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Friday, April 28, 2017

Apartment Vacation Rentals --- Or --- A Hotel Room?

Are you thinking of visiting Ecuador?  Cuenca, in particular?

I've lived here over 6 years and have met hundreds of travelers.  I've found most visitors don't come here for just 2-3 days.  It's more like a week minimum, sometimes 12 days, or even a month!  After all, international travel is not something you'd typically do over a 3-day weekend!

Of course, there are exceptions, like the backpacker types (typically in their 20's - 30's) who plan to see as much of South America as they can in the time and budget they've allotted.

I want to shine some light on a housing alternative for those who plan to come visit, but also stay awhile.  Those like:
  • People who live in areas where their winters are cccccold and harsh (Canadians come to mind!).  It's our summer at that time!
  • Folks searching for a viable retirement location.
  • Those who've been hearing good things about Ecuador, but didn't know diddly squat up until now, and simply want to check it out and absorb the culture for a while.
If you're staying for a week, two weeks, a month...why would you want to stay in a hotel that entire time?  A room with a bed and bathroom for 12 days?  Have to eat out for every meal (except when maybe breakfast is included)?  Not able to do laundry?  Have to sit in bed to watch TV?  Maybe 180 square feet?  NO THANKS!!!

Hotels cost, on average, about $50 - $80 a night here for 2 people.  Sure, you could probably get something for $40 bucks but you get what you pay for, right?  Then, you have the added costs of taxes, service charges (pseudo tips), and/or costs of eating out.


Solution:  Vacation Rentals (aka Short Term Rentals).

These are fully furnished apartments (sometimes houses) that provide everything you need except food.  That typically means:

  • All appliances large and small
    • coffee maker
    • blender
    • toaster
    • hot water kettle
    • microwave
    • fridge
    • stove
  • All linens and bedding
    • Towels
    • Sheets
    • Pillows
    • Blankets
  • All furniture
    • Bed
    • Sofa
    • Dining room set
    • Desk
    • Television (sometimes SMART TV's)
    • DVD Player
  • Kitchen outfitted with:
    • Pots/Pans/Skillets
    • Silverware and knives
    • Glasses/Dishes
    • Cooking gadgets (ie; spatula, wine opener, can opener, cheese grater, etc)
    • ...And sometimes:
      • cooking oil
      • spices
      • napkins
      • coffee, sugar, tea, honey
      • cleaning supplies, trash bags
      • paper towels
      • condiments (ie; mustard/mayo/catsuup)

  • All Utilities
    • Internet (with WiFi)
    • Water
    • Gas
    • Electric
  • ...And many times (but not always):
    • Washer/Dryer (with soap, bleach, stain remover, softener)
    • Dishwasher
    • Stereo
    • DVD Library
    • Vaccuum
    • Iron/ironing board
    • Hairdryer
  • Other Possible Features
    • Pickup at arrival point (ie; airport)
    • Maps
    • Brochures of favorite places (based on personal experience)
    • Concierge (availability of the host to answer questions or assist you)
    • Cell phone (for local calling and emergencies while in EC)
  • And SPAAACE!!!!
    • Usually at least the double the square footage than that of a typical hotel room.  You can strrrrretchhh out!!!
MANY times, these units end up costing you LESS than a hotel but you're getting a whole LOT more for your buck.  See examples I've posted towards the end of this article.

Where do you find them?   There are THOUSANDS of these types of properties all over the world.  So, it's not just about Cuenca, Ecuador.  I've stayed in a VR in Seattle, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Mallorca (Spain), and Quito.

These are the most popular, and reliable websites:
  • AirBnB
  • VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner).  Also known by the name HomeAway.
  • FlipKey (owned by TripAdvisor)
At each of these sites, you can type in the name of the city you're planning to visit to locate all the available listings for that particular area.

If you don't know your travel dates yet, leave the arrival and departure date fields empty.  The search results will display all the listed properties.  Then, filter the results down further by:

    • Whole house/apt (to eliminate places only renting a room)
    • By your budget (price range)
    • If the results list is long, you might opt to filter further by:
      • Minimum # of bedrooms
      • Minimum # of baths
      • Amenities you require (ie; elevator, AC, allows pets, etc)
If your dates are flexible, using this method will allow you to choose a property you like, then tweek your dates to fit the property's availability.  For example, if you look at the calendar for a property and it's already booked for June 5 - 10 but you were thinking of traveling June 8 - 15, you can opt to slide your travel dates to June 11 - 16 in order to get that property you have your heart set on.

