Rio Muchacho Organic Farm- Ecuador’s Authentic Eco Tourism Experience

810_8909

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.

810_8875

810_8858

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.

810_8921

810_8917

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.

 

810_8787810_8797810_8808810_8832

20180214_144759

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.

810_8888810_8898810_8904

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.

810_8899

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.

810_8868

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.

http://www.riomuchacho.com

 

Visiting Casa del Arbol – Banos

Banos is famous for it’s outdoor activities, swimming in the thermal spas, mountain biking, hiking trails and waterfalls, but probably it’s most famous attraction for backpackers is Casa del Arbol; the treehouse with it’s swing on the edge of the world.

810_9005.jpg

It’s technically only a few km from the centre of Banos but the surrounding terrain is so mountainous that it would make an incredibly tiring uphill slog to walk or cycle. Indeed, many tour operators offer daily cycling excursions to the treehouse, but for the majority of people, that seems like far too much effort.

810_9042.jpg

Taxis are easily available but the most fun, cost effective and probably convenient way is to get the local bus. It leaves from 3 streets to the right of the main bus terminal on the corner of Rocafuerte and Pastaza but if you see the bus coming down the street the driver will be happy to slow down and let you hop on not at an official stop. The bus costs a dollar, which for a long, uphill, winding journey seems very good value. The buses are usually packed and often blast out loud seemingly random music all the way up into the mountains. Banos is already at quite a high elevation so if you suffer from altitude sickness remember to take some tablets before you leave. The bus stops at the car park next to a small cafe and then sits there for usually an hour before heading back down.

810_9075810_9098

Bare in mind that there are a few swings at the top; one more for the thrill seekers and one for ‘that instagram shot’. The closest one to the bus stop is high up a hill, requiring a steep climb using a rope to get to, and is more nerve wrecking. You’re tightly strapped into what looks like an old plane seat, before being enthusiastically pushed off the edge of a cliff sending the chair rocking back and forth. It feels like something your mum would advise you against doing, and isn’t for the faint hearted but is fun nevertheless.

810_9048.jpg

Further along the path is the main attraction, 2 dollars to get in, giving you access to a few zip wires and a range of swings along the edge of the hilltop. The swings don’t actually go very high and are suitable for children and adults, but give the illusion that you’re swinging out into the sky. There’s the famous treehouse too allowing for lovely photos which would make viewers think you’re alone on the cliff edge and not actually in a queue of backpackers & families.

With so many tourist attractions massively overcharging and being a let down, Casa del Arbol is a cheap day out and very much does what it says on the tin. Recommended.

Casa en el Agua – The coolest hostel in the world?

Casa en el Agua has quickly become one of the most famous hostels in the world. It’s an eco hostel, completely surrounded by water in the middle of the Caribbean sea.

Two hours from Cartagena by boat are the ever beautiful San Bernardo Islands, an archipelago of 9 coastal coral and one artificial island, with the hostel floating next to Isla Titipan. The hostel is so popular that they strictly only take bookings 60 days in advance and by day 59, most of the beds are already full up. The hostel organises a boat daily, back & forth to the main port in Cartagena, which is the easiest, and in the end probably most cost effective way to arrive, (unless you’re very good at haggling with local boats.)

It’s a backpacker paradise, multi coloured green & blue water surrounding the hostel, complete with donut and unicorn floaties. (Instagram shot anyone?) If you’re a keen seasoned traveller you’ll find like minded people here, with everyone exchanging stories about sailing over from Panama, or terrifying night bus tales from Ecuador.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0170.JPG

810_3119

It’s worth noting that for those who desperately need their home comforts the Casa may not be an ideal choice, as it’s low key and casual, with only a couple of charging points for phones in one spot on the lower level; meaning no hairdryers, no laptop charging points, and not a mirror in sight for anyone worrying about their appearance. For most people, this is part of the attraction, getting away from it all and back to basics; fresh food, conversation, and swimming. There are two toilets which require a step to reach, both compost toilets complete with slightly amusing diagrams as to how to use them properly. There is technically a shower area, and everyone is allowed one bucket of fresh water a day to clean themselves, but with the sea all around most people just opted for a quick rinse in the water.

810_3148810_3161

All accommodation is on the second level; there are a couple of double/twin rooms which book up immediately, a dorm room and then numerous hammocks spread around the upper deck. The hammocks are comfortable and make for a good nights sleep with the breeze rocking you to sleep, but it can get a little chilly in the night so take a towel or sheet for some warmth. There are lockers to put your valuables in, but the hostel asks you not to bring large rucksacks with you as there is limited space, and instead leave them at your hostel on the mainland. In reality though you don’t need much with you, you’ll spend all day in swimwear, with a vest and shorts thrown over it in the evening.

Meal times are a social thing, with the conch (as in Lord of the Flies style) blown to alert everyone that it’s time to eat. It’s around 30,000 for the set meal, usually some kind of seafood/fish with rice and vegetables, a soup, and fruit juices, with a vegetarian option as well. There’s also specials, including freshly caught lobster, crab, and mixed seafood platters. There’s plenty of food, and it can’t be beaten on freshness, although once again perhaps not ideal for any fussy eaters. 20180320_192950.jpg

In terms of activities, it’s mainly swimming, floating on the floaties, reading and drinking. They do however offer a number of mini tours including the evening trip to see the incredible plankton, glittering in the water. It’s a short tour but one that people came back from grinning ear to ear and talking about it being a highlight of their time.

