A friendly family-owned and run guesthouse. The rooms are basic but clean and it is very central and also cheap. Breakfast is not included but it is easy to find a cafe in Cuenca.
Mariscal Lamar 10 38 & Padre Aguirre, Cuenca,
Restaurant for carnes asadas and parrilladas at great prices. Two people can eat great food and have two large beers for $10. Order the llapingachos as your potato, pancakes cooked in pork fat. Mmmm, tasty!
Gran Colombia 20-88. 282-6997. A block and a half before Unidad Nacional coming from centro.
Chinese (Taiwanese actually) vegetarian restaurant with daily two course lunch menu for $2. Fresh and tasty. Lunch includes a drink of either fresh juice, yoghurt or soya milk. Only place I know of serving soya milk.
Gran Colombia 1-89 y Capulies. One block before Avenida de las Americas coming from centro.
Cuy: Guinea pig, the Andean speciality. Usually reserved for fiestas, weddings or special occasions, it is not cheap and a big honour if offered to you. There are various places to eat it in Cuenca, including on the street in certain barrios, but the best place is definitely in the house of a newly made friend.
Chancho: A Quichua word for “pig,” it comes in various forms – sometimes spit-roasted, other times with the skin hardened using a blowtorch, or cut into lumps and fried in a big pan. Markets are probably the best places to eat this (Gualaceo in particular), provided you are strong of stomach and nerve.
Mote: Omnipresent yet tasteless, mote consists of kernels of maize boiled into submission over hours and then served with “aji,” the local condiment made from chilli peppers, tree tomatoes and cilantro, to give it some flavour. The best kind is “mote sucio” (“dirty mote”), friend with pieces of bacon and potato. The restaurants in San Joaquin are good places to sample this.
Llapingachos: Superb. Essentially just potato cakes, but manage to taste fifty times better than anything your local chipper has to offer. Why? The secret ingredient seems to be pig fat. Perhaps we are starting to see a trend here…
Tamales, humitas, quimbolitos: If not pig then corn. These three are all made from ground maize, then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, and taste great. The exact difference between them is a little imprecise (there is more to it though, I am assured, than just a different wrapping technique), but tamales are savoury, the others sweet.
Zhumir: The local rotgut, made inevitably from sugar cane, it can therefore be classified as “aguardiente.” But unlike some of the locally produced moonshine, this is devoid of any redeeming flavour, is cheap, nasty and strong as hell. A one-way ticket to a punch in the mouth.
It should be no surprise to find a superb ethnographic museum in a country that is a living ethnographic museum in itself. But the exhibits are great, particularly the shrunken heads whose hair kept growing long after they had parted company with their owners’ shoulders. All kinds of ethnic celebrations, costumes, foods and traditions are brought to life, and as an introduction to Ecuador it is hard to beat. What’s more, at the back are ancient Inca ruins, and the extensive gardens feature a cross-section of the country’s amazing diversity of flora.
Location: Corner of Calle Larga and Huayna Capac.
Telephone: (593-7) 2831255.
Opening hours: Monday-Friday, 9-6, Saturday 9-12.
Cuenca’s plazas and common areas. The square alongside San Sebastian Church is one of the better ones. It’s the perfect place to get away from the hot midday sun, sit in the shade and read your book. Then, full of the joys, you can cross to the southern end of the square and get a bit of culture too. The Museum of Modern Art is located in a charming, whitewashed old adobe building that used to be a hospice for alcoholics. Some might say that is appropriate given some of the bizarre art on display, but it’s always interesting.
Near the corner of Mariscal Sucre and Coronel Talbot, the Plaza San Sebastian
Cuenca loves children, so no surprise that there’s a whole celebration dedicated to them. It’s an unbearably cute and very long procession of teeny tots in fancy dress that takes place every Christmas Eve from 10 until they run out of children (quite a bit later). Unmissable photo opportunity, but do be careful of your possessions and keep your camera in your hand or round your neck. Then feel free to simper to your heart’s content.
Along Calle Simon Bolivar.
Charming little restaurant right next to the Cathedral on the main square, Parque Calderon. They specialise in local fare, so it’s a great place to see how many different dishes made from corn you can eat at one sitting. Always busy, especially at lunchtime, it’s a slice of real Cuenca to go with your cafecito.
Benigno Malo 8-59 and Simon Bolivar;tel: (593-7) 2834-159
Teenage kicks all through the night (or at least until curfew time). “La Remigio”, also known as Avenida Remigio Crespo, is where the young and restless of Cuenca go to hang out, play their car stereos too loud, and drink alco-pops outside liquor stores until the cops turn up to roust them. Then everyone drives round the block to give the police time to leave, parks back up where they were and hey presto! It’s fiesta time again. Surprisingly omitted from all guidebooks. Wonder why?
Where? All along Avenida Remigio Crespo, in the south of the city; When? Friday and Saturday nights till late;
Where to next? Home to their parents’ house.
Located in a beautifully restored old colonial house and centred around a lush courtyard garden, Macondo is a little haven from the chaos of taxis and buses outside. With friendly and informative staff, clean rooms, and even a kitchen (a real rarity in Ecuador), it’s the perfect place to relax for a few days.
The place to be seen in Cuenca. Busy all the week through, with particular spikes for Ladies’ Night on a Wednesday and Salsa Saturday, it’s a buzzing mix of the beautiful people of Cuenca, hoary old expats and baffled looking travellers in zip-off trousers. Located in a superbly restored colonial building – all dark wood and exotic plants – and offering delicious international cuisine (although the portions are small), Eucalyptus is where it’s at.
“Vamos, vamos Cuencanos/Esta noche tenemos que ganar” (“Come on, come on people of Cuenca/ Tonight we have to win”). That’s all the Spanish you need to be a welcome guest at the Alejandro Serranos Aguilar Stadium, home to the occasionally mighty Deportivo Cuenca. The team may not be world-beaters, but the atmosphere takes some beating: flares are lit, songs calling the parentage of the referee into question are sung, and everyone alternates between bouncing up and down and downing contraband Zhumir, the local firewater. Maybe it’s not so important that they win after all…
Just off Av. Vicente Fray Solano, the main street in the south of the city. Just follow the red shirts;
Matches usually happen on a Sunday morning or Friday night (much better), but like anything in Ecuador it’s a movable feast, so check locally.
Coffee-lovers who come to South America expecting the caffeine equivalent of a wine trip in France are in for a land. All the best produce is exported, and locals make do with the freeze-dried stuff connoisseurs turn their noses up at. But ambling through Cuenca’s Old Town, you suddenly wake up and smell the coffee. You follow your nose to a doorway, where stands a man, a manual coffee grinder and bags of fresh coffee. Alleluia! All you need now is a coffee pot …
On Calle Sucre, near General Torres;
Opening hours: standard Ecuador office hours, closed 1-3 for lunch
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