El Cafetal de Loja

Sucre 10-50 between General Torres and Padre Aguirre

I have purchased excellent coffee from Loja at this store so many times, but never went further than the counter in the front. I only recently discovered there is a truly lovely cafe directly behind the front store. And then I got exceptionally lucky and asked the owner if I could go upstairs to see the house!

Coffee from Loja is considered to be some of the very best coffee in Ecuador. Maria at the front counter will package up freshly ground Loja coffee for you. (total biosecurity measures are followed, she just took her mask off for the photo).

The gate opens to a very lovely garden cafe in the middle of Cuenca’s historic El Centro district.

I was very fortunate to be allowed a private tour of the home.

The view out to Calle Sucre.

The busy coffee grinder. It is almost impossible to walk by the door without going in, because of the captivating coffee aroma drifting out to the street.

“Pisos de huesos” decorative flooring made from cow bones and river pebbles.

This is a very authentic beautiful old Cuenca family home, still very much lived in, not a museum.

The house follows a traditional colonial style centered around two courtyards.

The grande sala – a very spacious room with very high ceilings and the original wood floors, overlooking Sucre St.

Very old stone flooring.

If you are in El Centro Cuenca you must stop in to buy some fresh ground coffee. Or enjoy a cup in the cafe.

Casa de las Palomas

Calle Benigno Malo 6-40

This adobe constructed house was originally built around 1900, and at that time only had two rooms and a large lot that was used as stables.  In 1908 the building was bought by Joaquín Rendón who added on to the construction.  Joaquín Rendón  was a painter and dedicated most of his time to decorating the house’s walls with landscapes and decorative motifs, with the principal theme being women with doves.  

It is a good example of a Colonial home – which would consist of a courtyard, a rear yard, and a vegetable garden. It is an example of the Cuenca romantic tradition.

 One detail in the decoration is the paving of the floors of the hallway and the patios, made with river stones and rows of bones from the skeletons of cattle, called “pisos de huesos. And yes, you can see it is made of real adobe.

Other paintings show European rural landscapes with small towns and hunting scenes. The decoration of the house is consistent with the romantic taste of the time.

This building ceased to be a family home after Rendón’s death; his wife leased it to the military to be a casino. The house had many uses afterwards – for a while it was leased to the Tres de Noviembre  Elementary School.  Later the house was used for a candle and fireworks factory, and then later rented for the office of a newspaper called “El Sur”.

By 1972 the house had been abandoned and was rapidly deteriorating. In 1987 El Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural purchased and restored the building, and it is now their office.

Calle Rafael Maria Arizaga

This is one of the roads with the greatest historical value in the city, since this street was for a long time the northern limit of Cuenca and the gateway from neighboring towns.

The road is as unique and narrow as ever, paved with Andean cobblestones and a pebblestone pattern.

Formerly called “Real del Vecino” street, in 1961 the street was renamed Calle Rafael María Arízaga, after an illustrious local figure who had a distinguished career as a legal advisor, member of parliament, presidential candidate and diplomat.

I took many of these photos during a parade one year ago on December 1, 2019 to honor the 20 year anniversary of Cuenca being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site City. Calle Rafael Maria Arizaga was considered a fitting place to have the parade because of it’s historic past and authentic architecture. Pictured here in the parade is the Mayor of Cuenca, and his wife.

Calle Rafael Maria Arizaga is also known for many murals of Cuenca tradesmen.

The architecture of the street reflects the authentic style of Cuenca. The simple houses along the road have adobe and bahareque walls.

This neighborhood is known as El Vecino.

According to the historian Víctor Manuel Albornoz Cabanilla, El Vecino was the first Cuenca district, renamed by the cañamazos or “reedmen” who, skilled in the use of sharp knives, made the Panama hats. The straw hat weavers gradually settled in this street between the late 19th and early 20th centuries,

Iglesia de San Jose de el Vecino, on Calle Rafael Maria Arizaga.

“En agradecimiento a la Municipalidad de Cuenca por la restauracion del monumento nacional a Nuestra Madre de la Merced como especial protectora y guardiana de la Cuidad” Padres Mercedarios Cuenca 28-11-2014.

