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Trip Report Trip Report - Very Long

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I’ve wanted to visit Ecuador for a few years now – friends had recommended it so it was on my radar for a while. Other trips and other priorities got in the way, but finally we were able to book. We wanted to use Aeroplan miles, so I booked months ago and I had been planning ever since. We were booked on Copa and flew into Quito (via Panama) and then home from Guayaquil (again via Panama). Over 18 days, we visited Quito, Mindo, Otavalo, Cuenca and Guayaquil.

General Impressions
Ecuador is a wonderful country to visit. There is a lot to see and do and there was plenty to keep us occupied over the 18 days we were there. We spent most of our time in the highlands, with our last night in Guayaquil. I’d love to go to the Galapagos, but maybe next time.

Weather was not quite what I expected. I knew that it wasn’t going to be hot, because we were in the mountains, but it was cooler than I had expected. Nights, especially, were colder than I expected. We also didn’t seem to get as much sun as I hoped, however when I got home I realized I had quite a tan on my face (even though I wore sunscreen every day). Temperatures usually seemed to be 19-21 Celsius during the day.

If I go back to Ecuador for a longer period of time, I will take some yoga classes to learn how to breathe properly. I never felt like I was taking deep breaths – that high altitude, I guess.
Overall, people were very friendly. English is not spoken a lot so I’m glad we speak a little Spanish. We did meet a lot of cabbies in Cuenca, however, who did speak English. They all seemed to have lived in the US, places like Minneapolis, Massachusetts and New York, some as long as 10+ years. They all said that they couldn’t afford the cost of living in the US – they needed to work 2 or more jobs to live a decent life, so they came back to Cuenca.
It’s not only cabbies who are returning to Ecuador – lots of ex-pats seem to be interested in living in Ecuador either part time or full time. Some Canadians and lots of Americans. Prices overall were very reasonable. The currency in Ecuador is the US dollar. Most restaurants include the tax and a 10% service charge in their bill.

Ecuadorean chocolate is amazing. The fruits and the juices are amazing. They grow a lot of different kinds of potatoes. As others have noted, soups are good in Ecuador. I especially liked locro (a potato and cheese soup with avocado and corn). The potato tortillas are also good – they are like thick potato cakes. Sometimes they are served with sausage, a fried egg, avocado and salad. (I can’t remember the name of the dish, but it was served all over.) The empanadas are usually good as well. There are lots of places that have cheap lunches - $2.50 for 3 courses, that kind of thing, so it’s possible to eat very cheaply in Ecuador. Ecuadorean beer is usually Pilsener. It usually comes in a huge bottle and it’s cheap.

Would I go back? Definitely. Do I want to move there full time? Probably not. I enjoy my life in Toronto but I sure wouldn’t mind going back there for a couple of months in the winter. Cuenca, especially, was very appealing.

Quito
Accommodation - We stayed at Wantara Suites, which is a gorgeous restored hacienda more or less in the old town of Quito. The garden is lovely, our suite was great, with a nice terrace. All of the 7 suites have wood stoves, which is handy since it gets chilly in the evenings. They also have a lovely little calico cat – she’s chubby by Latin American feline standards (but nothing like our big boy Chico at home). Wolfgang and Andi are wonderful hosts. Andi is an artist as well as a gardener, and the place is really beautiful. We saw pictures of what it looked like when they bought the property and we could really see all the work they’ve put into it. Rate for the suite was about $50 / night. Andi and Wolfgang left beer, bread, cheese, butter, jam, coffee and cream for us, which I thought was very considerate. I would highly recommend Wantara, it’s a beautiful place to stay.

Activities – I had booked 6 nights in Quito because I wanted to try to get acclimatized to the altitude. We’re also ‘slow’ (lazy?) travelers. The altitude did affect us – I had some trouble sleeping, but I didn’t feel nearly as bad as I did on a trip to Bogota a couple of years ago. We just had to pace ourselves. I have a problem with one of my knees, and I was a little worried about all of the walking, but I did ok.

