Update on the Censo. It is true that the President sent out a notice that foreigners do not need the censo to leave the country right now. I am not sure if this will change but I do know that we left Ecuador at the end of June 2012 without censos and had no problem.
We Flew into Quito from Cuenca and were going to check in at the TourBlanche hotel because we heard good things about this place. But we had a lot of luggage so instead we decided to save our money and stick it out at the airport.
If you do want to explore Quito a bit and need to store your luggage somewhere, the airport has a place where you can pay to store your bags. It costs $3 per hour per bag but if it is during late hours then it costs $4 per hour. If you need to pick your bags up around let’s say 2am then there won’t be anyone at the desk so you’ll have to get the key from the person at the coffee stand (but it’s not that reliable).
What we did was snag the corner bench by the Dunkin’ Doughnuts stand and piled up our bags behind the bench where we stayed all night. At first I was a bit skeptical about staying overnight in the Quito airport. Quito can be quite dangerous but it wasn’t bad, most people just said keep an eye on your stuff. And they were right, a couple times when I was left alone some shady looking guys would approach me and ask if they could help me with my bags, when I obviously didn’t need help as I was lounging on the bench. But for the most part there was always a good crowd of people around so I wasn’t too worried until the wee hours of the night.
At the airport there are multiple coffee stands, a restaurant, a couple other food spots, an internet cabina, tourist agents and a place you can get minutes for your phone. All these places stay open until around 12pm. But you won’t starve after midnight. The main restaurant stays open 24 hours; they don’t have a lot of vegetarian options but I had the locra y queso soup and they said they could make me a cheese tostada if I wanted one, there are also some hearty salads to choose from. Free wifi is available in this restaurant.
Although all the shops close at midnight, the international side of the airport stays open 24 hours. Of course we saw our share of drunks and tweakers or just some people without homes sleeping on the benches. And the floor machine man woke everyone up a couple of times so he could do his job. But other than that the benches were quite comfortable to sleep on and no one really bothered us. So we were there until our flight took off at 6am.
For international flights you only need to be there 2 hours in advance. We lined up 3 hours early but the United agents didn’t show up until one hour before our flight. Also, if you are leaving the country then don’t forget to grab or ask for the immigration forms because you will need to fill them out before you go through immigration upstairs.
If all goes well, Quito should have a new and bigger airport in the near future.
We had some last minute gift shopping to do before heading back to the states so we hit up some markets.
Plaza San Francisco market is a great starting point because it is near Parque Calderon and close to other shops that have good souvenirs. But at the market you can always negotiate a good price. I usually avoid the main part of the market which is just Otavalos mostly selling “made in china” products. But on the sidewalk (round the corner from the flower market) there are vendors selling ponchos, blankets, table cloths, intricate sweaters, scarves, hats etc. But if you are looking for something smaller, things like jewelry or trinkets then head over to La Casa de La Mujer which is at the end of the block @General Torres 7-33 and Presidente Cordova.
La Casa de La Mujer is a building with a number of shops all selling different artisan crafts. There is a lot of variety here; from paintings, jewelry, leather, hats, baskets and other woven products, clothing and toys. One of my favorite jewelry shops can be found here on the upper level called Tagua. If silver is your thing, there are some shops here but I would recommend taking a day trip to Chordeleg, the silversmith village about 20/30 min. from Cuenca.
If you are on a tight budget but would like to bring home some cool jewelry for friends and family then stop by the hippie market; it is somewhere around Mariscal Lamar y Benigno Malo on a corner. Here there are a few tents set up with roughly the same merchandise. Most of the jewelry or pipes etc. are made out of Tagua or bone and they will offer to carve a name, word or sometimes a design on certain things for sale.
