El Churo de la Alameda, Quito’s Spiral Lookout

The snail-shaped Churo in La Alameda Park

photography by: Omri Westmark

Reading time:

Considered as the oldest garden in the Ecuadorian capital, La Alameda Park is renowned among locals for its historical and urban merit. Throughout this verdant enclave one can find the continent’s first astronomical observatory, a pond teeming with Koi fish and perhaps most strikingly, El Churo de la Alameda - a bulky brick tower whose top is endowed with panoramic views of Quito downtown area.

Whether it is the car fumes, lack of oxygen or a combination of both, breathing in Quito, the world’s second highest capital, is far from being an easy task for newcomers. Luckily though, the city is home to numerous green lungs where visitors can take a break from the otherwise hectic pace. Among the most notable of which is La Alameda Park, a 6.3-hectare pocket of greenery in the middle of town.

 

Sandwiched between Luis Sodiro Street, Avenida 10 de Agosto and Avenida Gran Colombia, the triangular plot can trace its roots back to 1596, making it by far the oldest park anywhere in Quito. While the place is home to multiple points of interest, a sole quirky structure seems to evoke a great deal of curiosity among its beholders.

 

Ensconced in the northern tip of the park, El Churo de la Alameda is a quaint lookout tower, easily climbable through a spiral walkway that winds all the way to the top. Curiously, Churo is a type of aquatic mollusk that is native to Ecuador, Peru and other South American countries, and whose gastropod shell is reminiscent of the building’s snail-like shape, hence its apt name.

 

There is conflicting information regarding the origins of El Churo, with some claiming that the bulbous edifice was constructed during the late 19th century by then president of Ecuador Antonio Flores Jijón as a place where local prisoners were publicly punished for their crimes. Others, however, insist that the tower was built by a man named Enrique Fusseau atop the ruins of a military outpost. What everyone seems to agree about is that the current structure lies over a heap of construction waste from the park and a nearby street.

 

Regardless of its somewhat nebulous past, El Churo is an excellent vantage point of the city center. Whoever makes it to the top will be greeted by a wind vane marking all four cardinal points as well as a sweeping panorama of Quito, including a glimpse of Basílica del Voto Nacional and Cerro Guagua Pichincha.