Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hostal Macondo, Cuenca

Since we arrived in Cuenca on Monday night, we have stayed at the Hostal Macondo. In some ways it might be considered similar to a large bed and breakfast operation in the US, but rather than make comparisons, I will just describe it.

When the taxi driver brought us here, I didn't realize we were "here" until he insisted that this was the place. The entrance is just one more door along a street with lots of doors, although it does have a small sign over the top identifying it as "Hostal Macondo". The outside door is closed at night, and has a buzzer that you ring with a microphone for you to identify yourself to the person at the desk. They will then buzz the door open for you, allowing you to walk the 30 feet or so to the interior door, which is also locked, and which the person at the desk will open. During the day, only the inner door remains locked.

Upon entrance, the first thing that strikes the eye is the foyer: it is sunken three feet or so below the main level, and has a profusion of plants growing there. By day it becomes apparent that this used to be a courtyard open to the air, but a clear skylight has been placed over the whole yard, making it effectively indoors. There are wooden floors throughout, except in the bathrooms which all have a nice tile finish.

When we first arrived, we had to settle for a room with a shared bathroom, but this was not as inconvenient as we feared. It was right next door, and rarely if ever was it occupied when either of us needed it. After three nights, a room with a private bath opened up, and we moved in there. It costs us an extra $7 per night, but we decided it was worth the difference. Even with the bath, we are paying only $30 per night.

Despite the fact that it is located in the old part of town, where streets are narrow, and buses, trucks, taxis, and a variety of other traffic contribute to the noise level, the rooms in Hostal Macondo are very quiet. The first night we were here, I woke up in the middle of the night, and the loudest sound I could hear was my wife breathing. Finally after a few minutes, I heard a car engine faintly in the distance, and then I was quickly off to sleep again.

All of the people who work at the front desk speak some English, and some of them quite well. This is necessary because the clientele seems to consist of mostly people from outside of Ecuador. We have met people here from the US, Canada, Britain, Germany, and Finland. Some of them are fluent in Spanish, and some speak even less than we do. When we first arrived, we were shown to our room, so we could drop off our luggage [not much, in our case, since the bus company had left it in Ambato], and showed us out to the back courtyard and the kitchen. They serve a free continental breakfast there, with the provision that you can order a variety of items to supplement it, at a modest additional cost. In addition to bread, some kind of fresh fruit juice, hot chocolate, coffee, etc., you can also order two eggs, fried, boiled, scrambled, etc., for $1, or a large individual bowl of "fruit salad" where you specify the fruits, for $1.50. They also serve omlettes, pancakes, and other things as well.

From 1:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. the kitchen is available for the guests to use, and they include a refrigerator for them to store their food, as well as a stove, microwave, bottled drinking water, and a sink. The only stipulation is that they expect you to clean up after yourself, which is something that we all should have learned in kindergarten. Many people don't want anything to do with cooking while on vacation, but others, such as my wife, really do like to fix things for themselves where they control the ingredients, so for us, this has been a wonderful feature.

In both rooms that we have used, the beds have been comfortable, although barely long enough for me [I am about 6' 1" tall]. All are made up with sheets, two blankets, and a quilted bedspread, but at night, one blanket seems to be about right. Each room includes a locking drawer where you can stash money, passports, etc., that you don't want to carry with you when out and about. I have felt quite secure here, and have no reservations about storing items in those drawers, except that I fear I may forget to retrieve them before leaving.

The rooms are all posted as non-smoking, and the two we have been in have smelled clean. However, a number of the guests here do smoke, so the usual gathering place for them is on the back porch. If the back door is left open, then some of the odor may waft down the hall, but closing the door can alleviate even this issue. Even for non-smokers, the back porch is a very pleasant place to sit, as this guest discovered.

Hostal Macondo also includes free wireless internet in the services that they provide, but I have had trouble getting it to connect unless I am within a few feet of the wireless router, which sits just inside the room behind the front desk. However, they are perfectly willing to allow me to take my laptop in to their desk and sit here and read mail and post to this blog to my heart's content. They also have an iMac here that guests can use free for up to a half-hour per day to check e-mail. There are also lots of internet cafes around, which charge 50 cents to a dollar an hour, if you need more time. If I were returning for another visit, I don't know whether I would bring my laptop or not. Probably, but I'm not sure.

While a number of the guests we have visited with are on their first visit to Cuenca, others have been coming here for years, and the fact that they return over and over again to Hostel Macondo says a lot about the pleasant feel of the place.

If you are planning a visit to Cuenca, and want a quiet, pleasant, low-key place to stay, I recommend them. If you want to learn more about Hostal Macondo or reserve a room, you can e-mail them at

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