Ecuador - Puerto Lopez & Hostal Mandala

Getting to Puerto Lopez can typically be done in one of two ways. First you can take a 10-12 hr bus ride to ciudad Manta from Quito's south terminal for around $12 or so each way. Alternately, you can catch a 45 minute flight from Quito, on either Tame or AeroGal airlines, to Manta for about $50 one way...we opted for the flight. Booking round trip will save you a bit more. When you factor in what the bus would have cost, the flight is that much cheaper and a whole lot quicker.


Once in Manta simply have a cab take you to the "terminal de autobus" for about $5, from there buy a ticket to Puerto Lopez for $3. The trip takes about 2.5 hrs and is quite scenic in places. The trip winds along the coast and inland, through the thick coastal forest. I think the worst part of our trip on the bus was stopping at the totally depressing Puerto Viejo bus terminal...but I did buy some good tasting bread from one of the vendors (down and back), so I guess it wasn't all bad. Just under an hour after we left Puerto Viejo we arrived in Puerto Lopez.


Puerto Lopez is a small coastal community about 2.5 hrs by bus from ciudad manta. It is a "rough around the edges" town, but after you walk around a bit and let the place encompass you, its charm and enjoyable character become ever present.


The town market is next to the bus terminal and is small by some markets we have been to, however it is just as robust and energetic. Plenty of meat hanging in the open air, fruits, vegetables and cooked food to eat. You can even get a shave and a haircut from any one of about a half dozen barbers.


We found a couple of good supermarkets to buy food, one a few blocks north of the bus terminal on the left side of the road (heading north). The other about 50 meters (less than 200ft) south of the bus terminal, on the left (heading south). We like dry red wine and the latter had one liter of dry red box wine for either $5.25 or $5.00 apparently depending on what day you bought it on. Of course you could also buy food, if you wanted...

Across the street from the bus terminal is a bakery with great sweet tooth relief. They have a case right on the sidewalk in front of their shop with fantastic cakes and flan, huge slices for a buck! All sorts of chocolate cakes, sweet breads, did I mention flan? We treated ourselves several times here, very good and very cheap.


But I digress, back to the original topic...


Once the bus arrives at what barely could be called a " terminal" you are surrounded by folks that want to get you to "their" favorite hostal or taxi drivers that want to get you where ever it is that happens to be the first word that happens to come out of your mouth. I uttered "Mandala" and in no time flat we had someone grabbing our backpacks off of the bus and ushering us to one of the many taxis now surrounding the bus.


Ok when I say taxi I mean a motorcycle with two wheels on back and a plastic/tarp type covering with a wide seat in back for two people to sit. The place for luggage is behind and in the elements, ours was hanging over the end of the frame. I asked the driver if this was safe and he replied "No hay tuna problema, manejare' muy tranquilo" aka...No problem, I'll drive slow. Which he did despite hitting some potholes in the road while looking back at us while driving. He got us to Mandala in about five minutes and all that...crazy motorcycle ride and good conversation cost $1. These taxis are the same as in Ollentaytambo, Peru and are everywhere in Puerto Lopez. Fun, fun, fun...


The hostal Mandala has an eco-artsy- Height Ashbury-kind of feel, and was to us, immediately inviting. As hostals go, at least for us, this was at the upper level of what our price range is, however considering the setting and enjoying a splurge now and again, it was worth it. The room was $30 a night ($15 each).


Ok, my wife wanted "full disclosure" on our stay here, so here goes...we originally had planned on heading north from manta to Bahia and Canoa. As this was our first time on the coast we really were traveling blind, but Lori (my wife) has a thing about getting her feet wet in the ocean and so this trip she was getting her wish. Anyway, our friend roger up in Cahauasqui said "my friend Jill was in puerto lopez managing the Mandala for a few months while the owners were on vacation". He said he had spoken to her and she had offered to hold a small room for us if we wanted to stay there. Our plans are typically fluid and we said "sure, sounded good to us"...and here we are. So that is how we ended up at the Mandala for four nights.


Lonely planet lists this place as medium cost and Frommers as inexpensive, or that may be reversed, I forget now. Anyway the rates go from $30 on up depending on what you want. Actually if you are trekking with a few others, spreading the cost around can make even a larger more costly room much cheaper...a bit of luxury for less I guess. When we arrived our room was the very last one available,
so "Thanks Jill!".