And if you head down to Mercado 9 de Octubre then visit Plaza Rotary which is down a little alley in the middle of the block; if you take a taxi then ask for Gáspar Sangurima y Vargas Machuca because most are baffled by the name Plaza Rotary. There they sell woven products like baskets and mats, the blacksmiths sell weather vanes and other stuff, and you’ll find a number of stands selling roughly the same types of trinkets like keychains, purses, toys, ceramics etc. While living in Cuenca, I frequented this spot to buy things for the home like flower pots, hampers, cutting boards, wooden mixing spoons and such; which was more affordable than buying the same types of products but in plastic at hipermercados. Most people tell you to avoid the area near Mercado 9 de Octubre but I say check it out. Yes, you will see a few prostitutes on the sidewalks here all day long and probably your share of drunks but it is fairly safe during the day just don’t whip out a wad of money or an expensive camera and you should be fine. At night it is a bit sketch so you can avoid it at night; but don’t avoid the area entirely. And on Fridays the indigenous shamans set up a spot in the market where they offer up “limpias” or cleansings for a small price. A word of warning to prepare you if you get one, they will spit alcohol in your face as part of the ritual and put ashes on your forehead and back. So don’t be surprised if they ask you to pull up your shirt. You should feel great after some good ol’ chuca chuca.
If you are in the city center near Parque Calderon and you need to make a phone call or use the internet then MaxNet is the closest reliable cabina; it is on Benigno Malo close to Presidente Cordova. They are almost always open, even on some holidays. They never try to get more money out of you; their prices are listed on the window. Sometimes the last phone booth doesn’t have the best connection but I’ve found that the MaxNet phones have a better connection than most places. You can make color copies here too but if you need to make a ton of copies then head over to the printers sector of the city which is around Tarqui y Gaspar Sangurima.
In this neighborhood you can find places that make black and white copies for 1 cent. We had been looking all over town for some spanish workbooks/texts to practice with but couldn’t find any. So we downloaded a couple of spanish books, printed them out and asked for them to be spiral-bound. The books ended up costing much less than buying them would have. Some of these places have large scanners too so you can make big prints too.
Feel free to share your printers or cabinas of choice.
This is a must see museum. A great guy named Eduardo has turned his home into an everlasting art project. It is incredibly interesting and some of the artwork is a bit taboo for such a Catholic city like Cuenca. Many of the locals don’t approve but it is a really cool place and a great youth hangout when there are events going on which are mostly music and theatrical in nature.
Check out the website: Prohibido Centro Cultural
This is the bus pass that you can buy at many farmacias and other places that have a sign outside with a picture of this card and the words “Tarjeta Prepago”. You buy the card for $1.70 and then fill it up with however much you want. One bus ride costs 25 cents so if you aren’t taking it every day then $5 will take you far. When you run out of money on the card then you just go into any place with the sign and refill it.
There are other stores with signs outside that say “Prepago” and have pictures of cards on them but these places may just sell the parking meter ticket that you need to fill out and put on your car if you park in certain areas of the city. If you don’t do this then you may end up with a giant ugly sticker stuck to your car window which is actually your traffic ticket.
If you haven’t checked out Maria’s Alemania Bakery and Restaurant on the corner of Hermano Miguel and Mariscal Sucre then you have to go there right now. They have the best bread in town; and that is saying a lot because there are a ton of good panaderias in town. What I like about them is that they make pan de agua. Most bakeries here only have pan de leche or pan dulce; they are good too but sometimes I want my bread without the milk. Not to mention, some of their german pastries really hit the spot. And just like Nectar, you won’t feel embarrassed trying out your spanish there, she’s a great lady.
Update! Nectar at Benigno Malo 10-42 now sells almond butter which you can’t find in the supermarket. They also sell roasted peanut butter which is much better than the ones at the supermarket that have a ton of sugar added.
This is a little hole in the wall café on the corner of Presidente Borrero 5-97 and Juan Jaramillo. The menu offers milkshakes, hot chocolates some even with liquor, and some food options like salads and snacks (many that don’t seem to go too well with chocolate). But it is a nice casual meeting place if you are up for some hot chocolate. They open around 3 or 4 pm Monday- Saturday.