Photographs by Edd Staton
Edd Staton (of the eddsaid blog) and I met for lunch at Carbón, the parillada (grill) at the Cuenca Hotel, centrally located on Presidente Borrero between Gran Colombia and Mariscal Lamar. Meeting at noon, we beat the downtown lunch crowd by an hour, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves.
My lunch associate beat me there by a couple minutes and in that time, Edd, being quintessentially Edd, struck up a conversation with a young guy sitting at a front table working on a laptop. He turned out to be Andres Duran, the food and beverage manager of the Cuenca, as well as one of the two Duran sons whose parents have owned the hotel for the past 20 years.
As it often does in Ecuador, one thing led to another and after lunch, Andres, 30, introduced us to his younger brother David, 25 (cooking at the Carbón grill) and his mother Marcia (cooking almuerzos at the café in the rear of the ground floor), then gave us a tour of the hotel.
Andres told us that the Cuenca is the second oldest operating hotel in the city, built in 1950 (the Crespo on Calle Larga is the first, opened in 1948).
Andres earned a degree in hospitality management in the U.S. — meaning he had to take and pass his classes in English, which, as you can imagine, is excellent. He (left, below) and David now run the hotel (Marcia still likes to do some of the cooking; Señor Duran is retired) and they’re on a major campaign to upgrade and promote the place by, first, replacing the older smaller beds with new queens and kings and the smaller older TVs with bigger flat screens; and two, keeping prices extremely reasonable.
The ground floor has Carbón in front and the café, serving breakfast and lunch, in back. The bar off the café has a sitting area in front of a television, with pool and foosball tables. Indeed, sitting areas are spread all over the building, with a particularly cozy one to the side of the café, with a brick fireplace and family photos. The one off the bar has historical photos and a shrine to pop icons.
Up the beautiful curved staircase are the two hotel floors, with more sitting areas in the courtyards, big artwork on the walls, and plenty of lush horticulture sprucing up the place under the massive skylight.
Some of the rooms are off the central courtyard; the rest are down the hall in the back. They’re 50 years old, but the recent remodel has updated them, and the bathrooms are clean, bright, and especially spacious.
Singles, doubles, triples, and junior suites (up to five people) are available; room 218 has three double beds and a single, big enough for a family of seven. The elder Señor Duran also owned an audio store, so some of the rooms have cabinets full of stereo equipment, including turntables (if you happen to be carrying some LPs with you!).
Room rates are in the $20-per-person range, with a queen matrimonial around $35 and the kings $38. These rates include tax, service charge, breakfast, cable, wifi, and parking; room service is also available.
The Cuenca Hotel doesn’t get much attention in the guidebooks or blogs. Edd had never been there before and I barely knew it existed. Since then, though, I’ve been back twice. I sampled the almuerzo; at $2.50 for a big meal in a nice room, the place was packed with Ecuadorians. I also stopped by just to sit and kill a comfortable hour with a book, a bottle of water, and a contented smile as I looked up frequently and watched the world go by.
Of all the hotels in El Centro Cuenca, the Cuenca, to me, is perhaps the most complete: two restaurants and a bar, extremely reasonable room rates, a high level of aesthetics and comfort, and the Duran family in its third decade and second generation of actively ensuring a hospitable and quality experience.
Visit the website at www.hotelcuencaec.com. You can email Andres at firstname.lastname@example.org. In Ecuador, call 07-283-3711 for reservations.