The first day, which was gorgeous weather, we took the HOHO bus tour, which goes to 12 or 13 different spots in the city. The fare for me was $12 and $6 for John (since he is 65+.) We got on at Plaza Grande, with the intention of getting off at the Teleferico. However, we heard that you really need a couple of hours to do the Teleferico, and we decided to stay on for the whole circuit. There was commentary in Spanish and English throughout the tour, and most of the tourists on the bus seemed to be Spanish speakers. At El Panecillo, the bus waits about ½ hour, so it’s a good opportunity to take pictures. Apparently it is not especially safe to walk up to El Panecillo, but no worries – I certainly wasn’t going to try it – it’s a lot of steps. Both of us felt a little ill – I had a headache and my legs felt like they each weighed a ton!

On our second day, we took the ‘free’ walking tour offered out of the Community Hostal. (You don’t pay, but you tip what you think it is worth.) The tour is excellent. The guide, a young man named Ovi, is originally from Guayaquil province. There were only 4 of us on the tour so we got his full attention. I appreciated the route that he took – not a lot of steep streets, a good number of stops and his English is excellent. First stop was the Mercado Central, where he explained the various fruits and vegetables, etc. They use the whole animal in Ecuador as well (something that some of the trendy restaurants here in Toronto are now doing!). I bought a really tasty drink of blackberry juice and coconut ($1). We stopped at a candy store (“El Gato”, named because the owner has green eyes, like a cat) where we bought a little bag of toasted corn and pork rinds (hot), but they also had lots of great local sweets. One other stop was Chez Tiff, a chocolate store on La Ronda where Ovi described how chocolate is made. The store is owned by a Swiss/Ecuadorian family and the truffles are amazing. To celebrate our anniversary, John bought a dozen truffles – all but 2 of them were dark chocolate (our favourite) with 2 white chocolate with passionfruit. Ovi also took us in to see an artesan who works with gold and silver gilt. That is the process that was used in the incredibly ornate churches (we visited one of them). I would highly recommend this tour – it’s fun, the guide is excellent and it was very worthwhile.

Saturday morning we had booked to go on a horseback ride to Pulalahua volcano with Green Horse Ranch. Astrid, the owner, picked us up at Magic Bean in the morning. It turned out that we were the only 2 for the tour and it was an excellent experience, with Astrid and a volunteer who was working with her. I was, to be honest, nervous about riding a horse – I’ve only been on 2 horses in my life so it’s not something that comes naturally to me to say the least. However, I had no need to be afraid. Astrid has horses for all types of riders and it went very well. Along the way, we saw orchids, bromeliads, other flowers. At one point, we went through a very narrow rocky path almost enclosed by trees – it would have been impossible to walk. We stopped for lunch that Astrid had packed for us – tuna and pasta salad, fruit juice, water, candy bar and apple. (No need to throw away the apple core – my horse loved it.) At the end of the day, Astrid brought us back to Quito, where we stumbled out of the car and took a cab back to the suite. The tour is $85 / person and I really am glad I went.

Sunday was an odd day. First of all, the Plaza Grande is very busy – there was the government department of sports getting a big crowd up dancing and lots of people moving around. We were trying to find a sushi restaurant that had been highly rated in Quito – obviously had the wrong address on Tripadvisor. (I sent a note to the guy who had given the latest review and asked him the address – he just said Quito – duh.) Anyway, we wandered around a lot, decided not to go up the Teleferico as it would be crowded on Sunday. We did go up the Basilica – a very impressive church in old Quito with 2 huge towers. You can take an elevator so far, then you have to walk across a wooden walkway (no one under 6 allowed) and then climb a ladder to the outside. From there, there are 2 more sets of stairs (more like ladders) going further. (I didn’t do those 2.) You get a marvelous view of the city. The church itself is quite plain inside, apart from the stained glass.

On Monday (our last day) we decided to go to the Teleferico. We took a cab ($5) to the Teleferico, where we bought tickets ($8.50 for me and $6.50 for John). It was a little foggy at the base, but we were hopeful. No such luck - by the time we got to the top, we were enshrouded in fog. We couldn’t see any of the city, but we could see some of the mountains on the other side. I wouldn’t call it a “must see” in Quito (mainly because of the fog), but it was ok. We wandered around a little then came back down where we caught a cab to Plaza Grande. Unfortunately we had missed the changing of the guard (which happens at 11 AM on Mondays) but the square was bustling.

