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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. 

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.

How to Transfer Money into Ecuador

One of the first questions new Ecuadorian expats ask is ‘how do I send money to Ecuador 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.

Money Transfer Options

$500 or less

You have several options for transferring amounts of $500 or less into Ecuador.

ATMs

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.

Pros:

  • Easy and accessible across the entire country (incl Galapagos).
  • Withdrawing small amounts is secure as you don’t need to have large amounts of cash on you.

Cons:

  • Fees can add up. You’ll generally pay about $5-6 to the Ecuadorian bank on top of whatever your home bank charges.
  • ATM issues do happen in Ecuador and the banks don’t have a great track record of helping customers regain their money. I personally had to wait 6 weeks when a Bank of Pichincha ATM failed to dispose of my $600, but still charged my account. However, my bank in the US (Bank of America) was great and immediately credited the account whilst they investigated.
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...

Online Money Transfer

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.

Pros:

  • Quick (one business day)
  • Transfer straight into account or cash pickup

Cons

  • Fees for smaller amounts (ie $500) are approx $10. More cost effective for larger transfers (ie up to $3000).
  • Won’t help you out if you need instant cash
Pro Tip: Use my WorldRemit refer-a-friend link and you'll get $20 credit to make your first transfers.

$500 to $3000

Online Money Transfer

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:

JEP WorldRemit Ecuador

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+.

Pros:

  • Transfer into most Ecuadorian banks
  • Setup bank details once and send follow up transfers within seconds
  • Cost effective

Cons:

  • They have a limit of around $3K for bank transfers. So, not a great option for larger one off purchases such as property or cars.

$3000+

For larger transfers you’ll be limited to bank transfers and checks.

Bank Transfers

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.

Pros:

  • May be your only option for amounts of $3,000+

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Need to open an account at the bank

Checks

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.

Pros:

  • Straightforward process
  • Many banks do accept checks

Cons:

  • Long processing time

Sending Money to Ecuador FAQs

Can I use PayPal to withdraw money in Ecuador?

Not directly, no. Whilst it would be convenient to be able to withdraw cash straight from Paypal into a local account or ATM, that isn’t possible.

You still have a few options to get your cash into Ecuador which are similar to the above, but with the added step of transferring from Paypal first:

  1. ATM
    Transfer from your Paypal account into your US (or other home country) account. Use your foreign debit card in Ecuador to withdraw from an ATM.
  2. Online transfer or cash pickup in Ecuador
    Send from Paypal to an online transfer service such as World Remit, Western Union or Paypal’s own service, Xoom. Then you can choose to transfer to a Ecuadorian bank account or arrange for a cash pickup at a bank in Ecuador.

Is there an ‘import tax’ on cash entering Ecuador?

No, there is not. Moving small amounts of money into the country is relatively easy.

What is Ecuador’s cash exit tax?

Sending cash out of Ecuador triggers an exit tax of 5% if transferring over $1,200. The $1,200 threshold is calculated from 3x monthly minimum wage ($400 in 2020).

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.

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