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“Birding Heaven”
Review of Cabanas San Isidro

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Cabanas San Isidro
Certificate of Excellence
Caz, NY
Level 3 Contributor
15 reviews
7 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 20 helpful votes
“Birding Heaven”
Reviewed November 29, 2011

We just returned from a 9-day trip to Ecuador. The purpose of the trip was strictly birding. We stayed one night at Guango Lodge so that we could be there at first light in the morning. The rooms are small, but so cozy and quaint with stone walls and curved ceilings. There are thick wool blankets on the beds which were needed as this lodge is at about 9000' altitude. Hot water bottles were served up before bedtime. They kept our feet warm and made us feel so comfortable. The food was very good. The birds were outstanding! There are many hummingbird feeders and many hummingbird species. Some of my best photos of the trip are from the feeders at Guango. A beautiful mountain stream runs alongside the lodge and you can find torrent ducks and white-capped dippers there. The only negative is that the road from Papallacta to Baeza runs close by and traffic noise might be an issue if you like to sleep late.

Our next stop was Cabanas San Isidro. We stayed 6 nights and did not want to leave. The cabins are scattered about the lovely grounds. Ours was at the far end, so we had the forest as a neighbor. The balcony and sitting area looked out on the Guacamayos Ridge for a beautiful view. The room is huge with two double beds and a large closet with big roomy shelves for stowing your stuff. Ask for a room with a balcony. Some just have little porches by the front doors. We had both. Our balcony was a great spot for watching birds, reading and journal-writing when we weren't out enjoying the marvelous network of trails every day.

The food was AMAZING! It was all very fresh and delicious. If you're lucky you will have Carmen's black pepper ice-cream with ginger syrup served on a slice of babaco. Or how about passion fruit mousse? Or seafood ceviche for lunch?

There are hummingbird feeders all over the grounds and an orchid garden. The trails go on and on through the beautiful cloud forest. We were there in November. It was technically the dry season, but that just means it rains less than it does during the rainy season. We had beautiful sunny mornings. The clouds would start to build up around noon or early afternoon and by late afternoon it would rain. The rain sometimes lasted all night, but always stopped in the morning. The temps were probably in the 50's at night, and up to the low 70's in the day. Very pleasant. A light jacket was all I needed and usually a tee shirt was sufficient. Bugs were not a problem. Bring sunscreen. Altitude at San Isidro is about 6700'.

Room Tip: Ask for a room with a balcony.
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  • Stayed November 2011, traveled as a couple
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5 Thank suhoopfan44
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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104 reviews from our community

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  • Danish first
  • English first
  • French first
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  • Russian first
  • Spanish first
  • Any
English first
Chicago, Illinois
Level 5 Contributor
81 reviews
63 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 124 helpful votes
Reviewed July 31, 2011

We stayed at Guango one night, and San Isidro for 3 nights. The weather was mixed, with one day on which it never stopped raining. The advice from a previous reviewer to avoid the wet season is good, but such weather can be survived. We still managed to see more than 120 different kinds of birds, including cock-of-the-rock, antpitta, condor, quetzel, forest falcon, tanagers, etc. The staff is warm and welcoming, the food is amazingly good and interesting, and we were lucky to meet Mrs Carmen Bustamante one of the days we were there. She had arranged a wonderful package for us; we had a fabulous English-speaking bird guide, William Perez, who picked us up in Quito and who shared his extensive knowledge, bird finding skills and good humor with us for four wonderful days in this very special part of Ecuador.

  • Stayed July 2011, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
Thank Bozotraveller
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Sacramento, California
Level 4 Contributor
44 reviews
19 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 32 helpful votes
Reviewed July 9, 2011

We stayed four nights (one night in Guango) to finish off our cloud forest birding vacation to Ecuador. Highly recommended though we'd advise avoiding the rainy season of June, July and August here. Somehow we missed that crucial information in the guidebook. If you do come at this time, you probably want to ask for a heater to be put in your room.

It didn't rain ALL the time, so we enjoyed hiking and birdwatching every day, and the comforts of the lodge and cabin. A great place to rest and relax. Orchid garden also a plus but the wonderful birds that enjoy the lodge grounds were the highlight. We had the services of a spanish speaking local guide and also had good experiences seeing birds with the drivers also. Highlight was visiting the biological research station nearby - Yanayacu - and seeing the details of documenting the cloud forest butterfly and bird life histories.

