Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
ECUADOR (and Bogotá) -- December 2010
Bogotá seems to have overcome its reptuation as drug crime ridden
capital of Latin America. There are lots of cops in the more touristy areas, but in between are miles of dreary low-rise concrete buildings. Although it was rainy and gray for our entire 3-day visit, I doubt this is a city that qualifies as beautiful even in full sun.
But is has a lively feel, spiced with Caribbean influences like cumbia music wafting out of storefronts, or the waitress who asks, “¿Que quieres, mi cielo?”
The centro histórico is La Calendaria which has an appealing mix of colonial and art deco architecure, and some top-class museums (don’t miss the Museo de Oro and and Botero Museum—even if you think you don’t like Botero). The whole zone was given a facelift in June 2011, with facades of many older buildings freshly painted in pastel colors.
Bolón de Verde, jazz club/restaurant. Totally hip little place up the hill in La Calendaria. Just off the Plazoleta de El Chorro de Quevedo. The area all around
here is fun at night. There’s a great pastry shop on the plaza.
‘Septimazo’is a bustling Friday night street fair in the centro. Fun for people watching.
Hostal Quito Cultural, (Calle Flores N4-160 y Chile, tel. 2288-084). Be sure to talk to the owner Alicia Vega, who is friendly and helpful. We loved this place. A bargain at $30 a night with breakfast.
A bit more upscale, Hotel Quito, http://www.hotelquito.com/ is a remodelled 60’s hotel/spa on a hill with great views. The rooftop restaurant was surprisingly good and a bargain as well.
Café Mosaico (Manuel Samaniego N8-95 y Antepara, Itchimbía, tel. 2542-871), has great views of the city, excellent coffee and Greek food which we did not try, but looked promising.
La Compania Church—don’t miss this baroque extravaganza.
Fuente de Vida Spa (Vizcaya E 13-40 y Pontevedra, Esquina 9-1/2, Barrio La Floresta) offers all sorts of ‘detoxification’ therapies. We stumbled upon this place and I sat for a half hour with my feet in warm water as a little plugged-in device sucked the impurities in my body out through my toes. Worth the $15.
Cuenca is a delightful town for just walking around and enjoying the architecure—a mix of everything from the last few centuries. It’s a quiet place without major tourist highlights. Friday seems to be the ‘big night out’, but otherwise the town square is fairly lifeless at night. The churches are lit up at night (and often full—it’s a very Catholic town). Check out the corner of Bolivar & Borrero at night, too—lovely architecure.
River walk—the river is clean and the grassy banks are great for hanging out or a picnic lunch.
Museums—If you like old pottery, the Museo de Culturas Aborigenes is worth a visit.
We found the old Convento de las Conceptas a bit dull—too many saints and virgins.
Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural, Benigno Malo 6-40—go inside to see the murals in back.
Azogues, This town was a day trip mentioned in our guidebook (Footprint) for its Saturday market, which wasn’t so different from the one in Cuenca. The town is a big concrete pile, but the Bar El Che (Bolivar & Tenemaza) was worth a visit—a temple to Che Guevara.
Parque Nacional Cajas, www.etapa.com.ec is not far from Cuenca. We only saw it on the bus ride to Guayaquil, but it looked lovely. Some tourists got off the bus there, so I imagine any of the buses going to Guayaquil can drop you off for a day of hiking.
Baños, a town with hot springs was a 30-minute local bus ride away. We were disappointed with the big motel-like setting and the not-so-hot water.
FOOD AND LODGING
Tiesto’s, Juan Jaramillo 7-34— this very popular restaurant serves local cuisine with flair. The giant shrimp were fantastic. http://www.tiestosrestaurante.com/
Al Toque (at the corner of Benigno Malo & Simon Bolivar on the main plaza). Pastries and gelato. We went back three times for the chocolate/caramel/banana tart!
Café Eucalyptus, (Gran Colombia 9-41) is a cozy place for a drink. It seems to be popular with the ex-pat crowd.
Café Austria, (Benigno Malo 5-99 at Juan Jaramillo) excellent coffee.
Local markets—there are 3 in town, worth visiting to see local produce and to eat at the food stalls. Roast pig and something called ‘encebollada’ (a fish dish) are the highlights here. Don’t miss the chocolate, sold in blocks or flat blobs, for cooking—it’s incredible.
Chinese restaurant, 11-26 Borrero near Lamar. The Cantonese food here was surprisingly good, although we did not try the combination that the couple at the next table seemed to be enjoying—mayonaise and ketchup over fried rice, accompanied with orange soda.
Hostal Majestic, Luis Cordero 11-29 (between Lamar & Sangurima, tel. (07) 284-3502) has old world charm and huge rooms for $42. After checking out about a dozen places in this price range, it was definitely the best. http://www.cuencacultural.com/h_majestic.htm
http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/articles/503109 Calvin Trillin article on Cuenca
I found this on some blog, but not in time to try it--”Toward the end of my Spanish language school visit in 2005, I'd had the good fortune to meet Berta Vintimilla, who, along with her sister Patricia, runs what is considered the premier upmarket restaurant in Cuenca, Villa Rosa”
http://www.cuencahighlife.com/default.aspx Cuenca ex-pat website
The bus ride from Cuenca to Guayaquil (4-5 hours) takes you through some spectacular mountains before you reach the steamy jungle.
Hotel Doral, http://www.hdoral.com/ is centrally located and perfectly fine, if no bargain at $65 compared with prices in Quito and Cuenca.Cuenca