Jason Scott

Author Archives: Jason Scott

After numerous years wandering the globe as a digital nomad, Jason now calls Ecuador home where he lives as part of a mixed Ecuadorian/Expat family. Jason created this blog to give back to the Ecuadorian expat community.

Bolon de Verde (Fried Plantain Balls) Recipe

Bolones de verde are one of the most common snacks you’ll find throughout Ecuador.

You’ll find them sold on the street, in markets, bus stations, cafes and restaurants. But, my favorite are the homemade bolones you’ll find in grandma’s kitchen. 

The below recipe is adapted from a simple recipe used by Michelle’s mom – an Ecuadorian native. Like many Ecuadorian dishes, it’s simple but takes practice to get right (I’m by no means a master).

What I like most about the simplicity of this bolones de verde recipe is that it gives you room to experiment. I love spice. Not just adding it as a sauce (aji) at the end, but throwing some chili into the mix itself. You can do a lot with the recipe once you get the basics right. 

My first bolon de verde

When I first arrived in Quito I was obsessed with humitas. Obsessed. I made it my mission to seek out the best humitas in cafes all over Quito. I still love them, but my tunnel vision meant I’d overlooked the bolon. 

That was until I visited Manta and found myself wandering around in a local neighborhood that was not exactly tourist-friendly. There were a bunch of people lined up at a portable cafe eating something out of little plastic bags. Its popularity was promising so I asked what it was. After confirming (several times) that it didn’t have any meat, I grabbed my own little bag of bolon.

It was tasty and filling. I’ve since had much better bolones, but that first introduction sticks with me because it exemplifies what bolones really are – a tasty, simple, budget-friendly snack that can be enjoyed by everybody. 

Bolon de verde video recipe

I made this video whilst I was in quarantine in Australia. Yep, I was visiting family in Australia when COVID 19 struck and I had to isolate in Australia away from Michelle and the kids. It’s been hard, but we are safe and very grateful.  

The only ingredient that was a little difficult to find was plantains. Not every supermarket stocks them, but some fruit markets do.

The other main substitution was cheese. I would normally use a queso fresco for the filling, but I substituted that for whatever cheese in the fridge that would melt well. I used cheddar, but mozzarella would probably work better. 

Step by Step Bolon Recipe

You'll need

  • 4 plantains
  • 1 med onion
  • 80g (2.8oz) butter
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup cheese
  • Oil for frying

Time

  • Prepare: 15 mins
  • Cook: 30 mins

Vegetarian friendly

This recipe does not include pork or lard (for frying). These are common in many of Ecuador's bolones.

1. Prepare plantains

Bolon de verde - Prepare plantains

Peel the plantains and cut into 3 to 4 parts depending on the size of the plantain. 

Peeling the plantains is the most difficult (and time consuming) part of making bolones. The greener they are, the more difficult it is to pry the skin away from the flesh. Use a knife to wedge out the skin. Cut out the remaining stubborn green bits. I keep my peeled plantains in water to keep them from browning whilst I prepare the others. 

Once peeled, cut into 3 or 4 parts. You want the sizes consistent so they are evenly cooked. 

Sidenote - we've included plantains in our fruits and vegetables of Ecuador article if you're interested in availability and prices. 

2. Cook plantains in salted water

Bolon de verde - Cook plantains

Add salt to water and bring to boil. Add plantains and reduce heat to med-high. Cook until the plantains are soft enough to mash with a fork. Remove plantains from water and transfer to a bowl. Keep the salted water as you may need it later. 

3. Mash plantains 

Bolon de verde - Mash plantains

Mash plantains well until there are no lumps. Depending on the type of plantain used and how green it is, you may need to add a little water that you saved. Add in small amounts (ie 50 ml) and continue to mash until the dough is uniform and soft. 

Add butter. The starting point is 1 tablespoon per plantain. But as each plantain is slightly different, add this tablespoon by tablespoon until the dough is ready. Taste and add more salt if desired. 

How to tell if dough is ready? 

​The dough should be pliable but not sticky. When you make your first ball, the surface should be smooth and free of cracks. If it starts to crack, then it's too dry and will break apart when you fry it. 

4. Add onion

Bolon de verde - Add onion

Dice onion very finely and mix to combine with dough. 

5. Roll into balls and add cheese 

Bolon de verde - Make balls with cheese

Take a small handful of dough and roll into a ball. Use your thumb to make a large hole almost to the other side of the dough. Add grated cheese to the hole and cover up the hole.

You can also make an oval shape if you prefer (Michelle does).

6. Fry until crispy

Bolon de verde - Fry until crispy

Heat up your oil and cook on medium/high until the outside is crispy and the cheese is melted. I prefer to shallow fry mine, but you can also deep fry.

7. Serve with aji and coffee

Bolon de verde - Serve with coffee and aji

Turn this into a full breakfast by serving with a fried egg, chili sauce (aji) and a coffee.

Buen provecho!

Do you have a favorite bolon recipe? A favorite addition? Let us know in the comments. 

Where to Find Ecuador’s Brilliant Hummingbirds

Ecuador is the Mecca for hummingbird watchers and photographers. With more than 130 of the world's 340 species, it's no surprise Ecuador is known as the "Land of Hummingbirds" and the hummingbird capital of the world. 

Sword Billed Hummingbird Ecuador

Hummingbirds (colibríes in Spanish) have long fascinated us with their speed, agility, compact size and perfectly adapted beaks and tongues. Many cultures have placed spiritual significance on these pint-sized marvels. The Aztec god of war, Huitzilopochtli, is depicted as a hummingbird because of his belief that hummingbirds contained the spirit of fallen warriors. 

Huitzilopochtli Hummingbird of the South

Christians associate hummingbirds with the resurrection because they appear lifeless when sleeping, but will rapidly fly away and 'resurrect' when then sun rises. 

What hummingbirds mean to us

The symbolism that resonates strongest with me is from the Native Americans who view hummingbirds as healers or a spirit-being helping those in need. 

You see, we went through a very difficult time with the loss of a loved one and over the next week two events happened:

  1. A sentimental tree was constantly visited by a new hummingbird, and
  2. A female built her nest in a tree located in a prime viewing spot from our living room. Later on her baby joined us too. 

These may seem like trivial events. But, at the time they were beautiful moments of reprieve from the persistent despair we were all feeling. For this I was incredibly grateful.

From then on hummingbirds have taken on a very special meaning within our house, elevated to the position of our family symbol. 

I've heard similar stories from various friends and read numerous other stories online about similar experiences. This leads me to think there are many people out there that share the same appreciation for hummingbirds on numerous levels, including physical beauty and spiritual. 

Hummingbird Infographic

Ecuador Hummingbird Infographic

Feel free to share the above hummingbird infographic. You can also download the high-res version here

Where in Ecuador can I find hummingbirds?

Everywhere! Well, except the Galapagos - Darwin certainly would have mentioned these remarkably adapted creatures if so...

This doesn't mean you're going to come across Hummingbird nests on every street in Quito or Guayaquil. But, get a few minutes outside of the city and you can potentially have an encounter. 

The cloud forests have the highest concentration of hummingbirds, so that's a great place to start your journey.

The most popular areas for tourists to visit are divided into the eastern & western slopes of the Andes mountain range that runs through Ecuador.

Some of the most popular spots for the eastern and western slopes have been included in the map below (blue = east slope, red = west slope). These are mostly accessible from Quito, but don't think for a second that these are the only places to find hummingbirds in Ecuador - they just happen to be the most popular. 

Western Slope of the Ecuadorian Andes

If you're like many visitors to Ecuador, this is likely where you're going to start your hummingbird exploration.

Mindo Valley

Mindo has quickly become one of the premier bird-watching locations in the world. The lush cloud forest provides a rich biodiversity, allowing visitors to see many of Ecuador's birds, plants, insects, vegetation and pack in some other sightseeting activities like chocolate and coffee tours, rafting, ziplining and hiking. All within a 2 hour drive of Quito.

