Ecuador is one of the biggest exporters of the Cocao bean to make Coco and Chocolate in the world. The plant which comes from South America was even used as a common currency throughout this region before the Spanish invasion.
What might surprise you when you get to Ecuador is why its so hard to find good chocolate in a country that produces 130,000 tonnes of Cocao a year. Its because all the Cocao is for export and monstrous corporations like Nestle control the local market.
But chocolate lovers dont despair just yet, there is an oasis in the desert.
Salinas de Guaranda
Salinas de Guaranda is a famous little town in the Ecuadorian Andes that is about two and an half hours by bus from Riobamba. What makes the town so popular amongst both Ecuadorian and foreign tourists alike is its cheese and chocolate factories as well as the great variety in hand-knitted llama and alapca wool clothing.
A Swiss man called Father Antonio Polo used his knowledge in how to produce Swiss Chocolate and Cheese to set up a cooperative run by the people of Salinas that has literary pulled the entire community out of poverty.
The delicious swiss Chocolate they make in Salinas melts in your mouth and include the famous Blue Bird “Pajaro Azul” Chocolate named after the local moonshine alcohol and my favorite hot chocolate laced with chile powder.
Now with regards to the Cheese if you have been in Ecuador and South America for a while you will know that the omnipresent fresh, white, and tasteless stuff they have over here leaves a lot to be desired compared to our aged cheeses back home.
But the cheese in Salinas de Guaranda is every bit as good as the chocolate – so good that they are both sold on the international market along with all of the handwoven alpaca wool clothing.
How To Get There
The Conventional Way:
From Riobamba take the “Arenal Guaranda” bus that leaves in the morning from the main bus terminal. (The G in Guaranda sounds more like a W) It will cost about $2.50