HOWEVER, if your travel dates are NOT flexible, you should enter those dates when you perform the initial search.  Doing this will filter out all properties already reserved/booked during part or all of your travel period.  Also, there's another benefit to this approach!   By entering specific dates, you'll receive an exact quote for the cost of your stay.  In fact, it can get you a significant discount (ie; many hosts offer reduced rates for month or longer stays) if your dates qualify.

By NOT entering dates, the system can only default to the lowest price which can be misleading because the price can be higher for specific dates (ie; holidays) and/or seasons.  And, you won't be able to tell if you qualify for a discount for extended stays.

OK.  Now you have a list of properties to view.  What now?

READ!!!

Read ALL the information provided by the host.  Don't gloss over anything.

KNOW (in no particular order):
  • The location.  Look at the map to see if it's where you want to be in relation to what you want to do.
  • What the photos tell you.  Do they show all rooms?  Various angles?
  • What amenities are provided/not provided (ie; satellite TV, laundry, elevator, view, etc)
  • Your total cost (after everything is tacked on such as booking fee, security deposit, taxes, etc).
  • Refund/Cancellation policy.
  • Check-in/Check-out times.
  • What floor is it on?  Elevator?  
  • The House Rules (ie; no smoking, no pets, etc).
  • The Host's reviews by past guests.

If you don't see what you want to know, ASK!!  You can contact the Host and pose a question(s) without having to commit to a reservation.  Don't wait until you arrive to suddenly find out there's no bathtub, only a shower, and you MUST have a shower!

REVIEWS.  Reviews are probably your #1 tool for getting that level of confidence you want with your booking.  Read the reviews left by past guests.  However, remember, there are some nit-picks out there that seem to expect the perfection of a Ritz Carlton for $39 a night.  So, some comments need to be taken with a grain of salt.  Also, keep in mind just because a Host may have only 5 reviews on Airbnb, they may have 22 on TripAdvisor and 17 on VRBO.  It just depends on WHO they booked through.  Reviews can only be posted on the site they booked.

Examples of a few listings here in Cuenca.  These can be found on all three websites.

CORAZON (HEART) OF EL CENTRO

  • $59 per night.  Large discount for stays of 30 days or more.
  • A total 'feel at home' environment perfect for long-stays.
  • 1200 square feet.
  • Large living room, sun room, bedroom with walk-in closet.
  • Cozy kitchen, fully stocked.
  • Two full bathrooms.
  • Balcony.
  • Laundry.





GRAND COLONIAL IN CUENCA'S CENTRO

  • $59 per night.  Large discount for stays of 30 days or more.
  • 900 square feet.
  • Large living room and bedroom.
  • Large kitchen, fully stocked.
  • Full bath with shower.
  • Dramatic 11ft ceilings in colonial tile, 12" crown moldings, wrought iron chandeliers.
  • Balcony.
  • Laundry.




WAKE UP IN THE HEART OF CUENCA

  • $45 per night.  Large discount for stays of 30 days or more.
  • 550 square feet.
  • Cozy living room.
  • Large bedroom (Queen bed) with built-in closets.
  • Cozy kitchen, fully stocked.
  • 1 full bathroom, modernized, shower.
  • 100+ DVD movies.
  • View of Cathedral.
  • Laundry.



RIGHT ON EL CENTRO'S DOORSTEP

  • $35 per night.  Large discount for stays of 30 days or more.
  • Economical, efficient unit, but still has all the amenities.  
  • 500 square feet.
  • Cozy living room, kitchen (fully stocked), and bedroom with Queen bed.
  • 1 bathroom w/shower.
  • Flat screen TV with over 100 DVD movies to choose from.
  • Beautiful view from kitchen.
  • Laundry.




Lastly, since you're probably a stranger to your destination city, consider looking out for some of the following (especially in older cities/older buildings):
  • Location. Can you walk to most everything you'll want to do, or do you always need to take a taxi or bus?
  • Is the unit above a busy street with noisy busses, honking horns, and car alarms invading your space?
  • Does the unit have hot water at the kitchen sink, bathroom sink (rare here), and shower?
  • Does the shower have direct-piped hot water, or one of those electric shower-heads that produce only lukewarm water (known as 'widow-makers')?
  • Does the unit have an oven or just a cooktop?
  • Does it have both a washer and dryer and is it located IN the unit (or in the basement)?
  • Does it have a tiny fridge? Is it sitting on the floor where you darn near have to get on your knees to get anything?
  • If 2 people are sleeping in the same bed, can they walk around both sides of the bed? Is the bed FULL or QUEEN?
  • Is the bed(s) located in the SAME space as the living room (like a studio setup) or is it a completely separate room from the others?
  • Is there sufficient work space for you and (?) to do internet stuff?