Wantara is very close to La Ronda, so we walked along there a couple of times. First time was very quiet – middle of the day and many of the business were closed. Second time was on the Saturday night and it was very lively! It seems like it should be a tourist trap, but most of the people seemed to be locals, out with their families and it’s a fun atmosphere. Although Andi and Wolfgang cautioned about walking to / from La Ronda in the evening, we decided that it was safe on Saturday evening. The streets were busy with families and we didn’t feel nervous about it. (I wouldn’t do it during the week though.)

Food – Food was not a highlight in Quito, although we did have a couple of really good experiences. Often I found that websites didn’t post their hours and I did send a few emails to inquire whether restaurants were open, but I didn’t get a lot of answers.
Our best experience was at Zazu. Our wedding anniversary is in early February, and we had decided to celebrate in Quito instead of Toronto. We made a reservation for Zazu for Valentine’s Day and it was a wonderful evening. We took a taxi through the driving rain, no idea where we were headed, but it was a fairly lengthy trip and only cost $7. The restaurant lived up to its billing. They had a special Valentine’s menu for $60 / person (that included tax). I had one of their pisco sours (seems to be their special cocktail) and a couple of glasses of wine. There were 5 courses (3 seafood and 2 meat) – hard to say which was my favourite as they were all very good. The sixth course was a ‘chocolate extravaganza’ and quite decadent. They served that with a glass of sparkling wine. The restaurant was filled with Ecuadorian couples, and I don’t think I saw another tourist there. Very nice evening!

We found a charming little coffee place, El Cafeto, close to Plaza Grande, where I ordered a humita and a coffee (with cardamom) and John ordered chocolate cake and coffee. The coffee was excellent and I loved the humita. I’d recommend this place. Another place that isn’t far from El Cafeto is Café Dios No Muere, a place owned by an ex-pat in an old monastery. Interesting location and the food was ok as well. We ordered a platter of meat – sausage, pork, steak and chicken, with yucca fries. I had a craft beer and john had mineral water. We ordered the New Orleans bread pudding for dessert. It all came to about $25 and it was way more food than we needed.

I mentioned previously that Sunday is a bit odd in Ecuador. Apparently they don’t sell liquor on Sunday nights and most of the restaurants are closed, even the little local places seemed to have closed up in the rain. We went to a place where there were a number of locals (including 4 nuns wearing their habits) and had an ok meal, nothing special, but not bad either.

Mindo

Tuesday morning, we got a cab to La Ofelia bus station to catch a bus to MIndo. There are buses at 8 AM, 9 AM, 11 AM, as well as a couple of buses in the afternoon. The bus costs $2.50 each and it was a 2 ½ hour ride through dense fog, and rain. That should have been my first clue that it was going to be wet!

Accommodation - We found our hotel (Dragonfly Inn) and checked in. The hotel looks quite nice and the location is great right by the river. However, the lighting in the room was bad and John wasn’t able to see well enough in the bathroom to shave. I also didn’t find the staff very friendly. We didn’t meet the owners and I don’t think they were onsite – maybe it would have been different if they had been there. There was no water bottle in the room (but we bought water as we assumed we shouldn’t drink the tap water) or any place to hang clothes (although there are shelves). WIFI didn’t work in the room, although it was good on the main floor in the restaurant area. Breakfast (fruit salad, fresh juice, coffee and croissant and eggs) is included in the room rate ($50/night), and as I said, the location is good. We also had a very nice view out of the big window in our room, but after the wonderful friendly service in Quito, the Dragonfly Inn was a little disappointing. I was glad we didn’t stay further out of town, but the Dragonfly Inn might not be my first choice if I were to visit Mindo again.

Activities – It rained both days, starting around 1 PM and lasting all day and into the night. We aren’t birdwatchers, but I think I’d get real tired of that weather if I was a birder. We were there only 2 nights and that was enough for me. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, but it was just too wet for me to really appreciate it.

The rains did quit overnight, and we were able to do what we planned to do in Mindo – zipline! I admit that I probably would have chickened out if I hadn’t already announced to all my friends that I was going to do it. For $20 each, we did 10 lines. The first was the scariest, after that, I was ok! The company that provides the service is very safety conscious. There were 2 young women from Canada (one who is playing soccer in Ecuador), a family of 4 from Cuenca and us. The walk between the first and second line was very difficult for me. I felt like I wouldn’t make it. First of all, the gear is fairly heavy and there was quite a steep incline. Also my legs were shaking from the first line! The guides were very nice though, and a couple of times they carried the heaviest piece of gear for me. We didn’t have to brake at all on these lines, although there were 2 ‘fast’ lines. I am afraid of heights, but I’m so glad I did it!

