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.
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.
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.
The map below shows the current locations of Sweet & Coffee throughout Ecuador:
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:
Americano with milk
Flavored Cold Latte
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I'm so glad you asked. There's numerous different types. I've taken prices from Cafeteria Las Herrerías:
Tortilla de yuca
Yuca is a root vegetable. These are white, fluffy & tasty.
Tortilla de choclo
These corn based tortillas are dense and tasty.
Tortilla de maduro
Maduro is a ripe plantain, so these are sweet.
Tortilla de verde
Made from green or unripe plantains. These are not sweet.
Steamed corn cake served in corn leaf.
Sweet steamed corn with raisins
Savory steamed dough with a meat & veg filling.
Bolon de queso
Green plantain mixed with cheese, served as a ball
Bolon mixto (queso & chicharon)
Like above, but with pork too.
Platano con queso
Grilled sweet banana with cheese & butter in the middle
Almost identical to a bolon, but not rolled into a ball & comes with a fried egg.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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 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.
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.
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.
The signature for Eduardo's ceramics is E Vega as shown below:
Juan Guillermo's design are easily distinguishable from his fathers by the signature:
The Vega by Artesa designs can be identified by the following signature:
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.
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.
Nope. Drop in yoga classes are generally $5 and most studios offer discounts and passes for multiple visits.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The strong support this centre has from the expat community and quality teachers makes this an easy transition to practicing yoga in Cuenca.
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.
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.
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.
This is definitely the centre I would recommend if your focus is on establishing better form and a stricter practice on yoga fundamentals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the first questions new Ecuadorian expats ask is ‘how do I get money into the country and is it expensive?’
The answer is, well, it depends. Like many latin american countries, transferring money in and out of Ecuador has traditionally been problematic, expensive and time consuming.
These difficulties arise through the combination of weak governmental oversight, tough anti-money laundering measures and lack of innovation from the banking industry. This can result in a not so great experience for the end consumer.
Hopefully this guide will provide you with the best options on how to transfer money into Ecuador. But note, this does not touch on how to transfer money OUT of Ecuador, nor the financial implications (ie exit tax) of money leaving the country.
You have several options for transferring amounts of $500 or less into Ecuador.
If you’re only here for a short period of time as a tourist, or don’t have an Ecuadorian bank account, then ATMs are going to be your best bet.
Pro Tip: Sign up for a bank account in your home country that reimburses ATM fees such as Charles Schwab or Fidelity. But, be aware of any fair use policy and I would not suggest telling them you're just about to move overseas...
There’s several services you can use to transfer from your home bank direct to your Ecuadorian bank or for a cash pickup.
This is my preferred method for payments up to $3000. But, I’ve still used it for smaller amounts as it is quick (24 hours generally) and I can transfer straight into my Ecuadorian account, so I don’t need to worry about walking around with a wad of cash after visiting an ATM.
My preferred method is WorldRemit because it offers the cheapest fees and I find it user friendly. Western Union is also quite popular, but is generally a bit more expensive.
Pro Tip: Use my WorldRemit refer-a-friend link and you'll get $20 credit to make your first transfers.
This is where the online money transferring services shine. They are quick, safe and cost effective.
I was a long-time devotee to an online transfer service called Transferwise, but they do not operate in Ecuador. Whilst annoying, this did lead me to comparing all of the various online services that would allow me to easily send money into Ecuador.
My recommendation is WorldRemit because they are the cheapest and I’ve found their support to be helpful the one time I needed it.
I actually needed to contact them because I couldn’t find JEP in their long list of Ecuadorian banks and cooperativas they transfer money into.
Hint – WorldRemit calls JEP “COOP. AHORRA Y CREDITO JUVENTUD” as shown below:
The fees will increase depending on how much you are sending. But, for reference, a $2000 transfer will cost $15 with WorldRemit. This compares well to other services such as Western Union where fees are $20+.
For larger transfers you’ll be limited to bank transfers and checks.
Each Ecuadorian bank has a different policy and will charge different amounts for wire transfers. Your best bets are the larger banks such as:
Expect to pay at least $50 to your Ecuadorian bank for a wire transfer + the fee from your home bank. If you’re transferring from the US, then you won’t have to consider exchange rates, but if your home bank is an another country, then you will.
Note, transferring amounts $10K or greater will trigger the bank to ask you a bunch of questions around where you got the money from. They are required by law to ensure that the funds were legally obtained (ie not through drugs, money laundering or a scam). This is not normally a major burden, but just adds another step to the process.
Again, you definitely want to check with your Ecuadorian bank on their policy for accepting checks. Pay particular attention to the limits and expected processing time as it can take 3-4 weeks for checks to clear.
Have I covered your favorite method here? Feel free to let me know in the comments if I’ve left anything out so I can update to include.
Cojimies beach is a popular weekend destination for Quiteños seeking a no-frills beach escape. We arrived at this beach just a few days after visiting one of Ecuador’s finest beaches; Los Frailes. So, our expectations were super high.
