By Susan Burke March, MSEd, RDN, LDN, CDE
It’s no wonder that the Apartamentos Otorongo’s occupancy rate averages 80 percent, where most other hotels in Cuenca average about 40 percent. Theirs is a home-away-from-home for travelers, and they host many repeat customers.
I met Xavier Montezuma, the owner and proprietor, in the garden of Apartamentos Otorongo. Entering through the front gate off of 12 de Abril, I was greeted by a beautiful yellow Labrador, and petting him, noticed all of the hummingbirds hovering in the flowering trees and bushes. What a lovely spot, I thought — it feels more like someone’s home than a hotel.
Xavier lives on the property with his wife Samara and younger children — he looks much too young to have a daughter who has already graduated from high school!
S.B.M: Xavier, have you always been in the hospitality business?
X.M.: Well, yes and no! My background is in tourism. I hold a degree in Destination Management with a minor in biology from the University de Azuay. I am a certified rock-climbing guide, and first went to work for ASEGUIM, the Ecuadorian Association of Mountain Guides, in 1995. I then worked onsite at the Kapawi Ecolodge and Reserve, deep in the western Ecuadorian Amazon basin — a wonderful experience that allowed me an uncommon appreciation of the beauty of Ecuador. I was then promoted to Operations Manager, which took me out of the jungle and into the city of Quito. After two years there, my wife Samara and I decided it was time to return to Cuenca, where we wanted to raise our children, and stay close to our families.
Back in Cuenca, in 2006 I accepted a position as a Project Coordinator for the Cuenca Tourism Board. I believe that the job helped me change the lens of my camera, so to speak. As project coordinator, my job was to travel internationally and I began to observe the trend of expats looking for retirement abroad. As you know, Cuenca has become a top destination internationally, both for people looking to retire, and for younger expats who want to keep working, and have fallen in love with Ecuador. Working at the Cuenca Tourism Board helped me hone my technology and marketing skills.
And then fate stepped in: my mother Dolores Carrasco was beginning to contemplate retirement.
My mother was a pioneer in the residential hotel industry. When she purchased the property in 1993, there was only the patrimonial house, and four apartments, situated on the Rio Tomebamba on 12 de Abril. Our family moved in, and the Apartamentos Otorongo opened as a “home-away-from-home”, to cater to tourists who wanted more than a formal, impersonal hotel experience.
She liked to say that her goal was to provide the amenities of a garden apartment without the impersonality of a hotel — and she has succeeded. Our services include those typically provided by a hotel, including a full-time resident concierge, and housekeeping. However, each apartment is completely furnished with a full kitchen, and guests enjoy the opportunity to network with locals, fellow visitors, and long-term residents — and learn much more about Cuenca than a guidebook or even a day tour could tell you about the city.
Over the past 22 years, we’ve expanded and renovated and improved the property. The complex is built in the traditional Ecuadorian style with very thick solid walls. On days when it is hot outside on the street, it is noticeably cooler on the grounds and in the apartments.
People come for a weekend, or for a week — or for longer. In fact, currently I have two professors who are working at the University of Cuenca — one is here for three months, and another for six. Another American gentleman will be here for a year — he is keeping his apartment as a home base as he’s traveling throughout South America, and likes the safety and security of Apartamentos Otorongo.
When my mother was thinking of retiring, she asked me if I’d like to try and run the business. I realized that I was just the right person to take over. With my knowledge of Cuenca and Ecuador, and my background in tourism, it has been a perfect fit.
My wife and I now own Apartamentos Otorongo, and we continue to renovate and improve it. We’re currently replacing all the tile kitchen counters with granite. A few of our apartments face the street and we’ve installed soundproof glass in all of those apartment windows. The garden has been completely remade, with native plants, including orchids, ferns, sandalwood, magnolia, heliconia, fuchsia, and begonia, carefully selected to attract hummingbirds, tanagers and other local birds species that live on the riverbanks.
S.B.M: With so many people in Cuenca renting out their apartments, I imagine that you have a lot of competition.
X.M.: Yes, that’s true. But what sets us apart for newcomers and repeat visitors alike, is that when you rent from an individual owner, you may or may not meet that owner — and you may or may not be able to contact them if something goes wrong in your apartment. It’s unlikely that an absent owner will be able to provide you with the first-hand care and service that is our specialty. We live right here on the property, so we’re available 24/7, for all your needs.
We take an exceptional interest in all of our guests, and can assist with all kinds of important details whether you’re here for a couple of days, or for an extended stay. We’re bilingual, and we can help with everything from getting your local cell phone set up, to locating the perfect tour, to renting you a car and helping you plan your excursions from your home base here at Apartamentos Otorongo. We’ve helped guests with visa issues, and recommendations for medical or dental work; on the rare occasion that a guest might need a doctor or even visit the hospital; they’re assured that we are here to assist.
For guests arriving by air into Guayaquil or Cuenca, we can arrange airport transfers. And of course, we’re pet-friendly, with some of our apartments right on the green space of the Tomebamba River.
Apartamentos Otorongo: Your Home Away From Home
Whether traveling to Ecuador for the first time, and needing a home-base from where you can explore the Old City (El Centro), or if you’re coming for a month, or even more, the Apartamentos Otorongo is the place to be. The apartments are very competitively priced — the longer you stay, the more you save.
Choose from 15 furnished apartments ranging in size from a studio to a 2-bedroom suite. All rooms offer fully equipped kitchens. Maid service is included daily (short term) or three times a week (weekly or monthly).
Some of the units back directly onto the Tomebamba River. It’s nice to not be confined to a hotel room, and to be able to enjoy a scenic walk on the river, or a stroll (about 10 minutes) into the central downtown of Cuenca. There’s a central garden and community room furnished with comfortable chairs and tables. Xavier said that guests often create their own happy hours and potluck dinners and socialize, sharing information and tips about living and touring in and around Cuenca.
While interviewing Xavier, I had the chance to chat with a lovely woman newly arrived in Cuenca. She said that Apartamentos Otorongo is proving to be the perfect place to stay as she was settling into the city.
She chose a river suite with a door leading to a sitting area overlooking the Rio Tomebamba. Since she’s expecting a friend in a couple of weeks, she opted for a larger residence while she settles in. Besides being bright and very clean, she said that having a fully equipped kitchen is perfect — she’s in love with all the fresh ingredients she’s buying at the “fantastic” Feria Libre, about a 20-minute walk away. Inner-city buses stop just outside the front gate that goes to Feria Libre and to the Mall del Rio. Or walk across the street and take another bus right into El Centro. Cabs are easily available too.
Click here for the map — and see how close you are to everything while enjoying the green space and birds.
Apartamentos Otorongo – Feel safe and secure while getting acclimated in Cuenca.