Fine Living in Cuenca Via a Photographers Lens

Lifestyle : Ecuador

Fine Living in Cuenca Via a Photographer’s Lens. By Donna Stiteler

Parque Calderón photographed by Jane Hiltbrand

Walk by 9-52 Simón Bolivar in downtown Cuenca, Ecuador on any given day and you’ll pass the historic emerald green and cream ceramic China House, where a handsome, stylish man stands on the wrought iron balcony looking down at you. Like many who pass the building, you might wonder “Why is he standing there and who is he?” Cuenca expat and photographer Jane Hiltbrand was captivated by the colorful Art Nouveau style façade, as well as its mysterious man on the balcony, and did more than just wonder. She went inside the China House and started photographing the polychrome brass designs on the ceilings and walls and climbed the wooden staircase to the second floor, where the mystery unraveled. The man in the window turned out to be a mannequin modeling one of David Anthony’s handmade suits, which he can pound out in only five days at his China House trajes para hombre shop. Jane also learned that the China House earned its popular name due to its elegantly decorated frontage, which is clad from top to bottom in pieces of china.

Jane’s passion for historical buildings began at a young age, when her parents rented a historic carriage house on The Narrows overlooking the New York Harbor in Brooklyn, New York.“It was an amazing place to grow up and gave me an appreciation of the history a house holds,” Jane says.
Her mother worked at LIFE magazine and growing up learning about photography and the distinctive architecture of the carriage house instilled Jane’s love of both art forms.

“I never forgot my childhood exposure to historical buildings, nor my love for architecture. But I decided pretty early on that I didn’t want to earn a living with photography—I didn’t want to have the burden of photography being a job. I wanted to keep it as a pure pleasure.”

So instead, Jane started out working in television advertising, and then became a real estate broker in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Nevertheless, her interests still found some expression in her work: “Whenever possible in my real estate career, I tried to specialize in historic or vintage properties. So, these have been my two special loves for a long time adds Jane.

Jane took two exploratory trips to investigate Ecuador, and landed up in Cuenca, the undisputed cultural capital of the country, a scenic colonial Andes mountain town sitting at 8,400 feet elevation with a population of 450,000, crossed by no fewer than four rivers.
“The moment I drove into Cuenca, it was love at first sight. You’re in this old, historical city, and living in the middle of it was very appealing to me.”

Jane retired to Cuenca in 2017. She’d done her financial projections, totaled everything up and realized that, although she could afford to retire in the States, doing so wouldn’t be as much fun as moving to Ecuador. “I would mostly be paying bills,” she notes. “After the real estate crash in 2008, retirement wasn’t going to be what I thought it was. One thing I wanted in my retirement was affordable travel.

That’s definitely available here in South America, and there’s so much to see. I have already traveled to Peru, Chile, and Patagonia, and I am planning trips to Buenas Aires, Argentina and Uruguay, Jane adds. “Staying home in Ecuador is a pleasure, too. I fell in love with Cuenca because of its gorgeous architecture and also the friendliness and warmth of the Ecuadorian people.”
The cost of living is low all over Ecuador. Cuenca, in particular, is an easily walked city, and public transportation is 35 cents for a bus or tram ride. Taxis are $2.50 or less to get most places in town. Most expats don’t own a car. This high in the Andes, utilities run around $50 a month because you don’t need air conditioning or heating; and, because propane, used for hot water and the stove, costs $3.00 a cannister, there’s not as much need for electricity. Rents can run between $350 and $700 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment/condo, or house, depending on the size and location.

It means that many Cuenca expats find they can live very comfortably, and still have enough for travel, social life, and to enjoy the busy arts scene.

“The first weekend I was here there was a party for the opening of the newly restored Casa Museo Remigio Crespo Toral, the historic house which once belonged to the Ecuadorian poet, Remigio Crespo Toral. There were beautiful young Cuencana women modeling period clothing for the opening reception, the museum was jam-packed with people, a lot of them older established Cuencanos. There was a classical music concert in the auditorium, and a jazz band playing in the café in back,” notes Jane. “I knew straight away that this was the city for me.”