If you are serious about your birdwatching and don't know Spanish, check into guided trips with English speaking guides. There are opportunities to combine this visit with visits to other nearby locations, at lower elevations in the Oriente, and also with a day at Antisana National Park for high elevation birding. Most people probably stay at Guango one night and San Isidro one or two nights. But with a car or a guide, there is a lot more to do in the area - meriting longer stay.

Cabanas is a place committed to quality ecotourism, birdwatching, conservation, education and research. The food is not to be missed - highly recommended for those interested in exploring local fruits and vegetables, herbs and sauces. A unique place in a rare and fascinating environment.

  • Stayed July 2011, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
2 Thank Jaysacto
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Lima
Level 1 Contributor
2 reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 5 helpful votes
Reviewed May 10, 2011

We didn't have to be ornitologists to realize that in the two days we spent in San Isidro, we saw less birds than at any given moment in our garden in Lima where we live. I don't know why, if it is the birds fault or what, but there just were no birds. My wife an I love nature, so when we started planing our Ecuador round trip by car, we wanted to include two days in an eco-lodge. Most people like to go to Mindo on the western slope, but we had read some good things about San Isidro on the eastern slope and after looking at their fabulous Website, we were hooked. Carmen Bustamante, the owner who reportedly studied hotellerie and gastronomie, replied our mail and we reserved a double room for two days on a full board plan, which cost USD 434 with taxes, amount that Carmen took off my credit card 10 days before our arrival. Strange things you see sometimes and I wonder if Carmen can really do that, what about the right of cancelation and all those rules in the hotel world?

What the heck, with Carmen's hotellerie and gastronomie we were bound to have a real treat worth all those USD 434. I announced our arrival to Carmen, May 3 before lunch and to have my gin and tonic ready. Finally we drove in and got confused right away. There are no signs whatsoever, you either drive straight on to where there are some houses, or go to the left where there are also some houses, we opted for left. There was a wooden shack with a squeeking door. Inside some long tables like a canteen, a door at the back through which a jung man with rubber boots and a safary hat emerged and I said, sorry, I'm looking for the reception. I'm the reception, my name is Mainor and I will show you to your room. The room was on the other side, about 5 minutes walking. The rooms are very nice, spacious, with two queen size beds, two launch chairs for reading and a balcony looking into the forest.

After unpacking we went to the shack-reception-lounge-restaurant and there was Mainor and I asked where is the waiter. I'm the waiter he said. Well then please bring me a gin and tonic. Off he went through the back door leading to the kitchen and came back a while later and said I can only give you a gin ad tonic without tonic, because we have no tonic. As it turned out later, it is not only tonic water they don't have, they have no soft drinks at all, not even mineral water, but Mainor kept going into the kitchen every time as though he was looking for something he knew he was unable to provide. Carmen actually never showed up for one simple reason: she is never there, she is in Quito and Mainor is supposed to run the place as receptionist, waiter, gardener and you name it, while Sandra the cook also cleanes the rooms and makes the beds. Those are the only two people we saw all the time and amazingly we were the only two guests in the place.

World famous original food as you have never had it before! We serve a buffet so nobody goes hungry! This is not mine, it is copied from their Website. Surely we never saw any buffet. If Sandra's cooking is world famous she surely didn't make any efforts to prove it. With the little means the Quito office provides to her, she can hardly produce any gourmet food at all. In the cabin's area they have a bar. Well, not exactly, don't expect a barman shaking cocktails, it's a self service bar, wth some bottles of current chilean wines and some bottles of beer in a little fridge, no soft drinks, remember. That place is actually a reading room and consists of one sofa and two launch chairs. There are 4 lamps hanging from the ceiling, hardly appropiated for reading, specially when one of the lamps is burnt.

Next day we decided to try out one of their trails and asked Mainoir for a leaflet or a map. He was out of them he said and proceeded to make a drawing on the back of a used sheet of paper. We chose the trail he named "easy" going from the back of the shack-reception-lounge-restaurant. Beware about that "easy". You start going steeply down on a very slippery ground. There are no signs of any kind, no rails and you are on your own if you break a leg, because the whole course is extremely treacherous and it takes nearly two hours of strenuous walking up and down until you come out again on the other side of the shack, totally exhausted. Surely there are no birds on ground level in the forest, besides, you are much to busy watching your steps. And that was it! While I sit here writing I can see a full board plan in a top notch hotel in Punta Cana for two persons and two days for USDollars 270. What a shameful waste of time and money, Carmen.

