Eco Hotel Review: Samai Ocean Lodge Spa, Montañita
Silence is a rare, yet desirable commodity to any traveller familiar with the South American hotel or hostel scene. And we had found it.
Waking up to the soft light pouring in from two huge windows and stretching out in our double bed so big that not even our fingers touched when doing so, we couldn’t believe how quiet it was.
Having just come from Guayaquil in southern Ecuador, where there had been roadworks outside our hostel dorm room every morning, it couldn’t have been a bigger contrast. The rainforest surrounding Samai Ocean Lodge Spa was perfectly still and calm, and I felt myself immediately energised as a result.
Samai Ocean Lodge Spa is an eco hotel on a hill overlooking the Pacific ocean just north of Montañita along Ecuador’s Ruta del Sol, run by the Ecuadorian-American couple, Tania and Ed.
The first thing that I noticed about the room was the bed: it was easily big enough for four people! It was also wonderfully comfortable and had plenty of pillows to support neck, knees and elbows to find the most comfortable sleeping position.
Our room was on its own, directly below the reception, but quite removed from the other rooms giving us a lot of privacy, and nowhere was this more apparent than on our private balcony where we had an unobstructed view of the forest stretching out to the sea where we could have sat naked and not been seen by anyone.
The bathroom was a good size and had a large and responsive shower and had a hot water tap in the sink, which pleased us as we had found that to be uncommon in neighbouring Peru.
Other nice features of the room were the inclusion of a fridge (which we didn’t end up using), and a small glass pitcher that was filled every day with fresh drinking water, though we found it a bit too small for two people.
A simple thing that was lacking was a place to hang clothes. There was a cupboard but it contained no coat hangers, nor were there hangers on the walls or back of the door for coats or other clothes. Unfortunately, we have found this extremely common not only in South America, but all over the world!
Breakfast is served in the communal area that also doubles as the outdoor restaurant, and is a relaxed affair. The friendly and attentive staff served us promptly after sitting down, bringing first glasses of fresh juice, tea or coffee and then bowls of fruit along with yoghurt and muesli.
Soon after that, were freshly baked croissants with butter and jam, and then eggs to order. When we asked, the young man serving us did not hesitate to bring us some more bread, jam and coffee to fill those last remaining empty corners of our stomachs.
Lunch and dinner are served in the same area, and you can choose from the reasonably small but varied menu. We particularly enjoyed the vegetable quinoa soup, with a secret ingredient: a spoonful of peanut butter!
The resort is essentially in the rainforest, about one kilometre inland from the small town of San José, which is about eight kilometres north of the surf and party town of Montañita. Upon arriving, we took a taxi from Montañita for US$6, but to return, it is possible to walk 15 minutes down a hiking trail to San José and then catch one of the frequent buses for the 15 minute ride to Montañita for just US$0.50 per person.
On our first day at the resort, we took Ed up on his offer of a guided rainforest hike, and given the location, we didn’t have to go far to begin.
Within a few metres of the main building we were descending a path that Ed told us in the past would have been used by locals on their donkeys to collect resources from the forest, such as bamboo to build homes. Unfortunately, however, the younger generation of people in the area were becoming less and less interested in learning about the forest and what it can provide in favour of jobs in construction on the coast and in the cities where they could earn cold, hard cash.
There is a small, unheated swimming pool on the communal terrace that overlooks the sea, though we did not use it as it was too cold during our stay.
A little further down from the pool is a hot tub, which Tania informed us could be heated an hour before we wished to use it at no extra cost.
We took her up on this offer on Zab’s birthday, but unfortunately after two hours of heating, it was still only tepid. Had either the weather or the water been warmer, it would have been a lovely place to sit for a while and enjoy the view.
Massages and other treatments can be organised too, and Zab treated himself to a full body, hour long massage for US$40 in a well equipped room, also overlooking the forest.
Despite its seemingly remote location, the resort has a reasonably good wifi connection, but it only covered the outdoor restaurant and did not reach our room on the other side of reception. Laundry can also be arranged at US$5 per load.
What we loved
The location was wonderful; remote but still accessible, and the silence that accompanied it was just what we needed. The friendly and informal staff and owners made for a relaxing stay and the wifi connection was a pleasant surprise.
What might put you off
This didn’t bother us at all (in fact, I quite liked it), but since the resort is in the middle of the rainforest and it is an eco hotel (meaning they intentionally do no fumigate the rooms), you will find bugs and other little visitors in the rooms. During our time there, I captured and released outside a spider roughly 10cm in diameter (including legs), a small lizard, a cockroach and several moths.
Tania and Ed also have two pets who roam the premises freely: a slightly haughty cat and a chihuahua who barks quite a lot and occasionally growls and snaps at guests, but being a chihuahua, is hardly intimidating!
Samai Ocean Lodge Spa is a great place to experience this part of Ecuador’s coast away from the party scene of Montañita itself. Spending a few days there to unwind, disconnect from every day life and reconnect with nature felt like a real treat. While an effort to respect the surrounding environment is clearly made by the owners, to make it a more environmentally friendly hotel, it would be nice if facilities to separate rubbish were made available to guests and that at least paper and plastics were recycled.
Indefinite Adventure Eco Rating: 3/5
- Location: Km 700 E15, Via del Espondylos, San José, Santa Elena (about 10 kilometres north from Montañita, and one kilometre inland from San José)
- Amenities: the restaurant serves lunch and dinner, massages and facials can be arranged, a hot tub is available, Tania can organise laundry and Ed offers forest walks, yoga and meditation classes and shamanic healing
- Price: US$82.50 (including tax and service) for a double room with private bathroom, balcony and breakfast (other meals not included)
- Foursquare; Facebook; Website