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  • Niki Harry

Ecuador - Salinas & Cuenca

After our week in the Galapagos we headed to Salinas, on the south westernmost coast of Ecuador. Our friends Kerri & Phil flew in 4 hours after we did and joined us for a week at Salinas beach. Salinas beach is the largest holiday resort in Ecuador, and sometimes referred to as “Miami Beach”. Ecuadorian residents flock here from the mountains on most weekends to chill out and party and during summer when the kids are out of school.

We shared a condo which was right on the “malecon” (the boardwalk or main drag). This was not our condo but we were lucky enough to get to use it. Our great neighbours (who happened to be visiting from Brantford, ON) left for a few days and gave us the key so that we could enjoy the balcony and view. The same owner owns both condos which took up the entire floor, but ours faced the back and did not have a balcony. So this was a perfect treat!

The beach was packed with local Ecuadorian families enjoying their time together. It was extremely hot here and for 10$ per day we could rent a tent and 4 chairs and the guy would sit there all day watching our spot. It was fantastic. You could leave for lunch and come back without worries that something would disappear. Also, beer was delivered to us by a lovely elderly lady who would come around every 15 minutes or so. A large, cold 600ml beer for a whopping $1.50! She would also pick up the empties. The guys were in their glory. Vendors were constantly walking up and down the beach, offering items for purchase; toys, clothes, jewelry, sunglasses, cold drinks, snacks such as “choclo con queso”, quesadillas, ice cream, whatever you can imagine. Restaurants would even walk around with menus where you could order food or drink and they would bring it to you. Never once was it really annoying as they were never pushy at all. It was actually very convenient, especially the nice cold margarita delivery!

​This is Chipipe, the beach located next to us and between the tip of the peninsula where the military base is. This was the more upscale section of Salinas with newer condos located right on the beach.

Food and drink were plentiful and inexpensive.

​I got my fill of seafood, especially their specialty “ceviche”. Ceviche is a traditional dish made with raw fish or seafood, which is “cooked” by using citrus juices such as lemon or lime and spiced with chilli peppers and seasonings such as onions and cilantro. Calamari was another daily treat. Oh and have I mentioned beer? Lots of beer! (except for me, as for me its always wine

One day we hired a private car (which again is very inexpensive) and the driver took us up the coast as far as Montanita. We stopped in “hammock town” – the town where they specialize in handmade hammocks. Shop after shop of hammocks. We each ended up with a beautiful double hammock for $35!

Montanita. A hippy surfer town with a Rasta vibe, full of young and old alike who have decided to eliminate shoes and shirts and live a carefree life for a while. A very vibrant place, with food stands and restaurants, shops and music, located right on the beach.

One day our condo guy mentioned a mud spa nearby called SAN VICENTE MUD BATHS. Kerri was very keen and convinced me to go. We hired a taxi for $35 which took us there, waited for us and brought us back. Each way was a 40 minute drive. The taxi driver could not speak any english so we were really nervous about the fact that he understood enough to come back and get us! Walking in to the complex was quite funny. We had no idea where the “mud” bath was until someone pointed us to this watering hole. It was shocking to see something that looked like it belonged in a farmers field! I was sure it was just cow doo doo!

But turns out it really is volcanic therapeutic mud and after Kerri went in first & when I saw other people do it then I braved it myself. We had an absolute blast and I never laughed so hard!

After the mud bath we went into a natural mineral hottub which was amazing. It cost a whopping $2 for the whole treatment. You can stay the entire day if you wish. We then booked $5 massages where we were treated to a 30 minute session. You have an option of mud or hot aloe vera. We chose the hot aloe vera. We were covered from head to toe (yes even our hair was completely slathered) and I mean we were dripping wet covered! Every ounce of our bodies were massaged & then were sent outside for 10 minutes to dry off in the sun, before showering off. Unfortunately we did not know how long was required here, so we only stayed 2 hours and it was nowhere near enough. There were a couple of other pools and a rosemary/eucalyptus steam room which we did not get to do. But if anyone is heading out to the coast, I would strongly suggest going here for a day of pampering.

