Garcia Moreno Prison Museum – Quito, Ecuador - Atlas Obscura
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Quito, Ecuador

Garcia Moreno Prison Museum

An abandoned Ecuadorian prison that once held ex-presidents and notorious con artists is frozen in time as a museum. 

On a tour of the abandoned Garcia Moreno prison, you can still see the belongings of the former inmates: an odd sock, an outdated magazine, old clothes. There are images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary alongside messages designed to uplift the prisoners on the walls. The only thing missing is the prisoners.

The infamous 140-year-old prison, converted to a museum after it was shut down in 2014, has changed little since then. It now offers visitors a glimpse of the less-picturesque side of Ecuador

From corrupt politicians and escapees to a con man who once posed as the son of the Costa Rican president, the squalid cells have been home to many dramas and colorful characters. On the 2-hour tour through the facility’s dirty rooms, the museum guides—many of them former prison guards—run you through the highlights. 

There was the time General Eloy Alfaro, the former president of Ecuador and revolutionary hero, who was dragged from his cell and burned in a nearby park. Or the incident in 2003, when 16 prisoners escaped through a 25-meter tunnel. Serial killer Juan Fernando Hermosa, a 15-year-old kid who killed 22 men, spent time at Garcia Moreno, as did Daniel Camargo Barbosa, a notorious Colombian murderer.

The facility is located in the San Roque neighborhood in the south of Quito, an area where prostitution, drugs, and crime deter most tourists, though the museum does see plenty of curious visitors come through its doors. Garcia Moreno was shut down due to rampant overcrowding in 2014, and its 2,000 inmates were transferred to prisons across the country. The tour ends with photos of the prisoners in one of the new facilities in Latacunga. They are smiling and learning how to sew and use computers, the strange happy ending image the authorities would like to leave you with.

Know Before You Go

The museum also offers night tours of the former prison. It tends to keep odd hours and often appears as closed.