We didn’t go to the “frog concert”, which was one of the activities I wanted to do. Too wet at 6:30 when it starts. We also didn’t go tubing, which looked like a lot of fun, although I did hear that the water was cold. The Mariposaria also is supposed to be good – but butterflies like the sun and that would definitely not be an activity to be done in the rain. There’s also a chocolate tour offered by El Quetzal, a local restaurant. We didn’t do the tour, but we did have one of their wonderful brownies.

Food – Dinner at the Dragonfly Inn was quite good. We both ordered the panfried trout, which came with crisp veggies and pretty good French fries. I love trout and I really enjoyed it. We started with the plantain patacones with cheese. They didn’t offer any desserts. I can’t remember specifically what we paid for our dinner, but 2 nights accommodation with breakfast and dinner 1 night came to about $115.

For dinner on our second night, we put on our raingear and sought out a place called El Nomado. It is known for its wood oven pizzas and its gnocchi. They didn’t seem to be open when we arrived – I’m sure the woman was telling us manana – so we left and bought some chocolate desserts at the bakery across the street. When we finished there, we realized that the 2 young women we had met when ziplining and the abuelita of 1 of them were sitting in the restaurant. They called us over and we joined them. So I don’t know whether we totally misunderstood or what. Anyway, the food was excellent. We ordered a pizza with eggplant and peppers and the gnocchi gratinee – very delicious. The bill for the 2 of us (and way more food than we needed) was $21.25. (The young women and the abuelita ordered 2 pizzas for the 3 of them, but they had eaten lunch.)

If I were to go to Mindo again, I think I’d eat at the Beehive, which is right across the Dragonfly. We stopped there a couple of times for coffee and carrot cake. The WIFI works well and it’s a friendly atmosphere. We also enjoyed talking to the owner, an interesting guy. The coffee is excellent!

Otavalo

From Mindo, we took the bus back to Quito, then a cab over to another bus station where we caught a bus to Otavalo. All of that cost about $4.75 each. We shared the cab with a biker type from BC who has a home in Cotocachi and his girlfriend (a social worker) who was visiting him. (He really did look like he was a member of Hell’s Angel.) The trip was very easy, and we had only a few minutes between buses. We then took a cab to La Luna (about $4), where we were staying.

Accommodation - La Luna is about 4 km outside of Otavalo. The area is absolutely beautiful, and their gardens are beautiful. Very peaceful, cute little rooms (very rustic) and a good restaurant. We had booked a room with a private bath, but they also have rooms with shared baths and dorm type rooms. There was a fireplace in the room, also lots of very heavy blankets and a small electric heater. The staff don’t speak English, but they are very friendly, and the owner, Tamara, speaks excellent English. (So does her little daughter Emma, with 2 m’s as she told me). Their neighbours, an artsy looking couple from Colombia with 2 young children – all of them speaking English, were also around (I think they are there to use the internet). It was a very friendly group. When we arrived, we met Ryan, a young New Zealander who is backpacking around the world (more or less). More people arrived the next night and there were several guests on the Saturday night. One of the guests was an American woman who teaches music in Quito. We heard her playing her violin one afternoon in her room – very nice little surprise! There are hammocks around the common area, and they usually light a fire in the fireplace during dinner.

Activities – In Mindo, we had chatted with a guide called Martin who worked with Runa Tupari, a travel agency based in Otavalo. We had dropped by Runa Tupari when we arrived in Otavalo and arranged a tour of some of the indigenous villages for the next day. I’m glad we did the tour – we wouldn’t have been able to see it all on our own, and it was a good deal for $30 each (and that included lunch in a restaurant). We saw a man who had an impressive display of Andean instruments (and also made them and played them), a woman who weaves the sleeping mats, and another woman who makes jewellery, Peguche Falls and the lake. Our new friend Ryan came along with us, and there were also an Austrian couple. A volunteer (from Spain) who works with Runa Tupari came along to translate – much appreciated! Another new friend (Maria from Ottawa) had done the same tour the day before, and visited different crafts people and a different restaurant. We think that maybe Runa Tupari tries to ‘spread’ the tours so that they benefit more of the local businesses. (I did buy a necklace, a little straw ornament and also something from the man who makes instruments.)

