By now, most travelers know that dining experiences have become an enormous part of the travel “buzz.” Four and five star restaurants are touted in glossy travel magazines, and there are so many “foodie” tours on the market, a really determined appetite could eat its way around the world.
Although we at Wildland Adventures certainly understand the importance of good, wholesome local food to the travel experience, we believe it is best consumed with a side of adventure and human connection. Cacao y Mango Finca, located approximately 25 miles from Guayaquil, satisfies through all courses!
This lovely 12 hectare finca (farm) has been in the Lara family for 65 years. Last century, government-owned mangrove forests were divided into 12 hectare plots and granted to farmers to encourage settlement. Through the generations, the Lara family has created not only abundance of crops…cacao, mangos, dragon fruit, plantains, lemon grass, spices…they are blending their farming expertise with adventure tourism in nearby Manglares-Churute Ecological Reserve. The reserve encompasses 50,000 hectares of meandering mangrove waterways, dry tropical forest and salt flats. Lara son, Jiro, is a guide in the reserve that served as his backyard while growing up. He developed an expert eye for spotting the birds which inhabit the salt flats – roseate spoonbills, osprey, horned screamers - as well as the forest dwellers - mantled howler monkeys and white-fronted capuchins, armadillo and tigrillos (a small spotted cat similar to ocelots) badgers and tortoises. A relaxing canoe ride among the mangroves reveals the richness of this environment to those who slow down and live within it for a few brief hours.
Back at the finca, youngest sister, Ninfa, is a 20-something dynamo with a firm grip on the “foodie” tourism wave. A student in tourism at the Universidad de Guayaquil, NInfa has a true gift for the culinary arts, cooking up delicious lunches for hungry travelers who were up pre-dawn to see the wildlife of Manglares. Wildland Adventurers tour the farm fields and orchards with Ninfa, roast and skin cacao beans, then grind them up for heavenly concoctions created in Ninfa’s open-air kitchen with its river view. Cooking classes incorporate the bounty of Cacao y Mango, from appetizers through dessert…perhaps an unlikely pairing of freshly ground cacao and newly-cut lemongrass in a delightful chocolate-citrus tea, while chickens from the farm may be the centerpiece of lunch, roasted then finished with a fresh and zingy ginger-tomato salsa. If you’re lucky, dessert will be an unbelievably delicious torta of airy banana cake, fresh semi-sweet cacao spread, and mango mousse topping.
To spend a day with the Lara family observing wildlife in the Manglares-Churute Reserve, then sharing a meal at the finca afterwards is to step into 65 years of the family’s commitment to mindful stewardship of this land. It’s a very personal connection to real lives and real people of Ecuador. For our guest traveling to the Galapagos, flying into Guayaquil a day or two early makes it easy to add this memorable visit!
Keeping it wild,