My Secret Find: A Penthouse by the Sea in Ecuador

Here are some of the reasons I’ve been a fan of La Entrada, a small fishing village three hours northwest of Guayaquil: Hearty breakfasts on the terrace at Villa de Los Suenos, in English, the House of Dreams (http://www.villadelossuenosecuador.com/); enormous langostinos and fish delivered fresh-off-the-boat and ready to grill; long beach walks on a serene 8-mile beach and a sweet chocolate lab appropriately named Choco. 

It was sheer serendipity that brought me to Villa de Los Sueños in 2013 after meeting another New Yorker in Cusco, Peru. She was the most talkative stranger I’d ever met in a Starbucks — anywhere. Within minutes of claiming a seat next to me, Cheri was raving about a wonderful oceanfront villa in southern Ecuador. Soon after, I booked my stay.

Villa de Los Sueños is the best inn on the Ecuadorean coast, owned by delightful American retirees, Marsha and Shell Spivey, who built the place in 2012 with their residence downstairs and four suites on the two upper floors (from $90). I was there again last year (my fourth stay), after they’d completed a fourth-floor 800-square-foot suite-of-all suites that sports a full kitchen, furnished terrace, outdoor grill and Jacuzzi. I’d never seen a comparable penthouse at such an unbelievable rate, from $150.

One of the best aspects of Villa de Los Sueños is its location: Marsha and Shell scored a prime chunk of land for building a home, just high enough above the beach to catch cool breezes and offer wonderful views of the sea, especially from the main terrace where they serve a huge breakfast every morning. That’s also the spot I gravitated to for sigh-worthy sunsets and sightings of breaching humpbacks — more than 2,000 whales of different species migrate here, their warm-water breeding ground, in late June and stay through early October.

La Entrada is a not a tourist town and has limited dining options. But I found this speck of a village totally authentic — fishing boats motored out through the waves before sunset and pulled up on the beach with their catch at dawn. And it doesn’t get more genuine than the lunch plate of the day, soup and juice ($3.50 and the only option) served in front of Señora Betty’s house. I was told that the village is proud of its main street attraction, Los Dulces de Benito. Ecuadoreans who know Benito from his days as the pastry chef at a top hotel in Guayaquil drive hours to La Entrada for his divine cakes like the carrot/pineapple one that’s part of the breakfast buffet at Villa de Los Sueños.

I loved being able to hop on a bus right outside the villa’s front gate and ride a couple miles down the coast to Montanita for 50 cents ($5 by taxi) for lunch or dinner: Brick-oven pizza at Marea, Italian favorites at Pigro and Mediterranean food at Rocio’s. Other times Marsha ordered seafood for me from fishing families in La Entrada, which I grilled myself in the poolside cabana.

About 35 minutes north of La Entrada, the small port of Puerto Lopez is the jumping off place for all sorts of adventures offered by Machalilla Tours (http://www.machalillatours.org/index_EN.php/): Whale-watching cruises, dive trips and visits to Machalilla National Park. My favorite excursion involved a 90-minute boat ride to Isla de la Plata, which got its name from a legend that this was the place where pirate Sir Francis Drake buried a chest full of silver. There I trudged up 180 steps to see the blue- and red-footed boobies, frigate birds and waved albatrosses.

I also spent many happy hours beachcombing with Choco, who could always manage to fit large rocks, giant seashells and even four tennis balls in his mouth. According to Marsha and Shell, he was a naughty pup during the construction, stealing carpenters tools and knocking over paint cans. But when the villa was finished, Choco matured almost overnight, perhaps realizing he was a pretty lucky dog to live at the “house of dreams.” 

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