Reserva Ecologica Yanacocha

With over 15 hummingbird species (several endemic), the Reserva Ecologica Yanacocha is well-known for watchers looking for a quick weekend trip from Quito. 

It takes around 1 hour to get to Reserva Ecologica Yanacocha from Quito, making it the closest of the western slope locations to do some serious hummer watching. 

Tandayapa Valley

At least 17 species of hummingbird have been spotted around the Tandayapa Valley, including the Purple-throated Woodstar (Calliphlox mitchellii) .

Two of the popular spots to bird watch and stay are:

  • Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve & Lodge
  • Refugio Paz de Las Aves
Purple-throated Woodstar (Calliphlox mitchellii)

Reserva Mashpi Shungo

A little further out, about 3 hours from Quito, is the privately held Reserva Mashpi Shungo. In addition to howler monkeys, you can find 13 types of hummingbird, including the Violet-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus coelestis).

Whilst here, you can also treat yourself at the luxurious Mashpi Lodge. 

Silanche Bird Sanctuary

Still around 3 hours from Quito is the Silanche Bird Sanctuary. In addition to several toucans, you can also spy around 7 hummingbird species, including the Booted Racket-tail (Ocreatus underwoodii).

Booted Racket-tail (Ocreatus underwoodii)

Eastern Slope of the Andes Hummingbirds

The eastern slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes starts about an hours drive east of Quito, heading past Papallacta. Hint - be sure to give yourself some time to soak up the hot springs in Papallacta.

Puembo Birding Garden

I've included this spot on the list because it is a convenient starting/stopping off point given its close proximity to Quito's international airport. If your sole aim of visiting Ecuador is bird watching, then staying here will mean you don't need to go into Quito and you can start enjoying some 35+ different species of birds, including several hummingbirds. 

Guango Lodge

Situated about 10 minutes past Papallacta is Guango Lodge. Here you can see around 17 types of hummingbirds in well maintained gardens. These include the Mountain Velvetbreast (Lafresnaya lafresnayi).

Mountain Velvetbreast (Lafresnaya lafresnayi)

Hosteria Hda. Cumandá

Continuing along the E20, about 2 hours from Quito is Baeza. This lesser known little town has several options to stay and view the many animal and bird species in the area. Approx 6 types of hummingbirds have been known to live here, including the Speckled Hummingbird (Adelomyia melanogenys). 

Speckled Hummingbird (Adelomyia melanogenys)

Cosanga

Turning right onto the E45 will have you at Cosanga, around 2.5 hours from Quito. This town includes bird watching options like Cabañas San Isidro. Here, around 10 species of hummingbird have been spotted, including the Sparkling Violet-ear (Colibri coruscans).

Sparkling Violet-ear Colibri coruscans

WildSumaco Lodge

Continuing down the Ecuador's Eastern Slope, turning left at Narupo onto the E20 for around 40 minutes and then left at Wawa Sumaco towards the Sumaco Volcano, you'll find the most remote lodge on the list - WildSumaco Lodge. This birding lodge has been know to contain 21 species of hummingbird.

Southern Ecuador 

Moving further south down the eastern slope you'll pass through other areas such as Baños, Cuenca (where we live) and Loja. Whilst you won't find many bird tour companies offering tours here, that doesn't mean there aren't quality hummingbird spotting opportunities. 

Giant Hummingbird (Patagona gigas)

One of the 5 different species that regularly visit our home in Cuenca is the Giant Hummingbird. We love having him visit us because his large size seems to calm down some of the smaller, but more aggressive, hummingbirds. They seem to know that this larger hummer deserves respect and they agree to give him some space.

This brings a more harmonious vibe to the 3-4 hours in the morning when the hummingbirds are at their busiest and creating the most noise (and we might still be sleeping!). Check out the Giant Hummingbird in this video:

Where does the Giant Hummingbird live?

The giant hummingbird's habitat extends from Ecuador down to Argentina and Chile and can be found on both slopes of the Andes mountains. This covers a sizeable range of 1,200,000 km2.

How long is the Giant Hummingbird?

They are around 23 cm (9.1 in) long, with a wingspan of approx 21.5 cm (8.5 in) and weigh 18–24 g (0.63–0.85 oz). This is about double the weight of the next heaviest hummingbird. 

How many Giant Hummingbirds are left in the world?

There is an estimated 10,000+ adult Giant Hummingbirds in the wild. 

All Ecuadorian hummingbird species

For all you hardcore hummer fans, here's the list of all the different species you can find in Ecuador along with their scientific names:

Common name

Scientific name

Common name

Scientific name

Amazilia hummingbird

Amazilis amazilia

Amethyst woodstar

Calliphlox amethystina

Amethyst-throated sunangel

Heliangelus amethysticollis

Andean emerald

Uranomitra franciae

Band-tailed barbthroat

Threnetes ruckeri

Black-bellied thorntail

 Discosura langsdorffi

Black-breasted puffleg

 Eriocnemis nigrivestis (EM)

Black-eared fairy

Heliothryx auritus

Black-tailed trainbearer

Lesbia victoriae

Black-thighed puffleg

Eriocnemis derbyi

Black-throated brilliant

Heliodoxa schreibersii

Black-throated hermit

Phaethornis atrimentalis

Black-throated mango

Anthracothorax nigricollis

Blue-chested hummingbird

Polyerata amabilis

Blue-chinned sapphire

Chlorestes notata

Blue-fronted lancebill

Doryfera johannae

Blue-headed sapphire

Chrysuronia grayi

Blue-mantled thornbill

Chalcostigma stanleyi

Blue-tailed emerald

Chlorostilbon mellisugus

Blue-throated hillstar

Oreotrochilus cyanolaemus (E-M)

Blue-tufted starthroat

Heliomaster furcifer (H)

Booted racket-tail

Ocreatus underwoodii

Bronze-tailed plumeleteer

Chalybura urochrysia

Bronzy hermit

Glaucis aeneus

Bronzy Inca

Coeligena coeligena

Brown Inca

Coeligena wilsoni

Brown violetear

Colibri delphinae

Buff-tailed coronet

Boissonneaua flavescens

Buff-tailed sicklebill

Eutoxeres condamini

Buff-winged starfrontlet

Coeligena lutetiae

Chestnut-breasted coronet

Boissonneaua matthewsii

Choco daggerbill

Schistes albogularis

Collared Inca

Coeligena torquata

Crowned woodnymph

Thalurania colombica

Ecuadorian hillstar

Oreotrochilus chimborazo

Ecuadorian piedtail

Phlogophilus hemileucurus

Emerald-bellied puffleg

Eriocnemis aline

Empress brilliant

 Heliodoxa imperatrix

Esmeraldas woodstar

Chaetocercus berlepschi (EM)

Fawn-breasted brilliant

Heliodoxa rubinoides

Festive coquett

Lophornis chalybeus

Fiery topaz

Topaza pyra

Fiery-tailed awlbill

Avocettula recurvirostris

Fork-tailed woodnymph

Thalurania furcata

Geoffroy's daggerbill

Schistes geoffroyi

Giant hummingbird

Patagona gigas

Glittering-throated emerald

Chionomesa fimbriata

Glowing puffleg

Eriocnemis vestita

Golden-breasted puffleg

Eriocnemis mosquera

Golden-tailed sapphire

Chrysuronia oenone

Gorgeted sunangel

Heliangelus strophianus

Gorgeted woodstar

Chaetocercus heliodor

Gould's jewelfront

Heliodoxa aurescens

Gray-breasted sabrewing

 Campylopterus largipennis

Gray-chinned hermit

Phaethornis griseogularis

Great sapphirewing

Pterophanes cyanopterus

Great-billed hermit

Phaethornis malaris

Green hermit

Phaethornis guy

Green thorntail

Discosura conversii

Green-backed hillstar

Urochroa leucura

Green-crowned brilliant

Heliodoxa jacula

Green-fronted lancebill

Doryfera ludovicae

Green-headed hillstar

Oreotrochilus stolzmanni

Greenish puffleg

Haplophaedia aureliae

Green-tailed goldenthroat

Polytmus theresiae (H)