Something I found interesting was seeing the ‘rainbow’ flags everywhere. My first thought was that there were a lot of lesbians and gays living in the area, some of them in very rustic conditions. What an enlightened community! Well, I found out that the flag is used by the indigenous people in the area, and I think it represents their political party. The flags were all similar, but not all the same, so I’m not sure if they represented different groups or not.

Otavalo, of course, is known for its market. We didn’t get to the animal market, which people claim is really interesting (not sure about that), but we did wander around the market in town for a few hours. It really is huge, and spills out over all of the streets. We didn’t buy much (a small piece of art), and I think that a lot of the materials for sale are probably mass produced, but it’s still fun to wander around. None of the vendors seemed to be very pushy.
In Otavalo, we also caught up with Maria. We had been in touch (through Tripadvisor) before our trip. We had not been able to meet in Mindo, so we made plans to meet in Otavalo. It was fun to meet her over a drink and we ran into her at the market the next day. Always fun to compare notes!

Food – Breakfast was included at La Luna and it was, like most of the breakfasts we had in Ecuador, delicious. We also had dinner there all 3 nights. One night we shared a salad and both of us ordered pasta – very tasty and inexpensive. Another night, I ordered a pasta and John had the burger and fries. Final night we shared a pizza and salad. Prices were definitely reasonable (bill for our accommodation for 3 nights, 3 dinners for 2 and a few beers and glasses of wine was $188). Everything is made to order, so it takes a while, but I thought that it was good simple food.

I can’t remember the name of the place where we had lunch on the day that we went to the market. It was a few blocks off the square and we were the only ones there. I remember that we had seafood and it was pretty good and not expensive – I just can’t remember the name of it.

One popular place in town is the Pie Shop, a place that had been recommended to us by the young women we met ziplining. It’s right on Plaza de Ponchos. We had pie there twice – first time we ordered blackberry pie and ice cream, second time we ordered the chocolate meringue pie. I saw someone eating the passionfruit meringue pie – chocolate was good, but he said that the passionfruit was amazing. The place is very popular and busy (but I wouldn’t recommend using the bathroom there).

Cuenca

To get to Cuenca, we first took the bus from Otavalo back to Quito. The bus station was packed! Because it was election day, everyone was heading back to their towns to vote. The lineup to buy tickets at the bus station took at least ½ an hour, and I was glad we had given ourselves enough time. When we got into Quito, we took a taxi to the airport ($30) where we had a flight with TAME. By this point, we were hungry and we had dinner at the Guacamole Grill at the airport – Toronto Pearson airport prices ($27 for the 2 of us), but huge servings and ok for airport food. We had an easy flight to Cuenca, where we were met by a driver who took us to our “home” in Cuenca.

Accommodation - We had booked a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom home in Cuenca through AirBnB. It’s owned by John and Barbie, an ex-pat couple who live in a “cottage” attached to the house. There’s a big American style kitchen, TV, lots of closet space. The area is popular with ex-pats and unlike all of the other places where we stayed, we could drink the tap water, flush toilet paper, etc. We felt very comfortable in the area. It`s about a 25 walk along the Rio Tomebamba to el centro or you can take a bus for 25 cents or a taxi for about $2.50. There`s a big grocery store (Supermaxi) about 2 blocks away, great bakery around the corner (yummy chicken empanadas like a chicken pot pie encased in puff pastry), basically whatever you need. (For example, I had to have my purse repaired – that cost 50 cents.) Barbie had left a bowl of fruit, tomatoes, avocadoes, etc. for us which was really nice. Our house was about $50 / night.

Activities - For some reason (maybe the fact that the city is not built on a grid), I really had trouble orienting myself. We managed to find the bakery (those chicken empanadas made a fabulous breakfast) but we got lost going into town. We were walking in totally the wrong direction. We stopped an American couple to ask for directions, got into a chat with them, and the man insisted on giving us 50 cents to take the bus downtown. Nice people!
We ended up downtown a few times. On the first day, we took the $5 open air bus tour, which starts at the Plaza Abdon Calderon. That provided us with a pretty good overview of the city, and the narration was in both English and Spanish. (We did wonder what was going on when the bus circled the Plaza a couple of times, but eventually it got going and it lasts about 1 ½ hours, with a stop at the Mirador de Turi overlooking Cuenca. There are a couple of touristy shops up there, restaurant, etc., and the tour stops there for about 20 minutes.
We ended up going back to Turi on our last day to visit the Eduardo Vega studio. It’s just before the mirador. He is a very well-known Ecuadorean ceramicist and we saw his work at the University of Cuenca. I’m not crazy about the birds and florals (I wonder if his son designed those), but his vintage work is pretty amazing. We bought a very abstract looking plate and it looks great hanging in our dining room.

