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The Basilica del Voto Nacional is a well-known site in Quito, Ecuador. What is not as well known is that it is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas.
It began as an idea held by congressman/Catholic Priest in 1883 to build a monument that would serve as a perpetual reminder of Ecuador’s consecration to the Sacred Heart. The planning process required about 6 years, and construction began in 1892. However, while the impressive building appears quite intact, it remains unfinished. Local legend holds that when the basilica is completed, it will be the end of the world.
While many of the churches and cathedrals in Latin America either charge a healthy sum of money to enter, and then ban photography or videography, the basilica has remained tourist-friendly. Admission to the main sanctuary is $1 (USD). Photography is allowed, although they do ask that you use sound judgment when Mass or other ceremonies are being performed. The chapel used for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, however, remains off limits for tourism and photography as it is considered a very sacred space.
For those wanting to see more of the basilica, or to get an incredible view of the city of Quito, leave the church and turn to your right. Go to the next corner, turn right, and do a short climb up the steep street to the gates of the plaza. To your left is a series of shops including the ticket office. Here you will pay another $2 (half that if you’re Ecuadorian) to be able to access the stairs leading up the bell tower. There is an elevator as well. Make sure to wear good shoes if you plan on climbing up into the higher points of the bell tower as the metal ladders are difficult to handle with only sandals.
On the 2nd level of the tower you will get a bird’s eye view of the main chapel as well as the opportunity to see one of the huge stained glass windows up close and personally. The 3rd level affords a walkway over the stone roof of the chapel to the towers. If you took the elevator to get here, keep in mind you didn’t escape all climbing. You still have a narrow, circular staircase, and then a few ladders if you want to access the highest point. When climbing just remember you are at high altitude, so take a slower pace to accommodate the lack of oxygen.
While walking around the outside of the basilica pay close attention to the “gargoyles” which are uniquely Andean. You will see condors, tortoises, etc., in place of the traditional Gothic fierce demons.
If you’ve managed to work up an appetite during your visit, you will find a café on the 2nd level which serves typical Ecuadoran fare at an extremely reasonable price. Or you can wait until you’re back in the plaza where there are various food vendors.
The views are amazing, the basilica is impressive, and it has such a peaceful feel to it that no visit to Quito would be complete without also seeing the Basilica del Voto Nacional.