One thing Ecuador (except perhaps for Guayaquil) certainly has got right is the café culture. Compared to Peru, where cool cafés outside of big cities could be quite hard to find, in Ecuador we found that even the smaller towns had at least one decent place that served coffee, cake and wifi: the perfect combination for digital nomads like us!
And nowhere was this trifecta more abundant than in the southern city of Cuenca, which has a large expat community, mostly from the United States, and many, though not all of the best cafés in town are run or owned by foreigners.
Here are our four favourite places to have a drink, snack and maybe brunch while working away on our laptops.
This is the place to come for your Austro-German cake fix: apple strudel, Guglhupf and Linzerschnitte are served in a old world coffee house style ambiance, as well as salads, light snack, lunch menus and healthy smoothies (beetroot, spinach, carrot, orange and ginger, anyone?). Recent copies of Der Spiegel as well as local newspapers are available to browse.
The wifi is decent, but occasionally cuts out when the café gets busier and more people try to connect. Otherwise, the tables are large enough to work at, the music isn’t too loud and the staff seem used to people staying for a couple of hours on a cup of coffee. No power sockets.
Sam says…I recommend the figurina smoothie. It’s green, but very tasty!
Zab says…The apple and walnut cake is the perfect snack to accompany an afternoon of digital nomad work!
The first time we went here, I saw a tip on Foursquare by another user saying “this place should really be called Gringo Tree.” And it’s true. The clientele, while not completely made up of foreigners, it's pretty close, and we definitely heard more English being spoken there than Spanish. As well as the usual café fare, they also serve meals and cocktails (in the evening it becomes more of a bar).
The wifi is pretty good but there is unfortunately a TV inside showing sports, but usually with the volume turned way down. The staff are very friendly and are certainly used to seeing gringos slaving away over their laptops.
Sam says…If you don’t see exactly the drink you want on the menu, just ask. I got a customised drink a couple of times.
Zab says…I recommend the passionfruit cheesecake all the way!
Café San Sebas
Sitting in the corner of a pleasant square, this café doesn’t look like much from the outside, but once you go in, the bright and vibrant interior courtyard is a very welcoming place. We mostly liked it for brunch, and since it closes at 3pm, that’s your best option anyway. There is a selection of breakfast burritos, pancakes, bagels as well as salads, juices, coffees and a few desserts.
Wifi is always reliable, even when busy, which it can be on weekend mornings. Staff are friendly and unobtrusive, leaving you to pay at the counter when ready.
Sam says…Avoid sitting upstairs if you can, as on a warm day, it can get very hot up there with the skylights turning it into a greenhouse.
Zab says…For a fabulously filling brunch, try the banana pancakes.
Being a little out of the centre, though still in a very nice location by the river and next to a big, empty square which sometimes hosts a market, this place is usually less busy than the other cafés on this list. The cakes are wonderfully fresh and served in generous portions.
We never had any problems whatsoever with the wifi here, and the ambiance and noise levels are such that it is easy to get lost in your work. There are even a few power sockets.
Sam says…The freshly made iced tea is one of the cheapest (at $1.50) and largest drinks and very refreshing.
Zab says…The cakes are freshly made in the kitchen and are often served warm.
The final verdict
So which of these four cafés is really the best for digital nomads to get caffeinated and bang out some work at the same time?
Sam picks…Café San Sebas; it had the best vibe for me with just the right amount of ambient noise to concentrate on work without being distracting, the wifi was strong and the food options were the most interesting.
Zab picks…Café Austria; good cakes, good coffee, comfortable seating and an environment where others already come to work on their laptops made for the best place for me to get work done.
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