Green-tailed trainbearer

 Lesbia nuna

Hoary puffleg

Haplophaedia lugens

Humboldt's sapphire

Chrysuronia humboldtii

Lazuline sabrewing

Campylopterus falcatus

Lesser violetear

Colibri cyanotus

Little sunangel

Heliangelus micraster

Little woodstar

Chaetocercus bombus

Long-billed hermit

Phaethornis longirostris

Long-billed starthroat

Heliomaster longirostris

Long-tailed sylph

Aglaiocercus kingii

Many-spotted hummingbird

Taphrospilus hypostictus

Mountain avocetbill

Opisthoprora euryptera

Mountain velvetbreast

Lafresnaya lafresnayi

Napo sabrewing

Campylopterus villaviscensio

Neblina metaltail

Metallura odomae

Olive-spotted hummingbird

Talaphorus chlorocercus

Pale-tailed barbthroat

Threnetes leucurus

Peruvian sheartail

Thaumastura cora (H)

Pink-throated brilliant

Heliodoxa gularis

Purple-backed thornbill

Ramphomicron microrhynchum

Purple-bibbed whitetip

Urosticte benjamini

Purple-chested hummingbird

Polyerata rosenbergi

Purple-collared woodstar

Myrtis fanny

Purple-crowned fairy

 Heliothryx barroti

Purple-throated sunangel

Heliangelus viola

Purple-throated woodstar

Calliphlox mitchellii

Rainbow starfrontlet

Coeligena iris

Rainbow-bearded thornbill

Chalcostigma herrani

Reddish hermit

Phaethornis ruber

Royal sunangel

Heliangelus regalis

Rufous-breasted hermit

Glaucis hirsutus

Rufous-capped thornbill

Chalcostigma ruficeps

Rufous-crested coquette

Lophornis delattrei (H)

Rufous-gaped hillstar

Urochroa bougueri

Rufous-tailed hummingbird

Amazilia tzacatl

Rufous-throated sapphire

Hylocharis sapphirina

Rufous-vented whitetip

Urosticte ruficrissa

Sapphire-spangled emerald

Chionomesa lactea (H)

Sapphire-vented puffleg

Eriocnemis luciani

Shining sunbeam

Aglaeactis cupripennis

Short-tailed woodstar

Myrmia micrura

Spangled coquette

Lophornis stictolophus

Sparkling violetear

Colibri coruscans

Speckled hummingbird

Adelomyia melanogenys

Spot-throated hummingbird

Thaumasius taczanowskii (H)

Straight-billed hermit

Phaethornis bourcieri

Stripe-throated hermit

Phaethornis striigularis

Sword-billed hummingbird

Ensifera ensifera

Tawny-bellied hermit

Phaethornis syrmatophorus

Tooth-billed hummingbird

Androdon aequatorialis

Tourmaline sunangel

Heliangelus exortis

Tumbes hummingbird

Thaumasius baeri

Turquoise-throated puffleg

Eriocnemis godini

Tyrian metaltail

Metallura tyrianthina

Velvet-purple coronet

Boissonneaua jardini

Violet-bellied hummingbird

Chlorestes julie

Violet-fronted brilliant

Heliodoxa leadbeateri

Violet-headed hummingbird

Klais guimeti

Violet-tailed sylph

Aglaiocercus coelestis

Violet-throated metaltail

Metallura baroni (EM)

Viridian metaltail

Metallura williami

Western emerald

Chlorostilbon melanorhynchus

White-bearded hermit

Phaethornis hispidus

White-bellied woodstar

Chaetocercus mulsant

White-chinned sapphire

Chlorestes cyanus

White-necked jacobin

Florisuga mellivora

White-tipped sicklebill

Eutoxeres aquila

White-vented plumeleteer

Chalybura buffonii

White-whiskered hermit

Phaethornis yaruqui

Wire-crested thorntail

Discosura popelairii

Cell
Cell

Are you planning a visit to Ecuador to check out hummingbirds? Please feel free to let us know in the comments where you're going and whether you're doing it by yourself or through a tour group. 

Image credits: I have not taken the incredibly superb photos of hummingbirds used in this article. I wish I was that talented with a camera. They are from a UK photographer, Andy Morffew. If you like the photos, let him know on his website & peruse his other fantastic wildlife images. 

Is Ecuador Safe?

When you start planning your move to Ecuador, you'll most likely be constantly asked, "But, is Ecuador safe?"

I know I've been asked this question many times. And of course, it was a key consideration for me when I decided to make the move the Ecuador. 

There's a few caveats, but yes, I consider Ecuador a safe country to visit and live.

By the end of this article you'll understand how I've reached this conclusion, and I'll also run through some common risks, how to avoid them and my learnings from some not-so-good experiences in Ecuador. 

Ecuador's safety compared to other countries

Ecuador is a small country in Latin America that neighbours Colombia and Peru. Whilst it's tempting to lump all of Latin America into one category to assess safety as a region, I'd argue this is not the way to approach it as each country, and city, has very different safety risks. 

The below graph shows how peaceful a country is according to the Global Peace Index. This index takes 23 factors into consideration such as violent crime, terrorism, political instability and access to weapons. 

global-peach index 2019 ecuador

Ecuador ranked 71 out of 163

Ecuador's rank is 71, with only Uruguay and Panama ranked higher out of all South American countries. So, from one of the best objective measures we have, Ecuador is safer than almost every other country in the area (and the United States). 

Ecuador's crime concerns

Just because Ecuador ranks relatively highly on the GPI, that doesn't mean it's a peaceful utopia. Like anywhere, there are risks. Luckily, most of them can be mitigated with common sense. 

Border with Colombia

Ecuador's north eastern border (the amazon region) with Colombia is considered a no-go zone because of narco trafficking related deaths. Even journalists have been murdered in this lawless corner of Ecuador. If you're coming from Colombia, crossing the border between Ipiales and Tulcan, in the Andes region, is safe.  

Pick Pocketing in tourist hot spots

Violent crime is rare, but opportunistic crimes like pick pocketing are fairly common in tourist areas. Some well known areas to be paying extra attention:

Quito

  • Centro historico: especially walking up the hill to El Pancillo. This walk is just private enough for robbers to strike. Taking a taxi to the top is highly recommended (and cheap). However, I've done this walk several times and haven't seen anything remotely suspicious.
  • Buses: Absolutely be on guard and watch your belongings when on cramped buses. Especially the Ecovia and Trole line - it's almost a rite of passage to lose your phone on this bus line when crowded (I've lost one).
  • Plaza Foch: Drunk tourists make easier targets. I'm not the fun police, just know that you have a higher risk of being pick-pocketed in Quito's main drinking & dancing sector.
  • Parks: A common scam is for someone to spill/squirt/throw a liquid onto your clothes and then try to clean it off. Whilst cleaning they lift your wallet or phone etc. If you feel any liquid (even bird poop), then it's best to keep on walking until you're no longer around anyone. 

Cuenca

Cuenca is touted as a safe place for expats - a reason why many retire here. But, secluded areas by the rivers can be tempting for thieves. 

Violent crime against expats

Thankfully, violent crimes in Ecuador are rare. But they do happen. This murder of a 79 year old lady from the US sent shock waves through my community in Cuenca when it happened. This was allegedly perpetrated by a worker of the deceased - so not a completely random act.

As a gringo, there will be the presumption that you have money. Which can make you a target - especially for opportunistic crimes. But, this is not likely to lead to anything more than petty theft or worse case a home robbery when the house is unattended. 

For peace of mind I do recommend paying attention to the security features of your home/apartment. This includes paying for monitored home security and quality fences. 

Ecuador's earthquake & volcano risks

Ecuadorian's have been dealing with the persistent risks from earthquakes and volcanoes forever. Ecuador sits on a tectonic plate (part of the ring of fire of the Pacific), meaning there are also real volcano and earthquake risks to consider. One of Ecuador's main coastal expat destinations, Manta, was hit hard in the 2016 earthquake which killed over 600 people and leveled parts of Manta and other towns.