I recommend staying away from the small town of Cojimies as the main beach is busy and I’d argue the town itself is gritty without much charm. There’s numerous accommodation options along the main road coming into town which are better as they all have private entrances to cleaner, less crowded sections of the same beach.
The beach is undoubtedly the main attraction for visiting Cojimies. The super wide and long beach is perfect for endless strolls, taking a dip and lounging on the sand.
There are very few waves on the beach as they break way off into the distance. You can see them on the horizon. As they never reach the shore, the beach is very flat and has an almost lagoon type feel.
The main part of the beach does get pretty crowded. It’s so wide that there’s multiple layers of vendors renting lounges, umbrellas and beverages (yay coconuts!).
I found the main beach to be interesting and good for people watching, but ultimately I enjoyed the beach in front of our hotel more as it was peaceful and more isolated.
Love Island is a large sandbank that stretches from the mouth of the Cojimies River. You can easily organize a tour from operators in Cojimies town or find one on the beach.
A popular tour option is to include the mangroves and then dropped off on a beach for a few hours to chill, check out the various crabs and other marine life (depending on the season you may be lucky to see some turtle’s nesting).
The below video gives a good overview of the Isla Del Amor – but it’s in Spanish so turn on English subtitles if needed.
The food options are limited to seafood and local food such as plantains, meat and corn. The main beach has lots of cabana seafood restaurants and it can be difficult to know which are best.
My rule is to never visit an empty cabana and I normally try to eat in the busiest one. Is this foolproof? No, but given there’s little else to differentiate one cabana from another, it’s the best I’ve got.
My favorite fish from the area is camotillo, but it’s also one of the most expensive.
Note – Cojimies is not a resort like town with a lot of western friendly options.
It’s difficult to near impossible to find quality coffee in Cojimies. Like a lot of smaller towns in Ecuador, you’ll be given a cup of hot water or milk and provide with the container of instant coffee to make your own cup. For addicts like me it’s better than nothing.
The 30 min coastal drive from Pedernales to Cojimies was really enjoyable. You’ll come across several view points with beach access, lush coconut palms, shrimp farms, dry and tropical forests.
Cojimies popularity largely comes from it’s relative closeness to Quito and the super wide, safe, lagoon like beaches. I’d recommend it for expats based in Quito that are short on time.
But, if you have more time and willing to travel a little further, then you might find the beaches in the Esmeraldas or south of Manta with more tourist facilities more appealing.
Have you been to Cojimies or thinking about visiting? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.
Playa Los Frailes sits inside the Machalilla National Park in Ecuador’s coastal province of Manabi.
There is a limited number of car parking available (60 spaces) right next to the beach. You will need to pay $2 for parking. Try to get there early (ie before 10am) for the best chance of getting a car park – else you’ll need to leave your car near the highway and either walk the 3km or get a tuk tuk mototaxi ($2-$5).
Free to enter. Showers are $1 and bathrooms $0.25.
8am to 4pm
No. It’s a bay with only small, family friendly waves.
I’m putting Los Frailes down as one of the best beaches in Ecuador because:
1. Protected within a national park
This prevents unrestrained commercialization and ultimately the destruction of the sand vegetation and habitat.
2. Accessible to all
The main entrance is right on the main highway that runs through Ecuador’s costa del sol – the main coast road. This means most buses will drop you off at the entrance and you can either walk the 3km to the main beach or grab a tuk tuck motorcycle for $2-$4.
3. Free entrance
You no longer need a permit or pay an entrance fee. Car parking costs $2.
4. Clear, blue waters
We visited on Christmas day and the water was just lovely. The turquoise color and goldilocks water temperature (ie just right) made swimming for hours a pleasure. Some families were in the water for the entire 6 hours we were there!
5. Crisp, white sand
The white sand of Los Frailes is some of the nicest along the coast. The sand along Ecuador’s coast often consists of heavy, black minerals. But not here! Enjoy the white sands between your toes.
6. Rocks & caves
The cliffs and caves make for some wonderful views, photos and provide some much needed shelter from the sun.
Did you go to Los Frailes? We’ve love to hear your opinion in the comments below.
The closest town with tourist amenities is Puerto Lopez. This town has some decent restaurants and a very relaxing beach. Featuring both a local vibe (incl functioning fishing fleet) and tourist offerings such as good hotels, beach side restaurants and some souvenir sellers.
The next village south from Puerto Lopez is a small fishing town of Salango. Even quieter than Puerto Lopez, Salango has a quaint beach, a few local restaurants and an island (Salango Island) which is a popular boat ride amongst day-trippers that don’t want to spend the hour each to visit Isla de la Plata.
Bordering Machalilla National Park is the town of Puerto Cayo. This growing expat retirement location has a long, wide beach and plenty of seafood restaurants.
Perhaps my favorite spot in all of Manabi is the small village of Ayampe. Good surfing, yoga and an expat population focusing on wellness is what Ayampe is known for.
Montañita is the party and surfing scene of Ecuador. Here you can dance and drink until all hours of the morning or surf and chill. It’s your choice.