Like a lot of expats who come to Cuenca, being able to live well without the pull of a high-pressure job left Jane with time to rediscover passions that had been parked while she focused on her career. When she moved into the post career phase of her life, Jane reignited the photography skills she’d honed at Boston University, where she studied photojournalism as an undergraduate. She strung her camera around her neck like a valued piece of jewelry and logged miles walking in Cuenca’s historic district, photographing not only the French façades and classic Spanish architecture but also the ornate interiors and courtyards hidden behind the unassuming wooden doors of the most famous buildings in the city.

The buildings of Cuenca fascinated Jane and inspired her to become a “visual storyteller” using her photographs to capture the stories, both past and present, of the 16th-century Spanish colonial and 18th-century French Republican architectural structures in Cuenca. That rich, and rare, environment is part of the vibrant cultural package which earned the city its UNESCO Heritage site designation.

“I enjoy the idea of photography being a record of a moment in time. It might be why I enjoy looking at old historic photographs so much,” explains Jane about her inspiration. “More than anything else, it gives you a good idea of what life was like 100 years ago, or 50 years ago, or even last week.”

“My Spanish teacher, Cristina Flores Ortiz, with Walking Spanish Lessons, gave me a copy of a guide to Cuenca architecture, written in Spanish,” says Jane. “It covers 165 historical properties. The original guide only has exterior photos, but I’ve been attempting to take interior photos of these buildings as well. Additionally, I try to share a little bit of the history involved. I sometimes post old historical photos of the buildings, if I am able to find them.”

Although the pandemic slowed her progress in photographing the city’s buildings, Jane feels the pause during quarantine gave her the time to create her blog, http://www.architecturalcuenca.com – A Guide to Cuenca Architecture, and study the history of the local architecture. She’s particularly interested in the French influence on Cuenca’s buildings, which is a rare feature in South America, as the continent was mostly colonized by the Spanish and Portuguese.

And, like the man standing in the window at the China House, Jane is a constant observer of life in Cuenca. An expert interpreter chronicling Cuenca’s history through her photography, which captures the past and combines it with the present.
Her visual storytelling creates memories of stories from times past and instills in us expats that we too are a part of the city’s rich history.

French Flair in A South American City

WHY? Cuenca’s dance with the French began in 1736, when the French Geodesic Mission came to Ecuador with the purpose of measuring the roundness of the Earth. The process involved measuring the length of a degree of latitude at the equator, which bisects the country and gives it its name (“Ecuador” in Spanish means “equator”). Hearing that Cuenca was a city favored by both Incas and Spanish as “the jewel of Ecuador,” the French traveled south to Cuenca from their expedition in Quito. Cuenca’s high rollers were so impressed by the flamboyant French that they deemed their society as the most elegant in the world and soon adopted aspects of its culture as their own. Soon, upper-class Cuencanos were plastering French Republican façades over their Spanish colonial exteriors, building French-inspired parks around town, buying Louis XVI furniture, and sending their children to French schools abroad. This era had a profound effect on Cuenca and was instrumental in turning it into the cultural capital of Ecuador. Photo of China House by Jane Hiltbrand.

The city now boasts a bustling downtown, modern conveniences, a renowned flower market, indigenous textile markets, and the famed three baby-blue domes of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (situated on the corner of the French inspired town square, Parque Calderón).
Tourism over the past five years has increased by 30%, and Cuenca has become a popular destination because of its mix of Inca, Spanish, and French cultures, as well as a downtown boasting more than 300 restaurants and blocks of chic shops tucked into the delightful historical architecture.


Author Donna Stiteler gave up her high-stress job in 2014 and moved to Cuenca, Ecuador, where she lives in a beautiful hacienda overlooking the Andes mountains.


Calle de las Herrerias

This country house takes its name from the area in which it is located, Chaguarchimbana, on Calle de las Herrerias. Chaguarchimbana means “chaguarquero”, or the shallowest place for crossing the river. No-one knows exactly when the area gained this name, but it pre-dates the colonial period.

