The best little hostal in Cuenca
By Fernando Pagés Ruiz
How does a big love affair become a little hotel? That’s the story of Patricia del Pilar and Stuart White, and their Pumamaqui Accommodations, an elegant adobe inn that the couple reconstructed in the heart of Cuenca. But before I tell you that story, I have confession: I write with more than a little reluctance. The Pumamaqui has only four suites, and I am hoping the hostal does not become so popular that when my wife and I come to town, we can’t get in!
We have stayed at most of the major hotels in Cuenca, and many of the hostals. The hotels are often costly, and still not up to the standards we’re used to, while the hostals, even when quaint, rarely offer much comfort.
The Pumamaqui stands out in value, beauty, location and luxury. The four, tastefully decorated suites include a comfortable bedroom with a large closet, queen size bed, two nightstands and nightlights, a fully equipped kitchen, dining area, living room, and comfortable bathroom with quality toiletries and plenty of towels. It may all sound like standard equipment, but if you have stayed in other hotels and hostals in Ecuador, you know how miserly they are. The Pumamaqui is up to first world standards, and more.
The “more” comes with Patricia and Stuart, who greet weary travelers with a spread of fresh flowers, local fruit, cheese and bread. Stuart sends an advanced email, with a little introduction to the other guests, often visiting professionals, artists and world travelers. There’s a table in the cobblestone courtyard, embraced by thick, adobe walls and bountiful flowers, where you can sit and socialize with other visitors.
If you want to add a bottle of wine to the welcome basket, or enjoy a fine dinner, just walk across the courtyard to the Trastevere Restaurante, a cozy gourmet Italian bistro that occupies a corner of the property, where Chef Massimo Pinelli presides over the range, boiling pastas and simmering sauces while chatting up diners.
On the other end of the property, owner Patricia presides over All Things Alpaca, a boutique that trades in exotic wool, clothing, and accessories. The wool comes from the couple’s large commercial alpaca herd in the province of Cañar.
Which brings us to the love affair.
Stuart White came to Ecuador from Albuquerque, NM, more than 30 years ago as an agricultural researcher with the university of New Mexico. He fell in love, first with the climate and Andean topography, which led him to purchase a ranch in Cañar province. There he established the first local herd of Alpaca in 1984. This led him to his next love, a lovely lab technician at a veterinary diagnostic center in Quito, where he had taken some alpaca samples for testing. “We were friends with a shared interest in camlids for six years before marrying in December, 1999,” Stuart told me. But despite more than 16 years of marriage, when you meet couple, you might mistake Patricia and Stuart for newlyweds.
This tenderness went into restoring an abandoned, collapsed structure they purchased in 2008. It took four years to finish the project, “Our idea was to reconstruct a typical rural home, as found in the Yanuncay Valley and elsewhere in the hinterlands of Cuenca,” Stuart explained. Their architect Boris Velez, a Cuencano, captured with thick, adobe walls, rough-hewn beams, and a subtle, recessed lighting scheme the soul and sophistication of a traditional Spanish-American hacienda, but with comfortable, modern amenities.
The location of Pumamaqui could not be better, right on restaurant row, on Honorato Vazquez, between Hermano Miguel and Luis Cordero, just two blocks from the Tomebamba River waterfront, and walking distance to Parque Calderón and the blue-domed Catedral Nueva. If you want a suite, you’ll need the secret email to contact Stuart and Patricia, which I cannot share until after booking my next stay… Okay, I’ve done it, now you can, too: email@example.com.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Fernando Pagés Ruiz immigrated to the United States, where he lived in Boulder, Colorado, until about three years when fate brought him came to Ecuador with his new wife Martina. They now reside in Guayaquil. A longtime contributor to English and Spanish language consumer magazines, he’s also the author of two books for The Taunton Press. You’ll be seeing his byline at CuencaHighLife, let us know if you enjoy his perspective.
Photos by Fernando Pagés Ruiz except for photos of Stuart with the Alpaca, and Stuart and Alicia, provided by Stuart White.