The coast of Ecuador has a sandy beach for every type of traveller, whether they are looking to top up on their tan or party into the small hours. However, what most cannot provide is a little area of calm, a place where you can live at the very edges of nature and truly relax.
Could Playa Escondida Eco Lodge be this place?
Its Canadian owner and founder Judith, stumbled across the site over twenty years ago when she was looking for a good spot to camp on the beach. Today, it is a protected 100 hectare area, dedicated to preserving vast numbers of animal and plant species from natural and man-made threats and promoting sustainable tourism.
As one would expect and hope for somewhere called 'Hidden Beach', this is a secluded place. An hour's bus ride from Atacames, it is also 10kms from the nearest small town. The lodge is nestled in dense forest with the beach right on the doorstep, a beach that is in fact hidden for several hours a day at high tide.
WHAT DID THEY DO GREAT?
Both of us reached possibly our most relaxed state ever during our stay.; we were almost zen! A morning spent reading, then a walk along a deserted beach discovering the hidden caves and gorgeous rock formations, a hammock snooze in the afternoon, a few hours in the sea then a plate of fresh seafood under the stars in the evening. It was quiet and peaceful, and that's just what we wanted. It is actually one of the few beach spots in Ecuador where nobody is blasting music out of a sound-system, but rather nature and a lapping ocean provide the soundtrack.
Although the beach isn't a picture postcard of fluffy white sand, it is actually pretty gorgeous in spots and the cleanest beach we've seen on the coast. When the tide is far out, the entire stretch of beach to the left or right pretty much belongs to the guests of Playa Escondida and is ripe for exploration.
WHAT COULD THEY DO BETTER?
Often there wouldn't be anybody around the reception area and we felt a bit unsure of where to find somebody who was working there. As we were visiting during low season, the lodge wasn't too busy which may be a mitigating factor. However, this would be frustrating if you are trying to pay or need some assistance.
Also, buses passing the front of the lodge are not very frequent (we had to hitchhike the 10 kms to the main road after waiting 60 minutes for a bus) so it would be extremely useful to have a general guide of bus times available for departing guests.
We loved our room. At the top of a three-story building, it was beautifully constructed. The roof was made in the traditional manner with dried palm-tree leaves whilst the floors and walls were made of wood. We would sit some afternoons at the desk working on our website with a great view of the ocean. There was no fan or air-con but, largely due to the design which has openings on the walls, this was no issue as there was always ventilation and a sea-breeze at night to keep us cool. At moments, it felt a little bit like were 'glamping' in our own little private tree-house.
The bed was comfy with good linen and a high-quality fitted mosquito net. Within the room, we had a sink, mirror and shower and a huge tank of filtered water. Overall, it was clear that somebody had invested time, thought and good craftsmanship. We were also pleasantly surprised to find that the wi-fi stretched all the way to our room and was quicker than we've had in a number of other places in Ecuador.
The only slight frustration was having a shared toilet meaning a quick trip down the stairs and along the path (you are provided with chamber pot if you have the desire to relief yourself that way!). However, we totally understand the reasons for this - Playa Escondida only has composting toilets. We had never used these before and were a little bit unsure of what to expect. However, we're happy to say that they were clean, easy to use and didn't smell (and they're actually one of the few toilets in Ecuador where you don't have to put the paper in a bin!).
There is only one restaurant/bar on site at Playa Escondida with no self-catering facilities for guests (apart from campers). As budget backpackers, we were a little bit worried about only having one option.
Thankfully, every dish we had over the three nights was excellent in terms of quality, flavour and portion size. There's a new team running the kitchen and they seem to know what they're doing. The menu changes daily but focuses heavily on fresh and seasonal seafood options and local favourites such as coconut shrimp.
Most dishes cost $9.50 USD (plus 10% service charge), which although at the very top end of what we'd hope to pay, was actually good value for what we received, especially in comparison with what you get for $7 elsewhere in Ecuador. On the other hand, we were charged $13 for a piece of fish with rice and plantains and $4 for a small piece of homemade banana cake. We honestly couldn't believe it!
The reason we were so shocked is because there is no menu or price list. Instead, the server tells you what they have each evening. As a customer, it can be embarrassing to have to ask the price of everything until you find the option most suited to your budget. Therefore, they really need to get a chalkboard up every night with a list of the dishes AND the prices so people know exactly how much they going to pay for a plate and don't face an evening of washing the dishes.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Had you asked us a year ago whether $25 a night per person was ever good value for money in certain parts of Latin America, we almost certainly would have said no. However, our opinions have changed somewhat given what else we have seen on offer in Ecuador for around the same price.
Of course, if you're on a very strict backpacking budget and have factored in the eating costs, Playa Escondida may be well out of your price range (unless camping). But, for those on a shorter trip, with a little extra cash, wanting an 'eco-lodge experience' or an extremely peaceful beach spot, we honestly believe that this little hideaway provides pretty good value for money for what is a unique setting.
Those in search of nature, tranquility and a bit of R&R will absolutely love it here.
Although being slap bang in the middle of nature was a positive for us, others may not enjoy it so much. If you have a real strong aversion to insects being in your personal space, you may have some issues at night here. Also, if you are a person who needs 24-hour hustle and bustle or a certain standard of luxury, then this may not be to your taste.
As there is no shop on site, it makes sense to come prepared with your own snacks! Also, if you don't fancy hitch-hiking, try to find out from staff at what time buses pass by the night before you check-out.
From Atacames, you need to catch a bus outside the supermarket heading to either 'Galera, +/or Estero de Platanos'. The ticket guys should know Playa Escondida and will let you know when to get off the bus. Travel time is around 1 hour and $1 per person.
ROOMS, PRICES, AMENITIES & CONTACT DETAILS
A private room costs $25 USD per person. A camping spot is available for $7 USD per person.
Restaurant and bar on-site, wi-fi, book exchange, hammocks and deck-chairs, filtered water provided.
Our stay was provided free of charge so that we could experience Playa Escondida. As ever, all photos, opinions and spelling errors are our own. For more information on why you can trust our reviews, click here.
All photography is the property of Along Dusty Roads and must not be used, copied or manipulated without our prior permission.