Volcanic eruptions in the sierras do occur. The large volcanoes around Quito are of particular concern. Cotopaxi, one of the highest volcanoes in the world (5,897m) hasn't had a great eruption since 1877, with some experts suggesting it's due for another

Ash from erupting volcanoes can cause havoc. It's rained ash on our house several times in Cuenca - nothing severe, but it is a reminder to have a volcano action plan ready just in case. 

Honestly, adjusting to the persistent earthquake and volcano risk was a little difficult for me at first. It's not something I've ever had to deal with. But, I rarely think of it now as I've accepted natural disasters can happen anywhere. 

The sun & UV

Perhaps your biggest risk as a new arrival is getting sunburn. The high altitude can result in very high UV, meaning you can get sunburnt in a matter of 15-20 minutes. Always have suncream and water with you. 

Is driving safe in Ecuador?

We own a car and have driven around most of Ecuador. But, I still find this question difficult to answer as it's relatively complex. 

Roads

Many of Ecuador's roads and highways got a major upgrade under a former president (Correa). However, with the seismic activity and constant landslides, maintenance of these roads is a constant issue. This forces you to be on guard to avoid potholes and other obstacles like surprise speed bumps.

I'd definitely suggest against driving at night, especially in poor lit areas. Fog is also an issue in the mountains. 

Other drivers

My experience is that other drivers can be quite unpredictable everywhere in Ecuador. Probably once or twice each month I'm perplexed at a decision made by a fellow driver. These are mostly harmless like driving slow in the fast lane, but there have been a couple of close calls that could have been avoided. 

Trucks and buses are of the most concern. Keeping to aggressive time schedules turns some otherwise good drivers into risk takers and risk takers into downright lunatics. Bus accidents are too common as a result. 

Fault & jail

I'm still coming to grips with Ecuador's justice system and how this impacts drivers' rights. If there is an accident where someone is injured, all parties will go to jail until fault is determined. This can last days. 

I'll admit that I'm paranoid about being the scapegoat because I'm not a local. It has happened to me before (in Dubai). My perceived risk is that I will be found to be at fault because I'll be judged by the police to have money and therefore more able to pay for the recovery - or heaven forbid, blood money to the family of the deceased. 

For this reason I purchased a dashboard camera with the purpose of being able to prove my innocence should I find myself in such a situation. My rationale was that it's a small amount to pay in the off-chance that such discrimination ever takes place. 

Is Ecuador safe for solo female travelers?

Yes, but like anywhere, you need to take more precautions and be willing to accept that machismo culture is very much alive in Ecuador. Some Ecuadorian men are known to make females uncomfortable with unwanted attention. This can be in the form of catcalling, staring or being overly forward. In much rarer occasions it can involve touching.

Cases of femicide do occur in Ecuador (and in general in Latin america). One such case was two Argentinian girls who were killed in Montañita in 2016. Don't leave your guard down while traveling alone and be very suspicious when accepting any help from strangers.

Ecuador is a mostly traditional, catholic culture. So, victim blaming issues aside, you will stand out if you don't dress conservatively. I would not suggest wearing anything too revealing until you have a good grasp on the culture. 

My experiences

I've tried to keep the above somewhat objective. Now I'm going to provide some first-hand experiences and what I've learnt from them. 

Ecuador vs Colombia

I arrived in Ecuador after spending 6 months in Medellin, Colombia. I really loved Medellin. I fell for it's energy, it's people and general attitude towards enjoying life. But, it is dangerous. I'd gotten used to constantly watching my back and belongings at all times. It was just part of life. 

My first stop in Ecuador was Quito, and it immediately felt safer to me. Protecting myself from being a victim of crime was no longer something that consumed my thoughts. 

That was a key reason I stayed in Ecuador. I felt safe here. Moving from Quito to Cuenca further increased my feeling of safety. 

The value of feeling safe

My key learning from this experience was that I didn't realize how much I valued the feeling of safety until I'd put myself in an environment that I felt safe. 

You may not get the same feeling if you visit or live in Ecuador. Maybe you feel safer in Medellin, or New York, or Toronto, or Sydney, wherever. That is all okay. I only urge you to consider how much value you put on 'feeling safe' and include it in your criteria when deciding where to live. 

Buses and pick pockets

As I mentioned above, I've been pick pocketed on the Ecovia bus in Quito. This bus line is notorious for bags being slashed, wallets and phones stolen. Even my Spanish teacher at PUCE warned me to keep my bag on my front to avoid being robbed. 

It happened to me on my way to Spanish class. I was running late and hadn't had my morning coffee yet - I'm basically non-functioning with out it... 

I'm normally super careful and keep my right hand in my right jeans pocket to hold onto both my phone and my wallet. This allows me to keep my left hand free to hold onto the rail. Maybe I wasn't alert because of my lack of coffee or maybe I was over-confident as I'd ridden the Ecovia many times without incident. 

But for whatever reason, that day my right hand was not covering my belongings in my pocket. It was free as a bird and my phone could easily be seen in my jeans pocket. At my stop I tried to leave the bus, but there was a very obese male in his early 20's blocking my exit. I tried to get past him on the right, he'd move right. I'd shuffle across to the left and try to leave, he'd block my exit again. But, he did it in such a way that I saw it as more annoying than deliberate. 

As I pushed past him, the doors closed and the music in my headphones stopped. I immediately knew my phone was pinched. My first reaction was to be angry at myself for letting my guard down. I was actually furious at myself for doing so. Then, I moved to being grateful that it was only a cheap phone and it could have been something more difficult to replace like my wallet with IDs and bank cards. 

I knew the pain of losing a wallet in Ecuador as I'd done it about a year earlier. I was riding an inter provincial bus that dropped me in Puerto Lopez on Ecuador's coast. As I was exiting the bus, my wallet dropped out of my pants and onto the seat. I went to grab a coffee at the station and could not find my wallet to pay. I ran back to my seat no more than 1 minute later and my wallet was gone. Someone had picked it up and taken it. I asked everyone, including the driver. I'd paid the driver my fare less than 15 minutes before arriving, so it was clear a fellow passenger had it and they were not going to give it up. 

This might sound weird, but this incident hurt me more than the theft of my phone by actual criminals. I guess I expected strangers on a bus to be more likely to help out a fellow traveler. 

The lessons here are pretty clear. Don't let your guard down. Even if you've done the trip 100's of times. It's when you get complacent that you become an easy target. 

The Paro - Ecuador's State of Emergency 2019

I'm going to wrap this up with my observations from the State of Emergency that evolved over a 2 week period in October 2019. 

It was a very weird experience. I hadn't seen society crumble like that. Supply lines were cut off, food was hoarded, schools and streets closed. There was a peculiar mixture of fear and fiesta circulating the streets. 

I work online, so I tried to go about my business as much as I could. We'd stocked up on gas, groceries and water. We felt as safe as we could under the circumstances. It wasn't until the last days of the strike, when our street was blocked off and an angry mob was roaming close to our house that I thought we could be under genuine threat. Mob mentality can be very dangerous, and the mob had been drinking most of the day. 

I found it hard to understand how Ecuadorians could cause so much damage to their own country. Damaging roads, buildings and other property. Most of the groups I'd seen going into town to strike didn't seem to be politically motivated - rather they looked like they were in it for the excitement. Like teenagers going to join a street party, booze and all. 

I'm not doubting that there were many that had political intentions. But that was not what I saw. We deliberately tried to stay as far away as possible to keep our family safe. 

As amazed as I was at how easily Ecuadorians could damage their own country, I was equally in awe at how quickly they were willing to repair it. The thousands of people volunteering to clean the streets immediately after the paro was called off was so heart warming. You could see the people coming together to start rebuilding their country. It was so good to see. 

