By Susan Burke March
Are you sick of rain? Want some warmer weather? Looking for lush green mountains, great food, friendly people or just some TLC?
Only a few driving hours south of Cuenca — an hour south of Loja — is the lovely Madre Tierra Eco-Resort, a full-service resort and spa. Madre Tierra is located in the small town of Vilcabamba, known for its “eternal spring”. My husband and I just returned from our second visit to this magical spot, and we’re making plans to return in June.
The climate in Vilcabamba is warmer than Cuenca, and somewhat dryer. Daytime highs are in the 70’s to mid-80’s; the mornings and evenings are pleasantly cool. The elevation is lower than Cuenca — about 5,300 feet — there are far fewer cars and air pollution is almost nonexistent.
Living in the “big city” of Cuenca, it’s a rare thing to experience the quiet of the countryside and the brilliance of the universe, but that’s the privilege offered at Madre Tierra. Although just a 15-minute walk from downtown Vilcabamba, Madre Tierra is a world away. As opposed to staying downtown where parties can last all night, Madre Tierra is serene.
We love it here because we can easily walk to town. The resort is located up the hill from the main highway (bring your walking shoes). If you want to ride, hop any public bus that passes frequently to and from Loja to Vilcabamba, or a taxi ride into town is only five minutes and $1.25 each way.
The resort is set into the hillside, surrounded by well-tended gardens of flowers, trees, fruit trees, and palms. The delightful pool area is restful, with lounge chairs and cushions. Throughout the resort, there are hand-painted murals and native crafts: click here to view a fun video — the place is simply charming.
The rooms are unique in configuration and decoration, and vary from a Superior King Suite with a King-sized bed plus a single bed in a huge room with windows looking out to the mountains, plus a furnished outdoor terrace ($89), to a standard, cozy room they call “The Hobbit”, set into the hillside (only $19).
I love that on Madre Tierra’s website you can “see” a description, the price, and view photos of each room. Pictures say a thousand words, and after reviewing we chose Room #9. Priced at $54, this comfortable room is considered a “standard”, with two beds, a double sink, shower, and water closet (with door!); a room safe, a terrace, a hammock, and a killer view! You’re cautioned that it’s a 100-step climb from the reception area, but it was worth it. Each morning we awoke to the sight of Mandango Mountain, and at sunset the views were spectacular. We sat on our terrace, and felt like we owned the whole property — a million-dollar view for a very reasonable rate.
In fact, we came in on a special three-night package, which included transportation in a shared van directly from Cuenca to Madre Tierra, our room, a special dinner for two, two massages (yes!), breakfast each morning (three mornings), a bottle of wine (premium wine, I must say), and a choice of a taxi tour or a horse-back riding tour around Vilcabamba. An amazing value.
Our beds were firm, the sheets and pillows soft, and the water deliciously hot. It’s obvious that the owners, Peter and Gail, have put all of their love and effort into making Madre Tierra the perfect place to relax and renew.
The entire facility is spotless, and that’s no small task, since the dining area is outside under a protective roof (we know how cobwebs build up): maintaining buildings in Vilcabamba’s semi-tropical climate takes constant work.
All guests enjoy a hot breakfast included in their room rate. Coffee is served from early morning. Breakfast starts with a fresh fruit cup (mango, pineapple, papaya, cherimoya, banana), and a different freshly squeezed juice daily. You get your choice of eggs prepared your way, or steel-cut oats with raisins and banana, plus a big basket of fresh-made bread — the bread is outstanding, baked on-site, with whole grains (you can see them), and organic sea salt, served with fresh butter and jam. Madre Tierra’s chef has been with the resort for more than 25 years, and she prepares all the food from scratch, daily. Their special lunch and dinner always includes soup, a meat, fish, or chicken main course or vegetarian option, and postre. I cannot resist their tiramisù dessert.
We met friends from Cuenca this time! Three separate groups also came in on the special, and it was fun to spend time getting to know people whom we’d only met in passing, relaxing outside on the dining terrace, enjoying a glass of wine or beer, or a fresh fruit smoothie. As the sun set and the stars came out we all took turns exclaiming how beautiful it was.
Madre Tierra is a peaceful oasis…without television or phones in the room, we read books, our tablets, or just viewed the scenery. Free WiFi access is available throughout Madre Tierra.
Vilcabamba is a fascinating destination, surrounded by mountains and within exploring distance of the famous Parque Podocarpus, only about 20 miles away. Madre Tierra will arrange for horseback riding tours and hikes, or you can bike and explore on your own…or just relax in the spa and pool, or on your terrace in the hammock. Madre Tierra is the perfect spot to do all.
The first time we visited, we enjoyed the special 7-night package that included 12 hours of spa service, six special dinners, and the Superior King Suite. On this most recent three-day special, besides the two massages in the full-service spa, I couldn’t resist adding on a facial, and a manicure and pedicure. Don’t hesitate to book your spa visits before you arrive.
There’s good reason that Trip Advisor has voted Madre Tierra winner of the Travelers’ Choice award five years in a row, and it’s rated the #1 Hotel in Vilcabamba. Enjoy your stay!
Contact Madre Tierra: they are bilingual, and their staff are incredibly sweet and will respond to all inquiries quickly.
USA Phone: 1-509-723-4896
Ecuador Mobile: + 593 099 446 4972
Ecuador Landline: + 593 7 264 0362