One morning, we took a taxi ($2.50) to Homero Ortega, the well-known Panama hat company. Their hats range in price from $30 to $2000 for the very fine woven hats (the kind of hat that people like Johnny Depp buy). After a quick tour of the facility and their museum (in Spanish), we started to try on hats. John found only 1 hat – they even had to stretch it a bit to fit properly. His was $35 and would have easily cost twice that at home, I’m sure. I tried on a number of hats, but really couldn’t find anything I liked. I finally tried on one that looked like it might be nice, and I loved it. Unfortunately it cost $135. I bought it anyway – it’s a really nice hat.

Another morning, we hired Victor (a driver that Barbie and John know) to take us to Gualaceo and Chordeleg, 2 towns that are close to Cuenca. I had read about a weaver called Jose Jimenez (no, not the one that used to be on Ed Sullivan) who has his workshop just outside of Gualaceo. We stopped there and his wife took us on a small tour (Victor translated for us). All of the work is made by hand and it is very labour intensive. The dyes are all natural, and the work is quite amazing. I bought a beautiful scarf and a table runner (that I will hang) for $70. (They do take credit cards, but that was the cash price. I am not good at bargaining.) Next we went to Chordeleg, where their specialty is gold and silver filigree. I saw some pins and bracelets that were gorgeous, but ended up buying just a pair of earrings for $20 – more practical for me. I’m sure Victor thought that I overpaid, but as I said, I’m not good at bargaining. Victor’s fee was $40 for about 3 ½ hours so very reasonable.

There are a number of museums in Cuenca (several of them free), and we visited some of them. The Pumapungo museum was probably the most impressive. I loved the outdoor part of it, with the Inca/Canari ruins and a beautiful garden. There’s also an aviary. It’s a large site, and unfortunately after walking all the way down, we had to walk back up as the gate at the bottom was locked. (Two couples really complained about that, and I’m not sure how they got out, but I think they may have cut through a school to get out.) It’s next to the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra and we could hear some musicians practicing when we started walking around.

One odd experience was at a small museum (Santos something or other? I can’t recall the name.) We walked in, started to look around and a woman seemed to get really annoyed with us because we hadn’t signed in first. After we signed in, she hustled us out to look at the grounds, which were a few ruins. An odd little break! Right after that, we went to Pumapungo, where we had to check John’s bag. I swear the guy who stored his bag didn’t crack a smile once. Fortunately the staff at the Museo de Arte Moderno were much more friendly. Unfortunately most of the rooms were being painted when we were there, so most of it was closed. However, I loved the building and there were some sculptures and so on that we saw. It also provides great shelter when it’s raining, as it was that day! We also went through the Museo de las Culturas Aborigenes, which I understand is a private collection – quite interesting to see and it was $2 to get in. (The other museums were free.)

Quito has a jazz society and there are usually shows Wednesday through Saturday evening. The shows are on the second floor of La Vina (there should be a tilde over the “n”). The place is small, so reservations are advisable. (I emailed them.) We saw a good performance with “Sweet Sue Terry”, as well some special guest performers. They recommend a $5 donation, which is totally reasonable. We also had dinner there before the show – pretty good pizza and salad.

Food – Cuenca seems to have a better restaurant ‘scene’ than Quito. Well, maybe that’s not quite fair, but it seems like there is more variety and overall we had better meals in Cuenca.
My favourite meal in Cuenca was at La Vinoteca, which had been recommended by our hosts Barbie and John. They offer both Italian and sushi, an odd mix, and I had read mixed reviews of the Italian food, however the sushi was wonderful. We shared an interesting take on coconut shrimp – it was a sushi roll, with a little coconut on the top – very rich and delicious. For my main, I ordered the ‘trio of sashimi’, expecting that I might get maybe 2 pieces of 3 different fish (salmon, tuna and another white fish). Well, I got 15 pieces – 5 pieces of 3 different fish. I was in sashimi heaven! John ordered the perfectly cooked ahi tuna with a peppercorn sauce on a bed of vegetables. I can`t recall the dessert right now, but I remember that it was ice cream based. La Vinoteca isn’t cheap – with a couple of glasses of wine, I think we spent $65 or so, but I loved it. Service was excellent.

