When most people think of Ecuador, salsa does not immediately come to mind. After dancing 7 years in salsa havens of San Diego and San Francisco, I was not sure what to expect. My first night attempting salsa dancing in Cuenca at La Mesa salsa club, the flagship salsateca in Cuenca, was a little disappointing. The tiny dance floor was packed, but the crowd mostly there to drink and not to dance, and in a different style of salsa than I know, called “casino.”
Luckily I soon after followed random advertisements around and found the small but loyal group of salsa dancers in Cuenca. I’ve now been to four different salsa nights or salsotecas and reviewed them for your benefit.
Verde Pinton and Maduro: A bar which plays DJ music Thursdays and live music Saturdays. On the plus side, the dance floor is large and it has high ceilings. Thursdays a decent number of salseros show up. Oddly enough for a salsoteca, I’d say early in the night the music is half Kizomba, 1/4 salsa and 1/4 bachata. As it gets later, it becomes 1/2 Reggaeton, 1/4 Kizomba and 1/4 Salsa/ bachata. It’s also a very young party crowd, and it goes until 1 or 1:30 in the morning. Bring your own partner. Minimum consumption Thursdays is $4, $6 on Saturday.
Bar Tranquilo VIP: This is a bar which plays DJ music starting around 10pm on Saturdays, followed by a band from about 11:30-1:30, and then more DJ music until 2. The best part about this place is the dance floor – it is a large floating wooden floor. The DJ music is great – 100% salsa early in the night, however the band plays more like 70% cumbia and merengue music, although the few salsa songs they do play are generally better than the band at Cafe Eucalyptus. After the band stops, the DJ puts on reggaeton. The crowd is mixed, but generally a pretty good mix of 20-40 something year olds (older than the Verde Pinton y Maduro and La Mesa crowd), younger than Cafe Eucalpytus. As a non-drinker, I loved that this place serves freshly made juice and pineapple soy milk. The bad/ugly about this place is that they have a reputation for snobbery, and occasionally turn away people for no apparent reason saying that you are not on the guest list(but in actuality they don´t like your shoes for example). Cover is $5 not including any drinks.
La Mesa: A salsateca with a dive-y underground atmosphere, plays a mix of tropical music and salsa. Tiny dance floor but at least it’s wooden, no ventilation and full bar. Minimum consumption of $5. Due to a recent violation of alcohol regulations, they only serve alcohol until 11:30 on Wednesdays. Open Wednesdays and Saturdays. No classes, but the people are social and will likely ask you to dance. Located atGran Colombia 335 & Tomás Ordóñez. I’ve been 5x or so.
A couple people told me this was “salsa night” on Fridays and Saturdays, but it really isn’t. What it is….an upscale international (i.e. gringo) restaurant which plays live music starting at 11pm, followed by DJ music at 12:30ish. Would not particularly recommend Thursdays, as salsa comprises only about 5% of the music, bachata 5%, and the rest is casino, pachanga or tropical. Saturday is maybe 1/3 salsa, and 2/3 reggaeton/tropical. The people who go are mostly older gringos, tourists, some younger Ecuadoreans. If you do go, it is necessary to bring your own partner, because it’s not really a social place to dance. Cover is $5 not including any drinks. Located at Gran Colombia 9-41 y Benigno Malo.
UPDATE: I am now teaching salsa classes in Cuenca. More details on our website.