Gateway to the Province of El Oro
By now, we all know that Ecuador is beautiful, natural, biodiverse and full of adventure and our Google searches tell us so. Then there are the hidden gems that pepper this small country that make it magical. From the beaches of the coast to the mystic Amazon, to the paradise of the Galapagos, to our own enchanting Sierra, this little bit of South America has it all. I am awestruck by the majesty of the Andes that dominates our mountain city of Cuenca, the ever-present and always-changing dynamic that we share with these peaks covered by fog and clouds during the early hours, clearing to the naked eye when skies permit. The rivers that flow through our city cutting through rocks and land connect us to the abundance of our home. At times, Cuenca is cold and rainy, and while I love the changing weather, at times we need something different, something warm and luxurious.
To be honest, I am not the most well-informed traveler. There is so much to know about Ecuador that the reviews and first-hand accounts of life-long adventurers often becomes information saturation. When I encounter something unique or challenging to the imagination, I have to investigate further and find out all about it. This is what happened to me when I came across this one-of-a-kind resort.
Located in the province of El Oro, bordering Azuay, is the spectacular Hillary Nature Resort & Spa, sprung from the imagination of developers and brought to life by hard-working staff members it boasts of pools, restaurants, services, nature walks, extreme sports, and even a zoo! This place embodies the diversity of Ecuador, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to take you on a tour, to explore and appreciate what we have here at Hillary Nature Resort & Spa.
The Province of El Oro, literally the golden province, is famed for its history of gold mining. More recently, however, its chief export is another golden delicacy, the banana and El Oro is Ecuador's major exporter of this delicious commodity. The province capital is Machala, renowned for its beauty, architecture, tropical climate and lovely people. It is a small city that lends itself to the creative, with lush lands awaiting discovery, its cuisine amongst the best in Ecuador and its people among the friendliest. El Oro is home to Jambelí Island and Ecuador's southernmost beach that remains untouched and almost unknown to the beach-going crowds. Here fishermen still practice ancient skills while the Petrified Forest of the Puyango River stands still in time. The area is home to 130 different bird species and multitudes of butterflies. The island of Santa Clara, about an hour's boat-ride away, hosts species native to the Galapagos, like blue-footed boobies, sea lions, and dolphins and in July and August gives one of the best views of humpback whales migrating to warmer waters. If all of this sounds amazing, it is. You can pan for gold, see relics of history, you can soak in the sun and enjoy the freshest fish cooked to perfection, or just wander through the lush greenery photographing birds and butterflies as they float effortlessly from flower to tree and into the immense blue sky.
Hillary Nature Resort & Spa (in the canton of Arenillas) is a convenient 3.5 hour drive from Cuenca. It embodies both the province of El Oro and of Ecuador with its stellar service and a chance to behold nature while wandering tended hiking trails, ziplining through the forest, or sitting by magnificent pools. There is even an enormous convention center for those who prefer mixing business with pleasure.
Fauna, native to the area is protected and well-cared for in a zoo sanctioned by the government. The oso de anteojos (spectacled bear) a native of the Andean region, waits for us with the shape of his glasses etched into his fur. In turn, his friend, the ocelot, a big tropical cat from the Amazon region, gracefully stalks from one end to the other. Crocodiles, birds, snakes, toucans, and huge tortoises all find sanctuary here, impeccably tended to and kept in comfort as a testament to the wild biodiversity of this country.
If you are the sportive-type, there is much to do. From practicing your tennis or golf swings, kicking a ball around on the soccer fields, playing volleyball with friends to mountain biking, climbing the big wall or ziplining through the canopy of trees, the limit of how you spend your day here exists only in your imagination. Hike trails meant to inspire and indulge, swim in pools to practice your breaststroke as the kids play in a fantastic aquatic park and squeal with delight enjoying their bit of paradise. A dragon-shaped train takes children through the grounds, enchanting them with the anticipation of what's to come. Unlimited snacks and drinks (soda, juice, and water for the kids and more potent concoctions for adults) are included, so you can while away the time in comfort letting the staff care for your every need.
Once the fatigue of so much activity has captivated your muscles, there is an entire spa to whisk you away to relaxation. Smells of jasmine, eucalyptus, orange blossoms, and ginger greet and detox you as water jets massage the tension of exertion out of your body. Steam rooms, jacuzzis, and cold showers prepare you to surrender to the skillful hands of a masseuse who detects and soothes the knots in shoulders and back muscles.
However, the body can only go so far without proper nourishment, and that is precisely what the restaurants and bars of Hillary Nature Resort & Spa cater to. An international buffet provides a variety of delights while a grill marks the perfect temperature for your steak. If you’re feeling particularly Asian, a sushi bar serves rolls and sashimi using the freshest fish available. There is even a spa restaurant that provides the healthiest, freshest food to complement their services. Bars serve unlimited drinks and snacks poolside and there is even a fast-food option for those who prefer hamburgers, hot dogs, and finger foods. With so many options, your tummy will be as well tended to as your body and mind.
Dancing, singing, talking with friends and making new ones is what makes nighttime fun and spontaneous. Nightly live shows featuring world-class entertainers tempt us away from retreating into the solace our rooms. The music and spirit echo through the halls and endow everything and everyone with the spark of life. No problem, we can all sleep late tomorrow; after all, this is a vacation!
Once you are ready to give in to the sweet temptation of sleep, it is all there waiting for you. With 147 rooms, each one beautifully furnished, and a presidential suite with a private pool, Hillary Nature Resort & Spa accommodates the most discriminating of tastes. If you are like me, dozing off in the comfort of fresh sheets and blankets surrounded by luxury after a hard day of activity and indulging one's senses is necessary and the rooms at this resort are perfectly appointed and large, with WiFi, a big screen TV and cable, and a gym to counter one’s more epicurean tendencies. Everything is tastefully decorated and luxurious, simply beautiful and mine, for a night or two.
The smiling faces that greet me and the caring hands that offer me a drink and tasty snack are genuine and fill me with the warmth of knowing that they just want me to enjoy what is here. The sprawling complex, with transportation provided, gives my imagination no rest, and with so much to do and see and be a part of, two days are not enough. This experience in Ecuador, surprises me - just one more of the hidden gems abounding in this country. However, life is what it is, and my responsibilities lie northward beneath the majesty of the Andes. Perhaps the best way to sum up this experience is in the words of President Correa upon his visit to Hillary Nature Resort & Spa. He expressed his heartfelt appreciation for this unique place by thanking the "visionary businessmen" who believed so much in their canton, their province, and their country, to develop this paradise and fill it with luxuries we think only exist in the world’s finest cities. Arenillas can now count itself amongst these. An excellent accomplishment, indeed!