BEAUTIFUL place but HORRIBLE service and staff. The highlights of this review will be: an inn owner who takes his tank-like SUV and BLOCKS THE EXIT to his guests of honor (a bride and groom with their family and friends); a hotel staff that cannot even find their hotel’s rooms upon guest check-in and who then bars wedding guests’ entrance to the reception hall, forcing them to WAIT IN THE RAIN in their formal clothes; and DIRTY glasses, NO FOOD at the agreed-upon hour, warm beer, and sneering staff at a wedding . So if you have a few minutes, stick around and read on! We hope this will spare you from the NIGHTMARE of being a victim of this hotel’s dishonest, greedy, and idiotic staff.
In July of 2009, we made the gargantuan mistake of celebrating our WEDDING at El Carmelo Hosteria in Mindo, Ecuador, and have regretted it ever since. 6 months later, I still have nightmares about it sometimes. To (attempt to) make a long story short, we (myself, an American, and my husband, an Ecuadorian) entered into a contractual agreement with Ramiro Lopez (the principal Quito contact and son of the owner of the inn) about 2 months before our wedding, which is planning WELL ahead by Ecuadorian standards. We negotiated all the prices and details to our satisfaction, then made a down payment equal to 50% of the total food- and service-related costs (the uncorking was the only thing that was to be charged afterwards).
Per the contract, 3 weeks before the big day we went to do a taste test of the foods chosen for the menu. This should have been our first indication that we were making a HUGE MISTAKE. We made an appointment, arrived punctually, and discovered Ramiro wasn’t even there; his considerably less amiable sister, Daniela, informed us that she would now be in charge of most of the planning details from then on. We were told that we would have to wait “a bit”—probably an hour—for the food to be ready, which itself was ridiculous enough since we already had an appointment, but we shrugged our shoulders, ignored our grumbling stomachs, and settled down to play some foosball. It took them MORE THAN 2 HOURS to prepare 1 grilled tilapia and 1 chicken breast, plus shrimp appetizer and a couple salads! RIDICULOUS, especially considering we had made this appointment days before, and on top of that, there was 1 OTHER TABLE to serve! When our waiter finally brought the food, he practically sneered at us and acted like it was a huge inconvenience when we asked for some condiments.
We should have backed out right then and there, but as there were only weeks to go to the wedding and we had no back-up plan, we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. One week before the wedding, we went to pay the balance and to decide upon floral arrangements and tablecloths, etc. Everything seemed okay, and indeed we were reassured and told not to worry, although I (the bride) was pressured to finish an English translation of their website before my wedding (this was part of an informal agreement between Ramiro and I that he would give me an extra room for 2 guests in exchange for a translation of material that he still had not forwarded to me). I said that I would do my best, but that it might have to wait since we were expecting out-of-town guests and preparing for a WEDDING, for God’s sake!
The day of the wedding arrived, and like many wedding parties, we were running late. We arrived at El Carmelo Inn 2 hours before the ceremony was set to start. I was a bit nervous and stressed and would have loved some reassurance and capability, but was fated to get the opposite. Neither Ramiro nor Daniela was present upon our arrival, and we and the guests who were staying at the Inn were greeted by an incompetent man we’d never met. I gave him the plan of the table set-up (which was quite simple since there were only 50-some guests, and they would be using plastic picnic tables), we gave him the cake to be stored in a safe, cool place, and gave him the wine to chill. Then, he supposedly showed us to our rooms, but he COULDN’T FIND the 5th room and forced me, THE BRIDE, to RUN back and forth and up and down stairs in search of it! (I might add here that this problem was caused by the completely idiotic decision to put room number placards only at the TOP of the stairs—our rooms were “tree houses”—and there are no signs or anything at the bottom, which causes huge problems when you’re trying to find a room in the middle of a forest, especially at night). He never did find the room—or at least he never showed us to it—and my sister was forced to share a room with my Dad. In the midst of all this, he asked me what time I wanted the reception dinner to be served (the contract stipulated 5:00), and I hurriedly told him that since we were a bit behind, between 6 and 6:30 would be good for dinner. I assumed it was obvious that this meant that they’d have to have SOMETHING—shrimp, salad, whatever—ready when the guests began to arrive, and hurried off to get ready for my big day. This moment would later come back to bite me in the butt.
During the ceremony, torrential rain began to pour down, causing power outages. But no big deal, you can’t control these things; in fact, you should EXPECT them in Mindo because they HAPPEN ALL THE TIME. What you CAN control is your reaction to and preparedness for such events. Here too we were disappointed, and drastically so. A little before 5:00, I called Daniela to let her know the guests were coming and to get reassurance as to things being ready. Wrong. She sounded was panicked about the when she answered. I asked her to PLEASE have something—again, shrimp or salad—ready to eat as soon as possible. She promised they were working on it.