The paro was a genuine reminder that life in Ecuador can be unpredictable. You do need to be prepared for things you'd never thought possible. But isn't that part of life as an expat - to experience how other people live? Warts, beauty and everything in between.



How to Send Money to Ecuador with WorldRemit

Need to send money to Ecuador quickly and cheaply? WorldRemit may be the best provider for you. I've had to transfer cash into Ecuador for numerous reasons and WorldRemit has been my go-to for the majority of these situations. 

Once you've read this article you'll be armed with a step-by-step guide on how to send money to Ecuador with WorldRemit. And, how to get your first transfer for free!

But first, I suggest you check out this article on sending money to Ecuador which covers other options (ATMs etc). This article is specifically how to transfer cash online using WorldRemit and we don't cover other online options such as Western Union or Xoom. 

Why use WorldRemit to send money to Ecuador?

I continue to choose WorldRemit because of the low rates (incl fees), ease of use and transfer speed.

My needs have mostly been for an online service that would allow me to transfer from my US account to my Ecuadorian account. There's numerous options that fulfil this general requirement, but I like WorldRemit because:

Low fees

WorldRemit has a sliding fee structure based on the amount sent. This is always very transparent so there are no nasty surprises. 

Amount Sent

WorldRemit Fee

$500

$9.99

$1,000

$11.99

$1,500 - $5,000

$14.99

You can see the fee basically has an upper limit for $14.99 (sidenote - why not just call it $15? This type of pricing annoys me...) 

This $15 fee is the same if you're sending $1,500 or $5,000. So, it's more cost effective to send larger amounts, less often. 

$5,000 will last most expats 2-3 months. So, you should be able to get away with one fee of $15 to cover your money transfer needs for 2-3 months. 

You can then use your local debit card (I use JEP) to get cash out or pay directly with the debit card wherever it's accepted - ie supermarkets etc, but not local markets. 

Up to $5,000

$5,000 is the maximum that WorldRemit let's me send in one transaction. I've tried to send more, but it would not let me and I needed to send several smaller transactions with separate fees. 

I'm not clear if this limit changes based on personal circumstances. I'm not guaranteeing $5,000 will be available to you - maybe your limit is less. I don't know. 

You can check your limit once you've hooked up your US (or Canada, Australia etc) bank account to WorldRemit and start a transfer to Ecuador. This only takes a few minutes and you don't need to finish the transfer to find your limit.

Transfer speed 

Money is generally in the account the next business day. On several occasions it's been transferred on the same day!

I can tell how long it takes because I receive one email from WorldRemit telling me the transfer is being processed and another saying it's processed. 

Money has been transferred by the next business day. Every. Time. 

It's great to know this speed is consistent as there have been numerous occasions where unforeseen circumstances have arose and I needed funds quickly. Having the cash quickly has saved me considerable heartache. 

Easy to use - 2 minute transfers

The WorldRemit transfer process is easy to use, especially for repeat transactions. It takes me less than 2 mins to complete repeat transactions. 

The main time hurdle is adding new accounts, because you obviously need to enter in the account information for the recipient (ie your account in Ecuador). 

The website UX is clean and it's always clear what your next step is. For example, the very first screen is a simple prompt asking which country you would like to transfer to. This clear process means that it's difficult to get lost at any point. 

Sending money with WorldRemit: Step-by-step

I took some screenshots of a recent transaction to show you how to do the transfer to a local Ecuador bank. The most difficult part was finding the recipient's bank account details in the monster drop down list.

I actually had to email WorldRemit's support team to clarify the recipient bank name. Their support came back to me within an hour to provide my answer. I was happy with this support. 

Step 1: Visit WorldRemit website

Send Money to Ecuador WorldRemit - Step 1

Self explanatory step, but we need to start somewhere!

Head on over to the WorldRemit site.

Step 2: Create account

Ecuador WorldRemit - Step 2 - Create Account

Basic details here like name, email address password etc. Shouldn't take more than 2 minutes to complete. 

Step 3: Recipient country (Ecuador!)

Ecuador WorldRemit - Step 3 - Recipient Country

Of course, you can also use WorldRemit to transfer to many other countries. For us expats in Ecuador, we'll obviously want to choose Ecuador as our recipient country. 

Step 4: Bank transfer

Ecuador WorldRemit - Step 4 - Bank Transfer

We are focusing on transfers to a local Ecuadorian bank account (yours or a friend's). So, leave it as the default "Bank Transfer" option and hit continue.

But, you can also elect for a cash pickup at several bank branches if you prefer cash. Please be careful if you're walking around with large sums of money. 

Step 5: Recipient bank

Ecuador WorldRemit - Step 5 - Recipient Bank

There's three options for choosing which bank you want to deposit into:

  1. Banco Guayaquil
  2. Banco Bolivariano
  3. All other Ecuador Banks

This 3rd option is very extensive and covers many, many Ecuadorian banks and cooperativas. This is what I use for JEP. 

Step 6: Amount (& fees)

Ecuador WorldRemit - Step 6 - Amount

They've made it easy to understand how much you're sending and what the recipient will receive. If you're transferring from the US, then this won't change because Ecuador also uses USD.

If you're transferring from another country such as Canada or Australia, then this will change and you can see how much the recipient will receive. 

This is also where you can see the fees charged by WorldRemit. If you change the amount to send, the fees will also update. 

I've set it as $5,000 because this is the most cost-effective option when allowing for the $15 fee charged by WorldRemit. 

Step 7: Recipient Details

Ecuador WorldRemit - Step 7 - Recipient

Here you'll choose whether your sending another transfer to an existing recipient or adding a new recipient.

Adding new recipients is the most time consuming part of the process. The good news is that once a new recipient is added, their details are saved making it super easy to make additional transfers. 

The ability to save recipients will come in very handy if you're sending regular payments to yourself in Ecuador. 

Step 8: Recipient's Bank

Ecuador WorldRemit - Step 8 - Recipient Bank

Choosing the recipient's bank was the most difficult part for me. 

Why? Because I did not realize that Ecuador had so many banks and cooperativas.

And this may sound silly, but I didn't know the name of my bank. Well, the official name anyway.

The bank I was looking for was JEP and that's the name you see on their ATMs, at branches etc. I did a quick search on their website and found the following official name:

Cooperativa de Ahorro y Crédito “Juventud Ecuatoriana Progresista” Ltda

So, I had a good lead and tried to find this exact name in the list. But, I couldn't find the exact name amongst the many different cooperativas. As I wasn't prepared to take a gamble, I decided to email support to ask them. One hour later I got the confirmation I was after:

JEP is included in WorldRemit as "COOP. AHORRO Y CREDITO JUVENTUD".

I've included this here as  JEP is popular bank amongst Cuenca based expats. 

If you're having similar issues trying to find your bank amongst the list in WorldRemit, I suggest you also contact their support for confirmation. This is likely to be much easier and quicker than trying to get a refund. 

Step 9: Payment

Ecuador WorldRemit - Step 9 - Payment

You'll need a debit or credit card to make the payment. 

It would be nice if they integrated directly with my US bank, and maybe they will in time. For now, you'll need to use a debit or credit card. 

Debit cards

Make sure you've set your card limit to cover the amount (incl fees) that you're transferring. You should be able to do this in your internet banking. 

Credit cards

Paying with credit cards is likely to attract a hefty cash advance fee from your bank. Definitely check your bank's cash advance policy before doing this!

Step 10: Success (& track)

Ecuador WorldRemit - Step 10 - Success

The final step in the process is the confirmation. 

Congratulations. You've now setup the transfer and it should arrive within 48 hours. 

You can also track the transfer by downloading the App or logging into your WorldRemit account (via their website). They will also send you email updates when they've:

  • Started the transfer
  • Completed the transfer

I hope you found this guide helpful. Let me know in the comments below 🙂

You can get your first transfer free with WorldRemit by using my link (I'll also get a free transfer). 

Bringing Electronics to Ecuador

Whether you're just passing through as a visitor or starting a new life as an expat in Ecuador, you're eventually going to ask yourself:

Should I bring electronics to Ecuador?

