Working in Quito? Fine, stay at the Holiday Inn or the Marriott. But if you´re going to Ecuador as a tourist, as someone hoping to explore a different culture, then there´s no aceptable excuse for choosing a chain hotel that, for all intents and purposes, is a mini-U.S, barely different than the one back home.

My daughter and I, traveling in Ecuador for six weeks, picked Café Cultura, a boutique hotel within walking distance of historic Old Town Quito. A renovated colonial mansión, Café Cultura is owned by an Ecuadorian architect and painted from floor to ceiling in inspired frescoes by famous Ecuadorian Fausto Merchán. When Laszlo Karolyi, the architect, began renovating the mansión that once served as the French Cultural Center, Merchan was an unknown and Karolyi, quick to recognize his talent, wasted no time sending him to art school.

At the same time Café Cultura represents real Ecuador, it´s not so foreign as to scare rusty Spanish skills back into hiding. Most of the staff speaks English and its handsome, wood-paneled library is filled with guidebooks, magazines and newspapers in many languages.

Every night when my daughter and I came back from exploring the Quito sights, we´d nestle in front of three giant fireplaces and talk “Ecuador”¨with Germans, Brits and other gringos who were all as taken with Quito´s 450-year history and high-altitude beauty as we were.

With its fireplaces, antique rugs and big garden complete with peacocks and hummingbirds, Café Cultura has the feel of old time Colonial Quito. Each of its 26 rooms is different, each a piece of art in its own right. We stayed in Suite 2 that had a sunlit sitting room that was perfect for early-morning journaling.The restaurant, also graced by a giant fireplace, served exotic fresh-squeezed juices, homemade breads and other Ecuadorian delicacies.

As for those tourists staying two blocks away at the Holiday Inn, all I have to¨say is “Better luck next time.¨”