NOTE: Just to mention...there are a plethora of hostals up and down the beach front and in Puerto Lopez. From what we saw the hostals ranged from dumps to nice. Mandala, was the nicest place we saw and did live up to its reputation, but it was a splurge for us, as we don't usually spend this much for digs. Our total cost with food for 4.5 days including the room was $220 (for both of us, including beers, large meals). Quite cheap by US standards, but a chunk by our trekking budget. Still it was worth the pampering and some luxury for a change. Also worth mentioning is that the second evening we were there (actually during the late afternoon) all the power went out in Puerto Lopez for about six hrs. The whole town was as dark as midnight once the sun set. We were in town just before dark and didn't realize the outage. Except for a very small number of tiendas with portable generators and a couple of other businesses, also with generators to keep the lights on, it was completely dark in 98% of the town. We grabbed a moto-taxi back to the Mandala and was relieved to find it lit up and running on its large generator as if nothing was wrong outside. We had dinner and a couple of beers and when the electricity was restored the generators kicked off and back on the grid went the Mandala. So our evening was as pleasant as it could be.


Our room was way more than adequate for us and of course more luxurious than the $6 or $7 dorm rooms we typically stay in on our travels. Three walls of screens, netting over the bed for sleeping if you want and the cool thing is the bathroom and shower is maybe 10 ft away out your door. In between the door to the room and the bathroom is a couch (all covered) that you can sit on and enjoy being surrounded by dense jungle foliage...and yet still hear the crashing waves from the ocean that is just mere yards/meters away. The bathroom and shower were spotless and had very nice tile work. The shower was immediately hot, something unusual for Ecuador. Too bad it was on the coast where a cooler shower is what felt the best. That said, Lori was jumping for joy at a hot shower with plenty of pressure, even here (happy wife=happy life). So the shower was just perfect and something I wish other hostals that claim to have "hot showers 24/7" would really have.

The rooms are all named for various animals and sea creatures. Our room was "iguana" and I kid you not we actually found an iguana lounging on a tree limb only meters away from our room! It was about half a meter long and it just looked at us like we were nuts, while we took photos of it.


NOTE: We are non smokers and quite frankly do not enjoy cigarette smoke. The Mandala allows smoking and so when you eat at their open air restaurant, sit someplace where the breeze takes the smoke from anyone smoking around you in the opposite direction of where you are sitting. Nothing worse than trying to enjoy a meal or chat over coffee and have second hand smoke drift past you and make everything stink. Sorry smokers, but you can kill yourselves with tobacco, that is your choice, just don't assume those that don't smoke want to die with you. This has actually been my only negative of the Mandala, amongst a heap of positives.


The rooms are all hidden among the foliage and are actually hard to see. This makes for a nice amount of privacy as all the rooms are scattered around the grounds. The amount of stuff growing here is amazing, plenty of colorful flowers, palms and loads of other tropical vegetation...very cool!


They offer Wi-Fi here, however it is somewhat slow (at the time of this writing anyway). So plan on having a coffee or beer while waiting on your face book to update. Speaking of beer, etc...the restaurant is pricey, so plan on checking out the local comedors that are a short walk or even shorter moto-taxi ride away. A bottle of the cheapest wine will set you back about $25 (wine we pay $4 in the states), so go into town and buy a liter of "Clos" for $5.25. Ok, it comes in a small box, but who gives a is a decent tasting wine and very reasonable priced. We watched the sun set our first night here while enjoying a couple of glasses of the stuff...very memorable. Also there are plenty of tiendas that can sell you rum, whiskey, etc, so buy a small btl and then buy a coke and mix your own...way cheaper than the hostal or bar on the beach price. Plus with buying it from a tienda you get the added enjoyment of having a 7 year old sell it to you (a huge no no in the states, but par for the course here)...while helping their family at the same time.


We played in the ocean body surfing and getting generally wet from the great surf. Hammocks and towels for la playa are available, as are small shaded shelters to hang them, then fall asleep in the hammocks for a couple of hours...perfect. There seems to be a perpetual breeze that really feels good and takes a huge edge off of the heat/humidity...again, perfect. Even better before my nap was getting a big cold bottle of beer from the hostal and drinking it down while watching the ocean, surfers and the pelicans. This was so much overload that I took my soon as my beer bottle was empty.