Indeed, I'm asking myself this question again right now as I'm visiting family and pulling together my latest Amazon wish list.

The price of electronics in Ecuador has decreased over the past couple of years. At long last, the government is slowly decreasing taxes on items such as cell phones and computers in an effort to ensure Ecuadorians don't get left behind in an increasingly digital world

So, whilst a few years ago the answer would have been an easy 'yes', the closing price gap makes it a little more difficult to answer today. 

So, should I bring electronics or not?

Short answer is still: Yes, you should bring in electronics to Ecuador. 

But, you will need to pay close attention to the limits that customs places on electronics for personal use so you don't get pinged with paying import taxes. 

What are the rules on bringing electronics to Ecuador?

The below limits apply for passengers entering the country via airports. If you are applying for a residency visa, you might be better off shipping some of these under the household goods allowance. But, that is a topic for another day. 

The National Customs Service (Aduana) does update limits from time-to-time, so it's always best to check the list before travelling at their official site

Below is a summary that as correct as of the date of writing (March 2020). Note, the underlying premise is that these items need to be for personal use only. So, if you come in with say, a very specialized tool that is clearly only for professionals, you are at risk of paying import taxes.

You can bring 1 new AND 1 old of the following: 

  • Laptop and peripherals (mouse, headphones, stand etc)
  • Cell phone
  • Photo camera
  • Games console & maximum 2 accessories
  • Tablet
  • Multimedia digital receiver / video / sound player. I believe this covers stereos, blu ray players etc. 
  • VCR or camcorder
  • Satellite phone
  • GPS
  • Electronic calculator

So, as an example, you can bring in a total of 2 laptops. One that is clearly old and another that is new.

Ideally, you'd have a receipt for the new laptop as proof and you'd make sure the old laptop doesn't look like you've just purchased it (ie remove stickers and take out from box etc). 

And, 1 new OR old of the following: 

  • Desktop computer and peripherals (mouse, headphones, keyboard etc)
  • Computer monitor up to 24"
  • Printer (up to $300). 
  • TV up to 32"
  • Drone (up to $500)
  • Projector and screen
  • Telephone (fixed) or fax
  • Binoculars
  • Telescope

Notice that you can only have 1 of the above items, regardless of whether it's new or old. If they find 2 of any of these items you are liable for import taxes on the 2nd item. 

The limits on some of these are clearly not great. For example, I really want to bring a 27" iMac desktop computer with me. But, the monitor is clearly over the 24" threshold so if I go ahead and purchase it I am at risk.

Can I possibly wing it and plead ignorance if caught? Yes, but I'd be at the complete mercy of the customs officer.

Importing TVs

Given the personal allowance only applies to TVs up to 32", I don't think I'd bother trying to import a TV. The price of TV's has come down a lot, and you can find a cheap 32" TV for $200 or around $300 for a better quality brand (Sony etc). 

Ecuador 32 inch tv price

Prices for 32" TVs in Ecuador are competitive, even for some better known brands. 

I saw a 40" for $300 the other day too. So, unless you really want a high end TV, I'd save myself the headache and buy once I arrived in Ecuador. 

Importing cell phones

You can bring in one new and one old cell phone. This may seem generous, until you realise you'll most likely have your current (used) phone on you, so you'll be limited to bringing in one spare. 

Should I buy a cell phone in Ecuador or bring with me?

Bring it with you. Especially if it's a high end model like an iPhone. The prices in Ecuador are coming down, but you will still get it cheaper in the US and have more options to choose from. Just make sure to get it unlocked first.  

Should I just have a cell phone muled to me in Ecuador?

There is a thriving muling community that brings in various goods, with a focus on cell phones. In my experience, the mules whack on a premium for cell phones of around $100 to bring in.

This tells me that there is still a significant price difference in cell phones between USA and Ecuador as clearly the market is willing to pay $100 extra and put up with the inconvenience of arranging for a mule (with the associated risks) rather than buy locally. 

I've purchased several low-end Android based phones such as Xiaomi 7 in Ecuador and the purchase price was around $150. Clearly, it's not worth paying a $100 premium on a phone like this unless I can find it in the US for less than $50. 

A mid-range example is included in the image below:

Bringing a cell phone to ecuador

As you can see, the US purchased cell phone is $91cheaper than the same model purchased in Ecuador. But, clearly this doesn't allow a $100 margin for the mule to bring it in. 

The economics do change with some high end phones such as new iPhones, but then you're entrusting the mule with a significant investment and you aren't exactly covered by any consumer protection laws...

So overall, I would suggest buying a phone in your home country before leaving and not trying to rely on mules once you arrive. 

Importing drones

It is unfortunate that the limit of $500 applies to drones as there are clearly many drones for personal use that cost significantly more than this $500 limit. This is another case where legislation has not kept up with technology. 

I do wonder how many travellers with their drones have been caught by this rule and forced to pay taxes. If this is you please let me know your story in the comments. 

Can I load my kids up with electronics too?

Nope. Sorry. The personal effects rule applies to a 'family group'. Meaning minors are counted with one of their parents. However, only one parent is required to form the 'family group', so if there's two parents, the second is counted as an individual passenger with their own allowance. 

What happens if I go over my personal limit? 

Any electronics that do not fall within your personal limit will be classified taxable goods and will be liable to taxes.

How much will I be taxed?  

This is a little complicated as it will depend on the tariff category the item(s) fall under. But, most consumer imports have a 25% tax, which is subject to an additional 12% VAT and 1% other minor taxes.

So, as a rule of thumb I'd be looking at paying an additional 38% in tax. Pretty steep huh? Yep, welcome to Ecuador's tax system on foreign goods!

Do I get a bigger allowance if I become a resident? 

Sorry, no. It's a one size fits all policy that covers residents, citizens & travellers etc. 

How likely am I to get searched? 

I couldn't find any statistics on this. From my experience and some friends I've asked, we've had a 10-30% chance of our luggage being searched upon arrival at Quito or Guayaquil airports.

But, knowing my luck, my odds would increase to 100% if I decided to chance it and brining in 3 cell phones! 

Do you regularly travel in/out of Ecuador? Would love to hear how often you get searched upon arrival in Ecuador (please comment below). 

Once you've sorted out what electronics you're bringing in, the next step is to understand the best ways to transfer money into Ecuador

Sweet & Coffee – Ecuador’s Starbucks

If you've spent anytime in Quito or Guayaquil, you've come across Ecuador's chain of coffee shops, Sweet & Coffee. The chain currently has over 100 stores nationwide and has a Starbucks feel to it, even the colors have a passing resemblance. However, the pastries have kept to their roots with local treats like torta de choclo. 

Sweet & Coffee - Guayaquil

Sweet & Coffee in Quito

There's approx 27 Sweet & Coffee outlets in Quito. This is where I had my first coffee of theirs; it was in Mall el Jardín and I wondered if there were any more of these in town. Little did I know how popular they were. 

Sweet & Coffee in Guayaquil

With 48 locations in Guayaquil, you can barely walk a few blocks without coming across a Sweet and Coffee. This is where I'm writing this article. Michelle and I are on our way to Galapagos and have stopped over in Guayaquil for a night. 

All Locations

The map below shows the current locations of Sweet & Coffee throughout Ecuador:

Sweet & Coffee Menu

Coffee

This is my main reason for coming here. The coffee is good, predictable and cheap. A regular latte will cost around $2, which is pretty good value compared to some other coffee chains such as Juan Valdez. A summary of some of their coffee offerings are below:

Hot Coffees

Price (Regular)

Price (Large)

Latte

$1.95

$2.65

Cappuccino

$1.95

$2.65

Americano

$1.35

$1.75

Americano with milk

$1.60

$2.00

Espresso

$1.00

Cell

Macchiato

$1.10

Cell

Cold Coffees

Price (Regular)

Price (Large)

Latte Frio

$2.30

$2.90

Flavored Cold Latte

$2.75

$3.00

Iced Coffee

$1.75

$2.00

Sweet & Coffee - Latte

A large latte from Sweet & Coffee ($2.65)

Food

They have a variety of tasty sweet and salty food options such as carrot cakes, three milk cakes, chochlo cake, coconut cheese cake. They range in price starting at $2.00 up to $4.00. You can also buy whole cakes for $15 (carrot cake), with most cakes around the $20-$25 range. 