During the Inca period,the Royal Road passed by this place, connecting the two most important Incan cities, namely Tomebamba and Cuzco. In the colonial period the area was taken over by the city’s wealthy families, because of its scenic landscape and also because it was an advantageous site for obtaining farming produce to meet daily needs.

Records indicate that in 1832 the property belonged to Juan Izquierdo del Prado, the city council’s scribe. On his death the estate was divided into two parts, with the River Yanuncay serving as the common boundary.
José Miguel Narciso Valdivieso, purchased this part of the land in 1862, and in 1875 it was inherited by his son Antonio, who built the country house as a holiday home. In 1908 Chaguarchimbana passed into the hands of his niece Florencia Astudillo Valdivieso, who died on March 18, 1956, at the age of 87. 

At that time, Chaguarchimbana was one of the most elegant mansions in the region, in the middle of the city and the countryside, considered a house full of luxuries and comforts, with wide corridors, gardens, and murals that adorned the front facade. 

This colonial-style house is arranged around a patio, two floors, a large entrance gate and an entrance corridor, it also shows characteristics of the region: wide corridors, bluish or lilac colors on the walls and a watch tower where one could observe Cuenca. 

It was restored in 1992 , where it housed the Museum of the Earth and the Arts of Fire under the responsibility of the Paúl Rivet Foundation. Later it passed into the hands of the Municipality of Cuenca. 

On the second floor balcony there is a series of murals c 1910 inspired by European prints, a very frequent practice among painters of that time. They could be from the hand of Nicolas Vivar known for having frescoed many of the houses and churches of that time.

Some of the metal work on display at the “Museo de las Artes Del Fuego”

Casa Del Artista


Old Photo with view from under the Yanuncay Aqueduct.

Same location October 2020

This house dates from 1903 and was owned by the priest Jesús Arriaga. It is located in what used to be the southern entrance to the city, on Avenida Loja, and the banks of the Yanuncay River, and next to the stone and brick arch of the Yanuncay Aqueduct, which carried water to the first hydroelectric plant in Cuenca.

The patio and wall come from Yanuncay river rocks.

In addition to being a priest, Jesus Arriaga was a historian and dedicated himself to researching pre-Columbian history. Father Jesus Arriaga directly influenced researcher Dr. Max Uhle, who confirmed in 1922 that Cuenca was the Incan city of Tomebamba.

In 1908 it passed into the hands of the Durán family and for over three generations it belonged to the Duran Guerrero family. 

After the house survived two fires, the City of Cuenca purchased it in 2004. After a restoration process in 2017, it was called the Casa Del Arco, because of its location next to the Aqueduct arches.

Video of restoration: 

The house is made of adobe and wattle and daub walls. 

In 2018 it was repurposed as La Casa del Artista.  On the ground floor are two rooms which are used as a gallery for art exhibitions.  The other rooms are used for art workshops. 

Substation of the Municipal Hydroelectric Plant. Large iron towers along Av. 10 de Agosto and Av. Solano supported the cables that reached the substation from where electricity was distributed throughout the city.

The City of Cuenca was very excited to get electricity in 1914.

Casa de las Posadas

Gran Colombia 17-44 y Baltazara de Calderón streets.

Built in the 1760’s this is a fine example of Cuenca’s colonial period architecture. The name is derived from it’s original purpose as an inn. Strategically located on what was then the entrance to the city on the coast road, it provided accomodation for the indigenous peoples and traders who brought their harvest and products to be exchanged or sold in the city markets.

Before restoration….The structure gained national heritage status in 1982. The restoration was done in 2006.

Painting of the Virgen del Carmen….unknown painter

Casa de las Posadas is located in the San Sebastián neighborhood , on Gran Colombia 17-44 and Baltazara de Calderón streets.

Cuenca old and new….Casa de las Posadas, one of the oldest buildings in Cuenca, with the new Tranvia passing in front.

There were two stone lined water canals discovered buried under this section of the Tranvia line.

Before, and after restoration…..

It is now a Cultural Patrimonial Property of the City of Cuenca, and serves as a venue and gallery for various art shows.