Our week ended all too soon with Kerri & Phil. They flew back home to Toronto, we flew back inland, to the mountains where we met up with our friends Jeff and Carolyn for the next two weeks.

Welcome to beautiful Cuenca! I was really surprised as to how much of a European feel Cuenca has to it. Jeff and Carolyn love it here. They have been coming here for years and this year they rented a 4 bedroom condo right in the heart of old town Cuenca where they lived for 3 months. We were fortunate enough to get an invite to come bunk with them and to get to experience the beauty and charm of this neat little city.

Excerpt taken from Wikipedia: “The city ranges from 2,350 to 2,550 meters (7,710 to 8,366 feet) above sea level. The dominant features of the city’s geography are also the source of its name in Spanish: the four rivers of Cuenca (meaning a basin made by a confluence of rivers). These rivers are the Tomebamba (named after the Inca culture), Yanuncay, Tarqui and Machangara, in order of importance. The first three of these rivers originate in the Páramo of PARQUE NACIONAL CAJAS to the west of the city. These four rivers are part of the Amazon river watershed. Cuenca is surrounded by mountains on all sides, with passes to the west, south and east.”

The only outdoor patio in Cuenca!

Some of the buildings along Tomebamba river. I loved the character and the multi level look of them.

The red and white buildings below is where the apartment was that we stayed in.

Workers who know how to take a lunch break!

I have never been in a city that was so into exercise! I witnessed this along my morning 6-8 km walks along the river with Jeff & Carolyn. Every morning, even on work days, people were up and about, running, cycling, walking or doing some sort of exercise along the river and in the parks. Each park has actual exercise machines located outside in certain areas. It gets so busy that you have to wait your turn to be able to get on one of the machines. There are live Tai Chi or Zumba classes in the park and the music is blaring away. On Sunday mornings, the traffic is non existent and everyone is out exercising; pets and the young and old. It was very refreshing to see.

I loved the Spanish influenced architecture here. The city was originally founded around 800AD by the Cañari’s. After a bitter struggle, the Inca’s conquered the Cañari and renamed the city Tomebamba (after the main river). The city became known as the second Cusco. In the 1500’s when the Spanish discovered it, it was renamed Cuenca, after the city of Cuenca, Spain.

There are many indigenous people in Cuenca and throughout this area. They sell their goods on the streets and there is also a huge local market in the heart of the city. I was so intrigued when we walked through the indoor mall, with stall after stall of fresh meat, (ALL un-refridgered!) spices, coffee, fresh produce, you name it.. and all for extremely low prices.

And we had 88 steps right beside our condo which we had to go up and down several times per day. At altitude, this was quite the workout for us! But we watched in amazement as the locals did their workouts here. Young and old, they would run up and down over and over again, where we could barely make it up once without our hearts beating out of our chests. Plus we had 55 steps to climb in our building to get to our condo each time – no elevators here!

Lots of barbeque’s everywhere. On the left are “cuy” or guinea pigs being BBQ’d on the spit. On the right, a flattened piggie.

90% of Ecuador’s roses are exported to Canada or the USA and we pay a fortune for them here. But in Ecuador, roses or any other flowers are extremely inexpensive. You can buy two dozen long stemmed roses for $5! They have beautiful floral arrangements and just about anything you want for a couple of dollars.

Another set of stairs along the river. Graffiti is very popular in Cuenca but the artwork is actually quite impressive.

​We spent several days touring and experiencing the city. We ate a ton of food, drank a ton of wine, got to meet some great people, specifically restaurant owners whom Jeff & Carolyn discovered & got to know over the years. I loved the ambience & the feel of Cuenca & felt very comfortable here. Something about it reminded me a lot of “old” home for me – Croatia.


And the final time, we went south for 4 days, to the famous village of VILCABAMBA “THE VALLEY OF LONGEVITY” TO END OUR VACATION WITH RELAXATION IN NATURE (SEE BLOG HERE).

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