NOTE: After 4 days here I will say that I am craving either air conditioning or the sierras. It is hot and humid despite the nice breezes and for me personally I just don't enjoy hot and humid all that much (personal preference). I would easily return to the coast for a weekend, then head back to higher altitudes. OR...maybe try it here in may-august when the cooler ocean currents arrive and bring on the cloudy grey days with the light misty rain. This goes on for 3 or 4 months or so and knocks back the heat/humidity...sort of like the northwest USA. I would give that a try next time.


Puerto Lopez is famous for the big whale migration that passes by the coast due to the above mentioned cooler currents. Actually this place is the whale watching hub of Ecuador. This can easily be seen with a walk anywhere around town as there are whale, billboards, posters, figurines, you name it and there is probably a whale on it. So mix in the cooler months of may-august with some whale watching and you have the best of both worlds.


There are a couple of attractions that you will hear about while in puerto lopez...a lot. Actually we heard it from people trying to sell a tour to us on foot, motorcycle, moto-taxi, tienda, etc. These places are the Isla de la Plata and agua blanca...along with the big national park that is just north of the town.


Isla de la Plata is also known as the "poor man's Galapagos" and sits about 90 minutes off of the coast and costs about $35 a person for a full day's visit, hiking, snorkeling and lunch. The mandala can set up a trip with pick up/drop off at the hostal...this at least guarantees that you also will be provided a life jacket and have a reputable tour company taking care of you...there are less reputable folks around. We did not take this trip, so I can't speak further, but I understand the island is full of the various species found on the more famous and way more expensive Galapagos see a lot of the same for way less, with much fewer tourists.


The place we did spend several hours at was Agua Blanca, an indigenous community inside the national park. It cost $10 by moto-taxi (the driver will wait for you at agua blanca) and took maybe 20 minutes or so from the mandala. The cost to enter the community was $5 each, so for $20 you have a cheap afternoon in the coastal forest.


Once you arrive you sign in and get your own local guide. You tour a small museum full if antiquities found at the site (this has been home to indigenous people for thousands of years) and then you are taken on a very nice easy walk/hike. You are shown various dwellings and artifacts and also get to do a bit of it was quite nice and a bit cooler than the beach.


One thing we were not warned about was the small river crossing...which is done twice. Cheap flip flops don't cut it, so bring a pair of shoes that can get wet, or go barefoot as I did. The river is less than knee deep, but a tad swift...and yes this is all part of the hike...and you cross back about 20 minutes later.


Ok, the fun part comes next...the lagoon (Make sure you do the river crossings first and the lagoon last as it is just a better way to go). The lagoon is a kind of thermal pool, almost a perfect circle, about a hundred feet across and about as deep if not more. It is also a sulfur pool and your nose will easily notice this distinct fact. It is a great cooling respite after the walk and your guide goes and lays in a hammock while you take all the time you want relaxing, swimming and cooling off in the water. The sulfur is good for the skin and some folks take the stinky mud and rub it on their faces to pull out all the crud. It was funny to see the ladies there with this all over them. Anyway when you have had enough of the lagoon, get changed and your guide will emerge from his hammock and walk you the final 20 minutes back to the museum and your awaiting moto-taxi.


So remember to bring a towel (the Mandala had them available to take), swim suit and some kind of shoes that you don't mind getting wet. Then just enjoy the tour and the day out at Agua Blanca.


The national park apparently has some outstanding views of the coast. We only scratched the surface of the park while at Agua Blanca. You can arrange with your moto-taxi driver, for an additional cost, to tour more of the park if you wish. We did not and this will be left for another time. However if any of you have, please write something up and send it to me (along with photos if you want) and I will gladly include it on this site.


I must say that our time on la Costa was fabulous and very relaxing. The Hostal Mandala was perfect and a great way to splurge after $7 a night dorm rooms, earlier in the trip. Puerto Lopez, rough looking at first really grew on us fast and I must say it was a wonderful town full of wonderful people. Well worth the time & effort to come out and enjoy it.

  • To visit the Hostal Mandala's website. Click Here
    You can view their website in English, German, Italian, French & Spanish.

Images from Hostal Mandala & Puerto Lopez