Quinta Bolivar

24 de Mayo y Gapal

Simon Bolivar, The Great Latin American Liberator, visited Cuenca in September 1822.  The current building is not the actual house where Bolivar stayed, but it is in the location of the home where he did stay, and has been dedicated to a museum in his honor. 

In 1822 Bolivar’s army had a great victory at the Battle of Pichincha on May 24th, in the fight for independence from Spain.  Following that on June 16th he triumphantly entered Quito, where he received a hero’s welcome.   This was also the day he first met Manuela Saenz, who was to become his lover, and also a very important part of Ecuadorian history.

Bolivar traveled extensively that year, in endeavors to create “Gran Colombia” which at its height eventually included present day Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, and parts of northern Peru and northwestern Brazil.  After meeting with General San Martin in July in Guayaquil, he traveled to Cuenca through the Cajas mountains, and was received with flower arches, banquets and parties, and celebrations.  He was invited to stay at the old Chaguarchimbana estate, owned at the time by Maria Castro de Izquierdo, a very rich woman, and the mother-in-law of Antonio Soler.  She was an antimonarchist and a staunch supporter of independence, and she invited Bolivar to stay in the house and work in a quiet environment on his ambitious freedom plans for the whole of Latin American.

However, the country house in which he stayed is not the one standing today. That building was demolished in the 1930’s.  The house we see today was built in 1936 by Benjamin Ramirez Arteaga, a prominent legal adviser.  It was used as a holiday home, and during its heyday family and friends would frequently gather for parties on the banks of the Yanuncay River. 

Quinta Bolivar has a library with an important bibliographic collection on Bolivar, and the time of Independence.  The library is named after Manuela Saenz.

This is the only known photograph of the actual house where Bolivar stayed…..

In 1960, Dr. Ramirez donated the property to the Azuay Employees Associate, which used the house initially for its meetings and then rented it out.  Several years later, by which time the house had fallen into an advanced state of decay, Cuenca City Council purchased it and embarked on renovation works. The renovation process began in 2004 and ended in 2005. 

This is a photo of the current house, before the renovation by the City.

The house is a homage to the Liberator of America and since July 2005 has accommodated the city’s Bolivar Museum.

Iglesia Santo Domingo

Gran Colombia y Padre Aguirre

The history of the Dominican Church and monastery is closely linked to the Spanish foundation of the city.  The viceroy of Peru Andres Hurtado de Mendoza issued instructions to Gil Ramirez Davolos for the foundation in Cuenca of a monastery dedicated to St. Dominic. A few years later, in 1562, brother Tomas Galiano commenced the building works, completing them in 1569, and dedicating the buildings to Our Lady of the Rosary. The first monastery erected was a humble building made from bahareque, a type of adobe and straw, with very few priests for services.

Angel of Santo Domingo

The present day church was built between 1906 and 1926.  Outstanding features of the facade are the two towers.  Made from brick they stand forty metres high.

There are two chapels. This is the Chapel of the Virgin of the Rosary accessed from Gran Colombia Street.

The church bells are the largest in the city and are popularly known by the names of St. Rose and Ronca Moreno.  In the first case this is due to its christening along with hundreds of other bells on the feast day of St. Rose, in Europe, in 1706.  The other bell was apparently made in Cuenca on the basis of mingas  -work in kind by the community under the supervision of Father Moreno, who wanted it to the largest and loudest in the city.  The bell is 2.6 metres wide and 2 meters high, and it produces a deep, heavy sound.  The towers can be seen from various points of the city.

At the very top is a statue of St. Dominic, the patron saint of the religious order, holding a string of rosary beads.

The interior floors of the church are based on wooden planks, arranged in a square shaped pattern.

Genuine treasures of the church are the colonial canvases depicting the fifteen mysteries of the rosary all with the same gold leaf frames.  These paintings date to the 1700’s.

The monastery is accessed via an external door, and also another entrance is inside  the church, linking the church to the cloister gallery. 

The Festival de Luces celebration, in early December, begins in the Santo Domingo Plaza. The Virgin is brought outside to the front of the church, to bless the crowds.

Christmas Lights at Santo Domingo Plaza