ACCESS CUENCARandom practicalities about print media, including money
In Cuenca, some ATMs are bilingual. Some aren’t. For example, several of the ATMs that surround Parque Calderón aren’t, while the ones at Banco Pichincha at the big intersection of 12 de Abril and Avenida Solano are. If you just want to siphon some money off your credit or debit card and you find yourself at an ATM all in Spanish, look for the word “retiro,” from the verb retirar, which means to remove or withdraw (cash).
Ecuador has used the dollar as its currency since 2000. It’s an almost entirely cash society; credit cards can take a long time to process, if they’re accepted at all. Likewise, hundred-dollar bills are mostly shunned, due to the risk of counterfeits and the hassle of making a lot of change. Even the banks aren’t fond of hundreds, though they’ll cash them if you have an account. Your best bet for changing Benjamins into smaller bills is at Supermaxi supermarkets, the Banco Central (Ecuador´s state bank) on Calle Larga or Banco Central´s satellite money exchange on the corner of Lamar and Malo. But it’s wise to bring as many small bills (ones and fives) as you can; Sacagewea dollar coins and all quarters also come in very handy in Cuenca and Ecuador — coins, too, are often in short supply.
Maps of Cuenca's El Centro are easy to come by. They’re often available for free at the tourist office and hotel front desks, and on brochure racks. But if you want the biggest street map of Cuenca available, stop off at Imprenta Monsalve Moreno, the big stationery store located on Luis Cordero a block and a half up from Parque Calderón on the right. Ask for "el plano grande de Cuenca," which sells for a bargain $2.72.
If you’re not carrying a laptop and want to check your email or get online, look for the ubiquitous cabinas. These are storefronts, one or more on nearly every block in El Centro, where you can use a computer or make international phone calls. Rates vary slightly, but most charge a penny a minute for a computer; two of you will pay $1.20 for an hour on a computer. Just walk in, ask for "una computadora," sit down at a work station (spend a few minutes deciphering the Spanish keyboard), and pay on your way out.
Cuenca is lucky to have the English-language Carolina Bookstore, owned and operated by Carol and Lee Dubs since 2006. Carolina, located on Hermano Miguel a half-block up from Calle Larga, sells hundreds of books of all kinds and Lee, usually manning the front desk, is a veritable fount of information about Cuenca and Ecuador. A former college Spanish professor, he also holds Spanish and English classes upstairs from the storefront.
A few blocks up the street from Carolina on Hermano Miguel at the corner of Mariscal Sucre is the multi-lingual bookstore, Libri Mundi. Though most of the books are in Spanish (on whose spines the type goes from bottom to top, rather than from top to bottom), Libri Mundi also sells some books in English, French, and German, especially dictionaries. Check out the two big coffee-table books in Spanish on Cuenca, one on its history, the other on its architecture.
Finally, Cuenca has a couple of daily newspapers. El Mercurio, with the larger circulation, is fairly conservative; see it from the comfort of home at www.elmercurio.com.ec. El Tiempo is a little more liberal; its URL is www.eltiempo.com.ec.