hat making at Illa Experience Hotel in Quito

Would you like your memories of Quito to be more than a blur of historic buildings and museums? Book at the right property and you’ll come away with a feeling that you really know the place and its people instead.

In the gilded age of travel when steamer trunks were the norm, luxury hotels were seen as an enclave to protect you and cocoon you, a refuge away from the commoners living outside its walls. Until quite recently, that was still the norm in many luxury resorts. Visits to “the outside” were carefully choreographed and the hotel would try to provide everything you could need (or bring it to you) so you don’t have to venture outside the walls unaccompanied.

Thankfully attitudes have changed as a new generation of well-heeled travelers wants more experiential travel and a more immersive experience. They don’t want to just see the sites and then retreat to a walled-off escape. They want to become immersed in the place and meet the people who live there. They want to visit the craftspeople in their workshops instead of just buying their wares from the hotel gift shop.

Some of the hotels we cover have a very different view of “luxury travel” than the old-school tradition and are embracing this trend fully. One of the best examples is Illa Experience in Quito. This relatively new property in a vibrant neighborhood of Ecuador’s capital has “experience” in its name for a reason. It doesn’t just want to give you a luxurious room and a great meal, though you’ll certainly get a great place to sleep and an award-winning restaurant on site. Illa wants its guests to really immerse themselves in Quito and meet the people who make the neighborhood of San Marcos a special one through their connecting experiences.

Here’s their philosophy in showing off local artisans:

When it comes to unique products, owning an object is not the only important thing, it is even more important to learn about people behind the final result, those are the real gems of culture preservation. Appreciating others’ work is priceless and having such generous people sharing their art is a unique opportunity. Illa is all about relationships, human contact and offering experiences that can tell a more complete story than a merely still image. Ecuador has authentic experiences to offer, amazing stories to tell and that is the destination Illa wants guests to explore.

The Making of Ecuador’s Fine Straw Hats

The Panama Hat is not really from Panama, but from Ecuador. It got its name because people working on the canal project were wearing them, but these fine woven straw hats come from villages in Ecuador. If you stay at Illa Experience, you get to visit the shop of one of the makers – Doña Olguita – and see her techniques in person. You can even try your hand at the craftsmanship and see
how you would fare as a hat weaver.

The Art of Quito Sweets

experiental travel in Quito Ecuador

Candy making has a long history in Ecuador, but most people now buy their sweets in the store rather than making them at home. This means a few artisans are the main keepers of the tradition. With the right local guide you can find some of the city’s long-running sweets shops in the historic district and buy from where they’re made.

Or wait for Doña Gladys to appear at your hotel and see her  “helados de paila” making in action. She has been making this form of ice cream since she was 24 when her mother-in-law taught Gladys the secrets. It is made from ice, which originally came from he Chimborazo snow-capped mountain in older times. The most typical flavor is blackberry and you can try it as soon as its ready after you watch the preparation.

A Local Painter at Work

You may visit other local workshops and see artists as work, such as Maestro Jherry the painter. His hands may look wrinkled and old, “but they become agile as children’s hands when it comes to watercolor painting.” If you want to buy a painting of local scenes to remember your trip to Ecuador, in the San Marcos neighborhood you can get one direct from an artist who has spent most of his long life perfecting his craft.

Illa Experience Hotel painting

If your timing is right, you might even be able to study with him in a watercolor painting class, or see a woodworker, or learn from a weaver about traditional techniques. There are plenty of immersive travel options even if your time is short.

At this property, experiential travel is not something to have to fight for or work at. The philosophy is fundamental to your stay.

See our detailed first-person review of Illa Experience Hotel in Quito and visit the official site to book your room. They’ll set you up with experiences that will live on for a lifetime in your memories and photos.