Another place we liked was Fabiano’s. It’s an Italian restaurant in el centro. We ordered a salad to share and a “white” pizza. The pizza was huge and totally delicious – we brought ½ of it home to eat the next day. I think the bill came to about $20 for the 2 of us (and that was 2 dinners!). Fabiano’s is popular and I can see why. (Apparently they deliver as well.)

Another Italian dinner was at Cesare’s Internazionale, a very small restaurant. The chef also does private catering, and he told us that he is closing his business for the next month, and this was his last night. We ordered a salad to share there, and fortunately they forgot that part of the order – our pastas came with side salads so we really didn’t need another salad. John had wonderful mushroom stuffed tortelloni and I had corvine and garlic pasta. Dessert (chocolate pannacotta) was delicious. I can’t remember what we paid, but it was really inexpensive.

One day, we had lunch with an American couple that we had run into a few times. (They had arrived in Cuenca on the same flight as us, and we met them 2 or 3 times just wandering around town.) We met at San Sebas café (which I think is owned by ex-pats), near the museum of modern art. Everyone but me ordered the burger & fries. I ordered quinoa for some reason – I’ve never really understood the appeal of quinoa – but it was delicious. It had a nice Thai seasoning, lots of vegetables and a fried egg on top. (I love dishes with an egg on top.) I might be cooking quinoa this weekend – that dish definitely made a convert out of me. (Plus it was nice to have something that was definitely not Italian!)

Another lunch date was with a couple we had met at Wantara back in Quito. They were leaving Cuenca a day or 2 after we arrived, and we met up to compare notes. We had lunch at Raymipampa, which is a large busy restaurant near the square. Lunch for the 2 of us (a huge plate of rice & shrimp for me and a trout dish for John), including a couple of sodas, came to $20.

Our favourite place for coffee was Café de Nucallacta. It’s a small place where they really care about their coffee. Great cappuccinos and good cakes. We went there 3 times, and on one of the days, the “Frenchy” (his word) was there and he makes delicious sweet crepes.
Guayaquil

We spent our final day in Guayaquil. We flew TAME from Cuenca to Guayaquil early in the morning, and caught a cab to our hotel. We stayed at Hostal Macaw, a small inn that is close to the airport. It’s very clean, we had a huge bed, great breakfast (the patacones were wonderful). I would definitely recommend this hotel. It was $72, I think, for the night. The owners are onsite and very nice.

Our first impression was that the neighbourhood was a little rough. We soon found out that we were only 2 blocks from Mall del Sol, a huge air-conditioned mall.

After checking in, we took a taxi to the Malecon 2000. It’s a pleasant area, where there was a carnival parade happening on the adjacent street. We weren’t up to climbing the 444 steps of Cerro Santa Ana – Guayaquil is hot! But we enjoyed seeing some of the city. We had wanted to try a seafood restaurant near our hotel, but apparently they were only open for lunch. We ended up having lunch at Canoa, a busy restaurant that our hotel had recommended near the Malecon (I think it’s part of the Hotel Continental). We weren’t terribly hungry, and we both ordered ceviche (mixed seafood for me and pulpo for John). The waiter brought a bowl of popcorn, toasted corn kernels and pork rinds to the table – corn is everywhere in Ecuador! Both ceviches were really good.

After a bit of a nap (I was exhausted), we ended up at the Mall del Sol for dinner. Like malls everywhere, they have a large food court, as well as a couple of restaurants. We ended up having the baby back ribs at Metro Bistro (I think that was the name) – despite the mall like atmosphere, they were actually pretty good. The next day, while killing time before we went out to the airport, we went back to the mall and had a big café con leche at Juan Valdez (a Colombian coffee chain we remembered from our trip to Colombia 2 years ago). The mall was fairly upscale and really busy – maybe it’s the A/C.

Then it was back to the airport and finally home. Time to plan another trip!

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