioneers such as Andrade, who helped set in motion street-­beautification projects. Artists still converge at her indie movie theater, Ochoymedio, which became the center of La Floresta’s artistic boom 17 years ago. Pick a cozy couch in the café, or catch a locally produced flick or live act.

La Floresta’s joyful street art.

Down the street, La Huerta y La Máquina — a nursery, gallery, and furniture studio hybrid — hosts exhibits as well as building workshops and planting classes for the DIY set. “We want to reconnect people to the traditions of our ancestors, who made their own things and knew the origins of their food,” says co-owner Luis Herrera. Nearby, at the four-year-old +ARTE gallery director Gabriela Moyano bolsters untapped artists who are breaking the mold.

One of the scenic stops on the Quito Street Tour.
Locals call this park “El Parque del Borrachito,” but it also goes by El Parque de La Floresta.
Flowers, one of Ecuador’s chief exports.

Where to shop

La Floresta is a community of makers. Mane Silva was one of the first designers to open her workshop to the public. After studying abroad, the dancer, who creates clothing inspired by indigenous tribes, moved back to Quito in search of a convivial area reminiscent of neighborhoods she saw in Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile: “When I got here, there were traditional seamstresses and carpenters, but independent design came later, when more of us started to move in and work together.” For ceramics, walk five minutes south to Perro de Loza, which shares space in a historic home with coffee shop–bar Café Roscón. Many of the potter’s pieces evoke local icons, like dinnerware etched with figures of regional architecture. At Libertina Tienda Galería, designer Tifa Torres gathers 18 Quito artisans — lighting artists to jewelers to fashion designers — under one stylish roof. “Every object has a story, and we like to share those with shoppers,” Torres says. “That’s what La Floresta does so well — the neighborhood has a unique identity, so people will walk away knowing they got a piece of the real Quito.”

Potter Natalia Espinosa at Perro de Loza.
Some of the handcrafted goods for sale at Libertina Tienda.

About the author: Stephanie Granada is a Colombian-American freelance writer, who splits her time between Florida and Colorado. She’s into books, her dog, all things ocean-related, and small towns. You can also find her work in Sunset, Woman’s Day, National Geographic Traveler, Southern Living, and others.