Other tours include a short boat ride to the nearby Santa Cruz del Islote famously known as one of the most densely populated islands in the world. It’s a self policing community, a very tight knit group of people both physically and emotionally. The tour took place at the end of the day and the lively islanders had already had a few drinks when we arrived which cultivated in a enthusiastic dance off between them to Paul Simon’s ‘Call me Al’, but I can’t guarantee this will happen on every visit! The island has the only nearby shop, so if you’re desperate for your daily supply of Oreos then this is the only chance you’ll have to get any.

 

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0175.JPG

Evenings are a fun affair, with the staff tailoring the vibe of the night depending on how raucous the guests are feeling. Sometimes the hostel turns into a club, with guests & staff from the few nearby hostels coming by boat to join in the dancing. There’s a bar serving up tasty cocktails and reasonably priced beer. Of the two nights I stayed the first one was wild and into the early morning, with loud Spanish hits pumped out to the dancing crowd. The second evening was much more laid back; a few drinks and card games before a midnight bedtime.

For most visitors, Casa en el Agua is a highlight of their Colombia trip, it’s ridiculously photogenic, unique and the stuff that backpacker dreams are made of.

Casa en el Agua

 

Casa Cool Beans – Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is an area of Rio de Janeiro, high up on the hill tops with incredible views over the city. It’s a bohemian district, full of street art, cool shops, independent clothes boutiques and some fantastic restaurants. It’s also linked well to other districts with the famous tram, as well as being an easy location to get a bus or taxi from.

I stayed at Casa Cool Beans, a trendy boutique style B&B close to the centre of Santa Teresa. It’s a short walk to the main street, in a quiet residential area with great security.

The entrance to the B&B is a leafy green tropical garden providing a shady area to relax with a great view of the property itself.

810_3366

810_3337

There’s a fantastically colourful pool area with great wall decorations surrounding it. Rio gets pretty hot as you will be well aware and it’s so lovely to be able to have a dip in the pool to cool down. 810_3279810_3307

There are some sunbeds and comfy sofas to relax on, and throughout the day guests lounged under the umbrellas with a book or a drink and got away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Rio. The breakfast in the morning is served poolside and is really something to look forward to. There’s a friendly breakfast chef, cooking up daily omelettes and daily specials like ‘pancake day’, as well as local suggestions. There’s a selection of meats, cheeses, breads, pastries and cereals as well as juices and coffee. The breakfast area is social and overlooks a lovely church so you can sit and hear the bells ringing on some mornings.

810_3355810_3360

The staff went above and beyond right from the moment I arrived. On top of the helpful notice board with local attractions and maps, the manager printed out information about events we might like, including directions and timings, as well as suggesting local restaurants to try. I also arrived well before my check in time, but they were flexible and allowed to me check in straight away, as well as storing my luggage for the final day after check out.

The rooms themselves are spacious, cool and decorated in a fun yet simple way. My room had a lovely balcony with pool views and a big bathroom with luxury toiletries. There’s a mini bar stocked with drinks and a super comfy bed to look forward to at the end of your day exploring.

810_3348810_3354

The whole B&B is colourful and vibrantly decorated, from the front of the building to even the crockery used at breakfast time, and matches Rio’s colourful image perfectly.

Home Page

Top 5 places to visit in Peru

5. Arequipa central market – Arequipa is often only glanced over by tourists visiting the surrounding hiking trails and volcanoes, but in the city itself are a number of fascinating places to visit.

My favourite thing about the city was the colourful and bustling market occupying the large central square. It’s not massively highlighted in local guides but that just means that it’s mainly visited by locals and seemingly only the odd tourist.

Highlights here are the food areas with numerous stands selling crispy pork with local corn and potato. If you’re not comfortable in Spanish then a smile and some low key pointing will usually end in a generous portion of the day’s speciality for only a few dollars.

Finish off your meal with some local fudge.

 

       4. Huanchaco – It’s not quite so beach picture perfect as Brazil or Panama but Huanchaco is laid back surfer cool.

Plenty of beach space with endless surf schools to help you practice your skills, plus a good enough wave to keep the experts happy, Huanchaco has something for everyone on the backpacker circuit.

Equally it’s not quite the full on party scene of Mancora further north but it has cool hostels with a relaxed drinking vibe and handful of bars to party into the night.

 

      3. Ollantaytambo – Ollantaytambo is usually just a pass through point for people getting the train before the final Machu Picchu descent but it is beautiful in it’s own right.

Full of Inca ruins and surrounded by cloud laden mountains it’s particularly spectacular. Also, after mid morning when all the minibuses have rushed past, you’re likely to get the whole place virtually to yourself.

 

 

      2. Huacachina – Desert oasis Huacachina is hidden amongst the dunes near Ica. Known for it’s parties  there’s endless activities to do like sand boarding, dune buggies and boating on the lake.

Huacachina has some pretty cool hostels too, with happy hour offers all round before you head to the top of dunes to watch the sunset.

 

  1. Machu Picchu – Magnificent Machu Picchu is possibly the most awe inspiring place I’ve ever visited. The photos I’d seen before visiting didn’t even begin to prepare me for sitting there and looking out across the Inca city in the clouds.

The site itself is huge and the rolling clouds only add to the mystery and magic of the place. Despite the hoards of tourists heading there every day it still manages to feel like a place that you’ve discovered first. Truly unforgettable.