These kinds of things can make the difference between an 'okay' experience and a great one. Closely examine the photos in each listing and look for details in the descriptive write-up.
I hope you'll find this article helpful in some way, whether you plan to come to Cuenca....Ecuador....South America, or to Timbuktu.  Save it to your favorites so you can refer back to it when you get to the point of planning a vacation!   Or, print it (just remember where you PUT it!).

CIAO!!

Dano


Monday, April 24, 2017

And the Votes are IN !! May I Have the Envelope Please?

In my blog article preceeding this one, I explained how voting works here in Ecuador.  In February, we voted for a new President.  But, the outcome wasn't a clear majority (as explained in the previous blog).  So, the 2 candidates slated for the April 2nd runoff had approximately 6 more weeks to campaign.

On Sunday, April 2nd, everyone headed to the voting centers again.  It was a task that only took a few minutes from arrival to departure as the ballot had only 2 choices on it...either him or the other guy.

By that evening, the votes had been counted and the announcement made Lenin Moreno won. Without getting into all the nitty gritty of what he stands for and what the other guy (Lasso) stands for, let's just make it simple...Moreno is of the same party as the departing President Raphael Correa.

Unfortunately (does this sound a tad familar?) the results were not a slam dunk, ultra clear pointer to the winner.   Moreno won by a very slim margin of only 2 point some percent.  Cue:  Lasso.   The loser became vehemently vocal and acused the election as being rigged and fraudulent.  Thing is, he wasn't showing anyone any proof or foundation for the accusations.  The election was overseen by all kinds of observers from other countries along with other precautions.  Lasso filed for a recount.  The national election council agreed to do a recount, but of only 10% (or 1.2 million) of the ballots cast and primarily from districts where both parties had noted some 'irregularities'.  Lasso's party 'CREO' was invited to participate in overseeing the recount, but chose not to.

After the recount was completed, Moreno actually GAINED about 2,000 votes (.001%), resulting in reconfirming Moreno's win with 51.16% to Lasso's 48.84%.   However, Lasso would have nothing to do with it and continued to demand a total recount, claiming the recount was fraudulent because they (CREO) did not participate (they had refused to).

BTW...Lasso ran for President in 2013 and lost that one, too.

Sighhhhhh.

On May 24th, 2017 Lenin Moreno will be sworn in as the new President of Ecuador and Jorge Glas as his Vice President.  President Rafael Correa and his family plan to move to Belgium (where his wife was born).

So, who are the 'new' guys?  I'll give you a few interesting tidbits.

  • Rafael Correa 
    • Has been our President for the past 10 years.  The first 2 came from stepping into the role after the prior president was ousted.  Then, he was re-elected to 2 four-year terms.
    • President Correa is 54.
  • Lenin Moreno
    • Served as Vice President, under Correa, from 2007 - 2013 after which he served as the United Nations Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibillity.  For his advocacy, he was nominated for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.
    • What's with all the disability stuff?  Well, in 1998 Moreno was robbed at gunpoint outside a grocery store in Quito.  He handed over his wallet and keys to his car, but he was shot in the back which left him a wheelchair-bound paraplegic.
    • During his first year in the office of Vice President, Moreno investigated the state of disabled people in Ecuador. At the time the government’s entire budget for disabled services was approximately 100,000 U.S. dollars.  Moreno increased the budget for disabled people more than fifty-fold. The state currently assists over 600,000 disabled Ecuadorians, and provides housing and income for 15,000 people and prostheses for another 4,000.  (Source = Wikipedia)
    • Lenin Moreno is 64.
  • Jorge Glas
    • Served as Vice President to Rafael Correa for the past 4 years and will now continue in that role under Moreno.
    • He has known and been friends with president Correa since their time as boy scouts.  (Source = Wikipedia)
    • He is a mere 47...and Vice President of a COUNTRY!!!
....and that's the way it is.....as of today.


Dano

About Me

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Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Cuenca and greater Ecuador. I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live here.

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