Here’s the part that really makes my blood boil. I heard about this only after the fact. Since it was still raining and there was nothing else they could do, many of the guests arrived about 20 minutes before schedule. Rather than being shown to the lobby, where they could have at least been dry, they were MADE TO WAIT IN THE RAIN. The hotel staff peeked their heads out of the door of the reception hall to say that things were still not ready, the BARRED THE DOOR and refused to let anyone in. The minutes went by and they still weren’t ready at 5:00. Honestly, who CARES if the tables aren’t set up?! Don’t make people in formal clothes wait in the rain!!! At least show them to the lobby, IDIOTS!!! And WHY in God’s name weren’t things ready early, or at least on time?! According to the hotel staff, because of the rain. Come on! Does rain prevent you from setting up picnic tables and chairs? And shouldn’t they have figured it was likely to rain in a CLOUD FOREST? I certainly did!
By the time my husband and I (the groom and bride) arrived (well after 5:00), the tables were at least set up, but the speakers weren’t there (as they were supposed to be according to the contract), the beer and drinks were warm since they’d merely slapped a block of ice on top of the drink cases, and general chaos prevailed. I was angry but calmly asked Daniela what was happening. She again blamed the rain and reassured me that they were doing the best they could. Ha! As the night went on, it became clear that either they didn’t care about making our wedding a pleasant experience since they’d already gotten the majority of their money, or else they were complete idiots who had never even thrown a birthday party! Here’s what they meant by their “best” effort: 1) glasses that still had price stickers on them and dust inside them; 2) a very limited selection of music despite their reassurances that they had a vast music library; 3) grabbing any glass they could find—even used, lipstick-marked glasses—and serving cocktails to guests with them; 4) giving children’s portions of food to what were clearly adults, and vice versa; 5) employees/ servers standing around and chatting to each other while some of them sneered at some of us and let the bride and groom distribute the wedding cake and serve other food and drink; 6) having at the last minute changed the floral arrangements and decorations without even informing us; 7) specially-ordered vegetarian and other meals only being ready nearly an hour after the other dishes, thereby forcing those special-needs guests to eat something they hadn’t ordered; 8) the dinner itself being mediocre, different than ordered, and late; 9) having let the wedding cake partially melt and get otherwise damaged…The list GOES ON and I won’t continue to bore you with it. Suffice it to say that, rather than being able to sit back and enjoy our food and our special occasion, we—the BRIDE AND GROOM—were so focused on attempting to keep smiles on our faces despite the things we were seeing and the complaints we were constantly receiving from our embarrassed family and friends that these problems were all we remember afterward! Sheer bitterness and disappointment made us wake up at 5:00 AM the next morning after getting only 4 hours of sleep.
When we checked out later that day, we were prepared to calmly but firmly demand the 20% discount that had been promised to my sister-in-law the night before in light of all the problems. When we asked for the promised discount, the employee in question denied point-blank ever having made this promise, and we—still as calm and firm as ever—began to briefly enumerate the problems we’d experienced. I said that I didn’t want to go into details or get involved in an argument the day after my wedding, that we would talk about things the coming week, and reiterated that we’d been promised the discount. At this point Daniela began to pout, saying she’d apologized last night and asking why I was complaining now if last night I accepted her apology and didn’t say much. I explained that I hadn’t wanted to have a screaming match (which is very much was I felt like initiating) the day of my wedding and reminded her that I had merely thanked her for the apology and said we’d need to talk things through later. At this point we were all extremely frustrated, and my dad suggested leaving without paying the remaining balance since that corresponded to the promised 20% discount. We prepared to leave, but Daniela and Ramiro’s father stormed in at that point, shouted something about “this isn’t how things work in this country!”and drove his giant tank-like SUV around to the exit to block it and prevent us from leaving. Furious but still rational and reasonable, we decided to just pay the remaining balance. They “generously” gave us 20% off the remainder, which only amounted to pennies in the grand scheme of things. The barricade was removed and we left thoroughly upset, my dad shouting that he’d see them in court (which of course we never followed through on and they probably didn’t understand anyway, seeing as how none of them speaks much English).
That’s my nightmare wedding story. If even one person reads even some of this and decides to avoid El Carmelo as a result, I will be very happy. If you’re considering staying at El Carmelo and are lured by its undeniable beauty, may the idea of a thoroughly dishonest and incompetent staff prevent you from making the mistake we did. Go to Luis and Susan’s Kaskaffesu instead- they’re wonderful people and it’s a cute place. Or try El Jardin de Eden, which is also cute and very affordable. Whatever you do, please DON’T GIVE THESE IDIOTS at el Carmelo a penny.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.