Sweet & Coffee - Pastries

Founder History - Richard Peet

I am a sucker for founder stories as I appreciate how much effort goes into running and growing a business. There is a great interview with the founder Richard Peet below. One of Richard's previous ventures was running a nightclub appropriately called 'Coffee Club'. Surely a sign of things to come! Turn on English subtitles if you're having issues following.

Are you a Sweet & Coffee fan? Feel free to share your favorite go-to menu item in the comments below.  

Las Herrerias – The Best Tortillas in Cuenca?

When we first visited Cuenca on our holiday / scouting trip, Michelle's mom told us we NEEDED to visit calle Las Herrerías. I had no idea why and honestly it just slipped our minds. 

Then, we ended up staying at an AirBnB right by Las Herrerías and I'm so glad we did. 

Why? The tortillas of course. 

Las Herrerías history

This little street is popular for two reasons. The first gives the street it's name - the blacksmiths and artisans that set up shop on what was the city limits. They strategically placed themselves here because they could be close to the farmers that were not allowed to take their livestock further into the city.

You can still find several iron workshops in action, selling handicrafts such as chandeliers and crosses to adorn newly built houses. 

Tortillas in Las Herrerías calle

The popularity of the iron artisans gave way to the second reason to visit the street. The tourists that came to visit the artisans needed to eat and cafes selling local foods like tamales, humitas, bolones and tortillas sprung up along the street. 

This is the reason I love Las Herrerías and why I think you should swing by.

The tortillas are fresh, tasty & cheap and the street has a cheerful, local vibe.

Las Herrerias Cafe - Cuenca

What types of tortillas & other tasty treats can we buy?

I'm so glad you asked. There's numerous different types. I've taken prices from Cafeteria Las Herrerías:

 Name

Cost

Description

Tortilla de yuca

$0.60

Yuca is a root vegetable. These are white, fluffy & tasty.

Tortilla de choclo

$0.60

These corn based tortillas are dense and tasty.

Tortilla de maduro

$0.60

Maduro is a ripe plantain, so these are sweet. 

Tortilla de verde

$0.60

Made from green or unripe plantains. These are not sweet. 

Humita

$0.60

Steamed corn cake served in corn leaf.

Quimbolito

$0.60

Sweet steamed corn with raisins

Tamal

$0.60

Savory steamed dough with a meat & veg filling. 

Bolon de queso

$0.70

Green plantain mixed with cheese, served as a ball

Bolon mixto (queso & chicharon)

$0.75

Like above, but with pork too. 

Platano con queso

$1.00

Grilled sweet banana with cheese & butter in the middle

Tigrillo simple

$2.50

Almost identical to a bolon, but not rolled into a ball & comes with a fried egg.

Las Herrieras Cafeteria

We all have our personal favorites as you can see from the above picture. You can also see the aji, or mild chilli sauce in the middle. This is a common accompaniment for a lot of different foods in Ecuador.

You can of course get a range of different beverages, with the hot chocolate and juices being our favorites. I've included the various other menu items below including main dishes, but have to admit we don't normally have the mains here - as we generally just stick to snacking on this street.

Las Herrerias Cafeteria Menu
Las Herrerias Cafeteria Menu Fuertes

How to get to calle Las Herrerías

Calle Las Herrerías is a 15 min stroll from Centro Historico along the Tomebamba River. The walk along the river itself is a treat and you can easily visit here after taking in the Ruinas de Pumapungo.

Coffee Beans

A bonus to be found on this street is a little shop that sells good quality coffee beans. It's about half way up on the right. They will sell ground coffee for about $4.30 / pound. But, if you ask for whole beans (granos) they'll take delight in whipping out a secret stash of higher quality beans and sell it for $5 / pound. 

Do you have any other tortilla hot spots to share? Feel free to do so in the comments below. We are always on the lookout for tasty new cafes. 

Should I Buy or Rent Property in Ecuador?

A question that many expats ask themselves on the start of their journey is whether they should buy property in Ecuador or rent first. 

The decision can be made even more difficult when the excitement hits as you learn the price of property is a lot cheaper than in your home country. But, does this mean that buying is better than renting?  

We've put together a simple, but hopefully thought-provoking quiz to answer this question. We think it's particularly useful for those considering taking the plunge and buying property in Ecuador.

Feel free to leave any constructive comments below!

This is certainly not meant to be financial advice. 

Stop Buying (Fake) Vega Ceramics!

Eduardo Vega is an iconic Cuenca artist renowned across Ecuador and Latin America. He is responsible for the distinctly styled ceramics and murals you've most likely seen in museums, galleries and souvenir shops. 

Vega Ceramics Turi

Visiting his workshop and gallery is one our favorite Cuenca activities for new visitors as it's located at one of the city's most popular view points, Turi. You'll pass the entrance to his workshop (and house) just before you reach the Turi lookout. Be sure to be looking on the right.

E Vega Gallery Cuenca Entrance

The fake Vega ceramic problem

Eduardo and his son, Juan Guillermo, are the creative forces behind their authentic line of ceramics and murals. However, their popularity has meant they are under pressure from copycat artisans, and increasingly, big business. 

There are plenty of copycat Vega artisans around and you can often find imitations for sale at various markets across major cities.

Authentic Vega ceramics are only distributed to a select few retailers. There is one in Cuenca and three in Quito.

Fake vs unlicensed

I'm going to make a distinction between fake and unlicensed Vega ceramics as I think the intent is quite different for the purpose of this article. 

Fake

This applies to vendors and artisans using Vega's name that have no relationship with Eduardo Vega and are trying to pass off ceramics under his name. They are clearly illegally and immorally leveraging Eduardo's brand for their own financial gain. 

This applies to vendors selling cheap Vega knock-offs at markets around Ecuador. 

Unlicensed

This category applies to companies that may have a current or previous relationship with Eduardo or Juan Guillermo, but may be selling products that fall outside of this relationship.

Official Vega lookalikes

I may have fallen victim to acquiring a lookalike or unlicensed Vega ceramic when I opened a 12 month CD at one of Cuenca's most reputable cooperativas, JEP. As a thank you for opening the account, I was gifted a 'Vega' cup and saucer. 

I was already a fan of Vega, so I walked away rather happy and excited with my bonus and it quickly became my favorite mug. That was, until my next visit to Vega's gallery...

Vega vs 'Vega by Artesa'

On my next visit I started asking the Vega gallery manager about my recently acquired mug and the penny dropped. I assumed Eduardo or Juan Guillermo Vega had done a deal with JEP and their company was being rewarded for what would have been a very considerable order. I was curious about the deal and was happy for Eduardo for securing it. After all, they are artisans and should be rewarded for their creativity. 

I was informed that the Vega by Artesa mug I was gifted was not made by Eduardo or Juan Guillermo Vega.

Artesa

Artesa was originally formed by Eduardo Vega and a business partner in the 1970's. Vega was the creative force behind the partnership and the popularity of his designs allowed the business to grow quickly.

However, creative differences ensued and eventually led to the partners going their separate ways in the late 1990's. Eduardo and Juan Guillermo left Artesa to open their gallery in Turi.

Artesa's licence to use Vega

At the centre of the dispute is the licence for Artesa to use the Vega brand. I was informed that the original agreement limited Artesa to reproduce only 7 of Vega's original designs.

Is it possible that the Vega by Artesa mug I was gifted was included as 1 of the 7 original designs in the original licensing agreement?

Sure, it is possible. However, after knowing the history and understanding that Eduardo Vega received nothing from the deal with JEP, I can no longer bring myself to use the mug. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. 