Stayed May 2011, traveled as a couple
Helpful?
4 Thank valda3us
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
London, United Kingdom
Level 1 Contributor
4 reviews
4 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 13 helpful votes
Reviewed April 6, 2011

First of all, it's misleading for tripadvisor to list these two hotels as one, and doubly misleading to list them under Quito. All they have in common is that they are owned by the same couple. It took my driver at least three hours to drive to Guango from Quito - the nearest main town is Papallacta. It took another couple of hours to get to San Isidro, which is near Cosanga.

San Isidro is rightly known as a great destination for birders. It has strong ownership links to an international birding tour agency, who run many tours through there. It's well set up for birding, with feeders and a viewing terrace and many birds can be seen at close range from around the lodge in the morning, feeding on insects attracted by the hotel's night lighting.

Food at San Isidro is excellent and unexpectedly adventurous. The menu is obviously created by someone who has studied the art of cookery (Carmen, the owner).

Service was good when Carmen was there, less so when she left. Everyone disappeared on my last night at 8 p.m. sharp - and I mean everyone. I was kicked out of the restaurant, so had to sit outside in the dark to get the wifi - a bit spooky as I was the only person staying in the hotel.

Accomodation: My newly-built room would have been very nice but it stank of drains (some chemical), so I slept very badly. The next day I left my front door open all day, left all the windows open and closed the bathroom door, which helped a lot.

Birding: If you don't go with Mitch's (owner's husband) tour, don't expect to be told (or your guide to be told) where special birds are. I thought this was odd for a supposed bird lodge. I managed to latch on to another couple who were staying there, and their guide, to see the owl, antpitta and a quetzal, which otherwise I would have missed.

Having said that I saw some great views of the regular birds and this one of the best places for photographing birds that I visited in Ecuador. Since birding was my main interest, San Isidro gets four stars. It would have got 4 1/2 if the room hadn't stunk - I think they'll probably sort this out in time. And it would have got 5 if someone there had been interested in finding me more birds…

San Isidro is a gorgeous, remote place, with great views and extensive grounds. So great birds, great food, but the fun you will have to provide yourself, or travel with a group. All in all, I really enjoyed my stay there.

Now Guango. A cold, damp place right next to the main road linking Quito to the oil refineries of the east - so trucks rumble past all day and night. Guango's grounds are small, compared to San Isidro, and bisected by that main road. The upper half of their land overlooks the main road and is not very scenic. You have to cross the main road to get there, which is quite hairy.

The lower parts of their grounds are quite good for birding. They lead down to a fast-moving river. Mitch's groups turned up for lunch a couple of times, with a quick hunt for torrent duck and white-capped dipper and an inspection of the hummer feeders, where you might see sword-billed hummingbird. Then they whizzed off. Very few people seemed to spend the night there, while I was there, which I could understand because you would only come here for birding, and half a day to a day is about as much as you need to spend here.

The food was OK at Guango but the service absolutely appalling. There was no-one in charge when I arrived. No receptionist, no manager, just a cook. When I asked her about bird guides she replied we don't have any here and I don't know anything about them. Which panicked me as I thought this was some kind of a bird lodge run by one of the best known birding companies in the world - I didn't know she was just a cook as I had just arrived and had been told by the gateman that she would tell me about birds, trails and guides. I told her if she couldn't get me a guide I might have to leave, and she said fine! I was gobsmacked, having already paid for three days… After a few hours she phoned the owner (Carmen), who, after arguing her case, relented and agreed to try and find me a guide, who duly turned up the next morning. He wasn't exactly overworked, working only a few days a month, so I really don't know what the problem was.

To be honest, I just couldn't understand the attitude, either from Carmen (who it turns out is actually a very nice person) or from the cook-manager, no matter what the fine print in the emails we had exchanged earlier had been. The management of this place was the worst I saw in Ecuador and that's saying something. The real manager did turn up for about 24 hrs when Mitch's tours turned up, then the manager disappeared again back to Quito, where apparently he is studying (??)

Transport from Guango is very expensive. It cost $50 to go to Papallacta (to check my email) and back, plus an hour's birding - Papallacta is about 10-15 miles away. When I expressed surprise the manager suggested that next time I hire a car from Quito, and gave me the spiel about how the taxi driver doesn't live in Guango and has to come from Papallacta… Although $50 is not much by western standards, in a country where you can eat a big meal for $2 it seems a rip off. Compare with Mindo, where you can get a taxi for an hour for half the price or less.

