Less than ten minutes from the centre of the Mariscal, the winding street Camino de Orellano entices passers-by into the historic neighbourhood of Guapulo. Generally known for its bars and live music scene, there are as many things to do as there are VW punch buggies to see in Guapulo, Quito's hub for all things bohemian.
Perched on the mountaintop at the entrance of Guapulo, the Shakti Centre of Alternative Art and Energy is a newly opened, multipurpose space. The brainchild of a group of young Guapuleños, the centre boasts a massage parlour and reiki healing. Yoga and percussion classes are available for adults and children alike and regular therapeutic dance and aromatherapy workshops are also run.
Veronica Falconi, Reiki Master and co-owner of the centre, credits the geographic heritage of Guapulo for the uniquely creative culture that characterizes it today - ¨Quito has three important sanctuaries, of which Guapulo is one¨ she explains.
Historically, the Indigenous people would honour their deities with an annual pilgrimage between three sacred sites across Quito. Upon the arrival of the Spanish, churches were erected atop each sanctuary in Guapulo, San Francisco and El Quinche. Nowadays, a colourful festival is held each September in honour of the Virgin of Guapulo, the guardian of the region according to traditional custom.
The legacy of the history of Guapulo is the positively charged energy of the land, according to Falconi. This energy fosters the creativity and community spirit found in Guapulo, she says.
The Shakti Centre presents monthly exhibitions from young Ecuadorean artists, holds an organic food market weekly and boasts a scrumptious range of dishes in its vegetarian café.
Around the next bend and overlooking the Cumbaya valley, the Mua Mua gallery exhibits the unique works of resident artist Enrique Boh Serafini. Serafini creates designer lamps for sale and exhibition and also opens his Guapulo home-studio for those interested in learning about his craft. He offers regular courses, in which participants can design, make and keep their own stylish pieces.
Just next door, the Rayuela Arte Diseño gallery showcases a vast range of handmade works from Ecuadorean artists. Owner Cecilia Valencia believes it's a combination of the history and geography of Guapulo that lends it its charm - ¨Guapulo is one of Quito's most important historical sites. It's a sweet neighbourhood with beautiful views¨, she explains.
Whatever its source may be, the bohemian vibe generates organically and permeates everything in Guapulo. It is embodied in the students sweeping down the cobblestones on bicycles and the musicians wandering along with guitars in hand. It is typified by the brightly coloured mobile ice-cream van, Pìn Pòn, which stops to supply soft serve only to coat it in black fumes as it chugs off again.
A skip and a hop further down the curving path lives Chilean painter Alexandro Vasquez. The artworks of this internationally famed artist decorate the walls of Café Chiquita, where Vasquez's partner is reported to serve up the best cakes in the neighbourhood.
Everything in the neighbourhood is edged with a creative flair; the Laundromat opposite the Palo Santo Café runs ceramic painting courses on Saturdays and even the scaffolders on construction sites appear too busy contemplating their manifestos to wolf-whistle at the world below.
¨There is a sense of community and a culture of sharing here¨ explains Maria Pez, a jewellery maker who opened her own store, El Choque, in Guapulo earlier this year.
¨Guapulo is less touristy than the Mariscal but there is a strong culture of travel which makes it quite a multicultural place¨, she adds. A stone's throw from El Choque, jewellery making courses are offered at La Casa Artesanal.Cobblestone paths and alleys continue to meander down the mountainside toward the Iglesia de Guapulo. This grand, gothic church is the piece-de-resistance of the region and has a quaint garden boasting beautiful flowers. It solemnly marks the passing of the conquistadors through the sanctuary of Guapulo, the last frontier before Quito fell to Spain in 1534.