To be clear, I am not insinuating that Artesa is creating fakes or that JEP has knowingly done anything wrong. I don't know the full extent of the licensing agreement and it is entirely possible that Artesa is within their rights to make good money from the deal. 

What is important to take away is that Eduardo has a very different view of the licensing deal and objects to his brand being used without proper consent. 

Vega by Artesa JEP Giveaway

How to tell the difference?

So, now you know that not all Vega ceramics are created equal and you have a choice to support Eduardo and Juan Guillermo. But, how do you know what is what? It's actually quite easy once you know what to look for.

Eduardo Vega's signature

The signature for Eduardo's ceramics is E Vega as shown below:

Eduardo Vega Ceramics Signature
Juan Guillermo Vega's signature

Juan Guillermo's design are easily distinguishable from his fathers by the signature:

Juan Guillermo Vega Ceramics Signature
Vega by Artesa

The Vega by Artesa designs can be identified by the following signature:

Vega by Artesa Signature

Final Words

Clearly, we know that buying a cheap Vega knock-off at a local market is not going to support the original artisans.

Even though I don't support it, I'm aware that there is demand at the cheaper end for tourists to stash their bags for friends and families back home that don't understand the difference between an authentic Vega and a knock-off.

If this is you, please consider supporting the original artists instead - the quality is much higher and you'll actually be giving a gift that is going to last longer and has a real history. 

What isn't so clear is the relationship between the corporate friendly Vega by Artesa and the artists behind the brand, Eduardo and Juan Guillermo. This is especially so given the inevitable intricacies of the licensing agreement. 

What I do know is that I will continue to buy my authentic Vega products direct from Eduardo and Juan Guillermo from their gallery in Turi. 

Top 5 Yoga Studios in Cuenca

Can I practice yoga in Cuenca?

Yes! There are numerous options for practicing yoga at different levels Cuenca. 

We’ve included a map and a comparison of 5 different yoga studios that we’ve practiced in at at least once whilst living in Cuenca. This map is not meant to be exhaustive as I’m sure there are other yoga studios in Cuenca that we’re yet to explore. 

Is it expensive?

Nope. Drop in yoga classes are generally $5 and most studios offer discounts and passes for multiple visits. 

But I’ve never tried yoga, is it for me?

Not sure. You may hate it. But what have you got to lose? $5 and an hour of your time is all. 

I never thought I was the yoga type either. That was until I tried it and started to realise the physical and mental benefits it brought to my day-to-day life. 

I’m a guy, are you sure yoga is for me?

Yes. Yes and yes. It’s true that classes are generally skewed towards a strong female to male ratio, but who cares. Yoga is about being in tune with your body and spirit. I’m a guy and when I started yoga I was also a little apprehensive because of out-dated stereotypes I’d grown up with. Just try it and take it as an opportunity for self exploration. 

Yoga Health Benefits

Which Cuenca Yoga Studios Do I recommend?

The 5 different yoga studios that we’ve tried in Cuenca are included in the map. We aren’t saying these are the only studios in town, and we hope there are more to explore. But, we think these are a great place to start exploring your Cuenca yoga options.

OM Healing Centre

OM Yoga Studio Cuenca (1)
OM Healing Center Timetable (1)

This is probably your best place to start your yoga search in Cuenca. 

In addition to yoga classes, OM Healing Centre also offers retreats, yoga teacher training and alternative medicines such as homeopathy and psychotherapy. 

Pros

  • Natural, energetic vibe  
  • Some dual English/Spanish classes
  • $5 drop-in classes
  • Strong expat presence

Cons

  • Ceilings could be higher. You may touch if you're tall. 

Conclusion:

The strong support this centre has from the expat community and quality teachers makes this an easy transition to practicing yoga in Cuenca. 


RumiSol Yoga & Teacher Training

RumiSol Yoga Cuenca
RumiSol Yoga Timetable

YumiSol Yoga provides another soft landing for expats into the Cuenca yoga scene. It's a homely studio with an inclusive, younger vibe.

This popular studio is large, simple and has a good amount of light penetration. The teachers I've had mostly instruct in Spanish, but provide English translations for key movements.  

They also offer 200 hr yoga teacher training if you're looking to dig deeper into the practice. 

Pros

  • Inclusive vibe focusing on positivity  
  • $5 drop in classes with passes for multiple visits
  • Popular amongst younger crowd
  • Modern approach might be more appealing to expats
  • Large practice area

Cons

  • Popularity means it's busy and a little crowded

Conclusion:

This is a strong contender for the best place for new Cuenca expats or travellers alike to start their yoga search. It has a modern approach which might be comfortable with your previous practice and it's a great jumping off point for new yogis. 

Just make sure to arrive 10-15 minutes before class to ensure there's a spot for you. 


Shakti Yoga

Shakti Yoga Cuenca
Shakti Yoga Cuenca Timetable

Ok, I'll admit it. I kinda love this yoga centre. It's set in a large compound with beautiful gardens and an aura that I find intoxicating. 

The teachers at Shakti are not your casual - I'm teaching yoga for a hobby - type that you can come across. These yogis are devotees that live at the house and it feels like a privilege that they welcome the public into their inner sanctum.

They also give back to the community with free yoga classes:

- Saturday mornings at Parque de la Madre and

- Sunday mornings at Parque del Paraíso. 

Pros

  • Top notch yogi teachers  
  • Spirituality focus
  • Beginner friendly poses offered
  • Immersive vibe
  • $4 drop in classes

Cons

  • Potentially intimidating for 1st timers.
  • Little hard to find
  • Yoga room is relatively small

Conclusion:

This is definitely the centre I would recommend if your focus is on establishing better form and a stricter practice on yoga fundamentals.


Adhikara Yoga

Adhikara Yoga Cuenca
Adhikara cuenca schedule

Another contender for best yoga centre in Cuenca is Adhikara Yoga.  

The studio is the biggest from all centres mentioned in this list, inviting a level of openness that I valued. 

Like most of Cuenca's yoga studios, their morning classes focus on Hatha yoga and this was the gentlest of all the classes I've visited. This is most likely due to the predominantly older clients that were practicing that day.

This is a good reminder that you should be checking out all the classes mentioned in the list at least once to start your exploration journey and expand on what works for you from there. We are all different and yoga is ultimately about being in tune with your body. 

Pros

  • Gentle practice for beginners 
  • Biggest practice area in Cuenca
  • Car parking on premises
  • Use of props encouraged

Cons

  • Mainly Spanish instructions may put you off
  • Teacher quality has varied a lot during my 5 visits
  • Slightly higher drop-in price of $7. 

Conclusion:

I've mixed emotions about Adhikira. The centre itself has so much potential with a bright, big practice area and I enjoy the improvised use of props. However, the varied teaching quality has made it difficult for me to wholeheartedly recommend it above the other yoga studios. I need to go back here a few more times before making any final decisions. 

Yoga @ Selina Cuenca

Selina Yoga Cuenca

I'm including Selina Cuenca here as a dark horse as the classes aren't as regular as other studios. It's definitely worth a look if you are staying in Centro Histórico as it's the most conveniently located and has a beautiful yoga deck overlooking the river. 

The classes are normally run by 3rd party teachers, so the type of yoga practiced and the quality of instructors will vary. I've only been to one class here and it was a basic yoga for beginners class that I enjoyed. 

For the digital nomads out there, Selina also has a very well equiped co-working space, making it an ideal place to get our wellness and digital work needs done at the same place. 

Image credit: Salina

Pros

  • Great for those staying in Centro Histórico 
  • Gorgeous deck with river view
  • Get some coworking done after class

Cons

  • No set class schedule
  • Quality will vary
  • Class price varies, but expect around $15. 

Conclusion:

Mixing up yoga with some co-working after may be perfect for you. Especially if you're passing through the Centro Histórico and are short on time. The unpredictability of the class schedules has stopped it from becoming a regular studio for me.

Did I include your favorite yoga haunt in my round-up?

If not, please let me know in the comments so I can check it out. I'm always looking for somewhere new to practice and mix up my daily routine.

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