For more than 20 years, Río Muchacho, 17 kilometers north of Canoa , has been a beacon of good ecological practice in a country where commercial and environmental concerns all too often come into conflict.
The fact that the farm exists at all is due to the power of nature. This region had been the victim of coffee farmers’ slash-and-burn practices in the mid-20th century and was reduced to useless scrubland until 10 months of torrential rain during the 1982–1983 El Niño climate pattern led to a complete regeneration of the ecosystem. In 1989, local Dario Proaño and New Zealander Nicola Mears opened the Ecuadorian coast’s first organic farm.
The project quickly became a great success, and the farm currently supports 92 Montubio families, all living from a combination of sustainable farming, tourism, and handicrafts. All toilets are composted, there are solar panels for electricity, and there’s no trash allowed anywhere on the farm. There’s also a local primary school with its own tailor-made environmentally-focused curriculum.
Visitors can learn all about the farm’s practices and get involved in production on organized tours. The one-day itinerary (from $30 pp) tours the farm, the school, and the crops and includes hiking through the forest to see a 130-year-old strangler fig tree. Guests then learn how to make jewelry out of tagua seeds and make their own chocolate.
The two-day and three-day (from $115 pp) tours include horseback riding into the rainforest to hear the howler monkeys, swimming under waterfalls, and classes on how to make yucca bread, roast coffee, and catch freshwater shrimp before eating a well-earned organic dinner of everything that has been harvested.
Rates include accommodations in rustic eco-cabins. Contact Río Muchacho’s office in Canoa  (3 de Noviembre and Javier Santos, tel. 5/261-6384, www.riomuchacho.com ) or Guacamayo Tours in Bahía de Caráquez  (Bolívar 902 at Arenas, tel. 5/269-1412).