Ecuador has for a while been presenting itself as a eco tourism hotspot. There are eco lodges in most towns, recycling seems to be more present than even in many cities in the UK and tour groups offer eco packages to the country. However, what does a property need to do to call itself ‘eco friendly’ or even ‘environmentally conscious’. There isn’t an international standard for this and some adverts can be misleading.
A guide book favourite and environmental leader in the region is Rio Muchacho Organic Farm near Canoa on Ecuador’s coast. It is famous in the area as the organic farm not only involves many of the local community but has carried on pursuing it’s goals despite some quite serious devastation from the earthquake in 2016 that hit for miles along the coastal towns. Nicola and Dario started their dream nearly 30 years ago and Rio Muchacho has since then gone from strength to strength, becoming a popular destination for placement years & internships for young people wanting to learn about cultivating land, growing organic produce, and seemingly learn different languages from the mainly Swiss & German interns and local Spanish speakers.
Nicola lives and breathes her ethos, the farm has no bins, everything is recycled, and for those visitors who bring items like non rechargeable batteries with them, there are posters informing them where they can take them to after they depart the farm. The facilities are compost toilets and showers with biodegradable soaps so even the shower water can be reused.
The rooms are simple yet pretty, made out of bamboo and decorated with coloured glass, they vary from cute tree house style rooms to rather spacious double bamboo cottages with en suite bathrooms. Whilst the area has less mosquitos than the nearby towns, it’s worth bringing your own mosquito nets if you’re someone who tends to get bitten.
You’d think that by sleeping in such a rural area, where pretty much everyone is tucked up not that long after dinner that your night times would be quiet, but think again. From dusk onwards the insects, frogs and whole manner of other creatures seem to compete to make the most noise possible. This isn’t a complaint however, as there’s something pleasant about lying on your bed and listening to nature, and in the dark you’re treated to a private light display by a host of fireflies which is rather special.
Day activities can either be booked separately or as a course of 3/4 days. One can horse ride to a nearby forest home to a population of howler monkeys, local guide Carlos is knowledgeable and patient, and as with all of the staff is fully committed to the ethos of the farm. The owners even set up a local environmental school to educate children about how they can care for the environment and this knowledge can be seen in Canoa itself where you’ll actually meet many graduates of the classes.
Other activities include making rings from royal palm, crafting bowls & spoons, similar to the ones used daily at the farm instead of plastic ones. There’s also the chance to go shrimp fishing, make masks out of the clay/mud from the river, as well as touring the actual farm itself and harvesting vegetables to cook yourself at meal times.
Food is plentiful and either grown on site or locally sourced. Long gone is the standard almuerzo of chicken & rice you find up and down the country, lunch here means vegetables, delicious fresh juices, spicy homemade chutneys and Yuka cakes. A lunch popular at the farm with guests is called a Tonga. A large banana leaf is softened over the fire to make it more pliable, then hand picked vegetables, boiled eggs, rice, peanuts and plantain chips are folded inside before being tied into a delightful portable lunchbox to take out on day trips.
There’s no signal at the farm and certainly no internet connection which can prove tricky for city slickers but they have a landline to call a taxi to take you to neighbouring Canoa if needs must. Most people would agree though, there’s something nice about switching off from technology for a few days and learning about where your food comes from.
For anyone interested in an authentic environmental stay in Ecuador, if you don’t mind getting stuck in and getting your hands dirty then Rio Muchacho is a top choice and a truly unique experience.