So, Guango gets one star from me, mostly for the lousy reception. If I could do it again I would have done like Mitch and his group - arrive in the morning, find the duck and dipper, have lunch, see the hummers, leave in the afternoon. Beware though, you can't eat if you haven't booked in advance. One couple arrived at lunch and just wanted a sandwich to get them through to the evening but cook said no!

Stayed March 2011, traveled solo
Helpful?
10 Thank mac_bird_2010
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Richmond, Virginia
Level 3 Contributor
18 reviews
15 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 14 helpful votes
Reviewed April 3, 2011

We stayed only at Cabanas San Isidro. What an incredible place! The accommodations here are spacious, very comfortable, and immaculately clean. The extensive network of trails traverses some of the most stunningly beautiful cloud forest we have experienced anywhere. For bird watchers, it is hard to imagine a more superb destination. The staff were exceedingly accommodating and helpful, and our guide for hikes did a great job of locating bird species that would have been impossible for us to find on our own. For anyone interested in a cloud forest experience, this place would be hard to beat. The greatest surprise was the food. Despite being in the wilds, the foods were absolutely world class quality. Using local fresh produce, but using international themes, the meals prepared for us were consistently of gourmet quality. Staying here just to experience the food would not be unreasonable!

Room Tip: Request cabin with balcony
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  • Stayed February 2011, traveled with friends
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Helpful?
1 Thank ERP444
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Isle of Man, United Kingdom
Level 6 Contributor
360 reviews
238 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 417 helpful votes
Reviewed January 19, 2011

We had planned to do some day trips from our Base in Quito especially to the Papallacta Pass area but had problems in getting what we sought through our Base.
A friend, put me on to other friends and via this route I got to meet Mrs Carmen Bustamente and San Isidro. What a great find. We were just talking about a guide for the day but were attracted by her two day one night visit to San Isidro with bird guide etc., This was exactly what we wanted. Indeed had we had longer to plan the trip would have been extended to two or more nights. As it was we were happy to give up a pre-paid night at Base to go to San Isidro. The package included early pick up in Quito, slow drive birdng over Papallacta with stops as needed to end up at San Isidro for the evening and more birding. Inclusive of Meals and birding guide. Next day a return journey after lunch with all meals and many stops. It worked exactly to plan. Our pick up by Gabriel was to the minute and he was a great guide and careful driver. We took the back roads over Papallacta and saw many new species. Then up to the Antenna for more. and so it went on for the rest of the day.
Evening found us at San Isidro and we straight away took to this place as just perfect.
Roomy Cabanas with Balcony. H&C and all facilities. Nice comfy bed. There is even a communal lounge buidling with an Honesty box Bar with beer and wine. Hammocks for loungeing whilst watching Humming birds at the many feeders plus other creatures..
After dark and an excellent dinner in the restaurant we even got to see the Mystery Owls. New species or race of existing? We do not know but we saw em. Next day we did a drive in the reserve and found even more wildlife to add to our lists.
All in all, Carmen and San Isidro is one of the better finds I have made in my life. Quite how I did not find this sooner and build it into the Itinerary is something I shall regret for a long time. I would have loved at least three nights here.
But we had a great time and must be grateful for the time we did have.
Thank you Carmen for your excellent hospitality.

  • Stayed January 2011, traveled as a couple
    • Value
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Helpful?
2 Thank mfuwe
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Cabanas San Isidro

Property: Cabanas San Isidro
Address: Via Cosanga | Caucheras, Km 3, Cosanga 150751, Ecuador
Location: Ecuador > Napo Province > Cosanga
Amenities:
Bar / Lounge Business Center with Internet Access Free Parking Children Activities (Kid / Family Friendly) Restaurant Airport Transportation
Hotel Style:
Ranked #1 of 1 Specialty Lodging in Cosanga
Price Range (Based on Average Rates): $$
Number of rooms: 14
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
Cabanas San Isidro, a large reserve with some of the best access to primary mid elevation cloud forest in Ecuador, is renowned for its world class birding, exotic cuisine and outstanding conservation ethic. Our extensive trail system will lead you through gorgeous forest to a Cock-of-the-Rock lek, waterfalls, rivers and even archaeological sites. Fun activities for kids! ... more   less 
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Also Known As:
Cabanas San Isidro And Guango Hotel Quito
Cabanas San Isidro Ecuador/Cosanga

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