Samari Spa Hotel earned a spot on Ciao Bambino’s 2015 favorite hotel discoveries with kids because it does an excellent job of being all things to all ages — it was a highlight of our three-week Ecuador family vacation. The colonial architecture sets a tone both romantic and mystical as fog rolls down the mountains and envelops the resort grounds. The romance continues for the kids as they discover the soccer field, playground and roaming peacocks.
As the name implies, Samari Spa Hotel is a place to unwind and relax and, as we discovered during a rainy-season visit in June, it’s a lifesaver when the rain is coming down in sheets. In a town known for adventure, the resort is an oasis after a long day of rafting, biking, canyoning or trekking in the jungle.
The main building, which houses the reception, restaurant and bar, is part of the original Jesuit monastery established in the mid-1700s. The subsequent hotel buildings and casitas mirror the same colonial style and are spread among 10 acres of grounds filled with gardens and areas for kids to run and play. Hotel buildings are connected by cobblestone pathways and stairs, with fountains and statues appearing unexpectedly throughout. There is a feeling of serenity here, aided by the surrounding nature that is always a factor when traveling in Ecuador.
The accommodation options for families at Samari Spa Hotel range from rooms with two beds to two-bedroom, two-bath bi-level casitas with fireplaces, which sleep up to six. To amateurs, it’s impossible to tell if the hotel buildings are 200 or 20 years old because the construction is so authentic.
The romantic feel continues with rose petals arranged on the beds for arriving guests. The kids appreciated this but were much more excited by the hot water bottles tucked into the sheets at turndown.
Multiple amenities for kids attract travelers as well as Ecuadorian families from Quito and surrounding communities. The indoor pool and spa are the piece de resistance. The pool is topped by a glass atrium with fresh air vents and surrounded by an artwork-lined corridor of spa treatment rooms. Lawn chairs sit on real grass, and there’s a sauna, jacuzzis, a steam room and a cold plunge pool. This is an easy place for parents to do a massage swap: One watches the kids and the other gets pampered.
When the weather cooperates, the playground and soccer field sit across from each other, allowing younger and older kids to play side-by-side.
Banos is considered the adventure capital of Ecuador and a gateway to the jungle. The area is loaded with waterfalls and high-adventure activities like gondola rides over canyons, thermal baths (originating from the active Tungurahua volcano, which overlooks the town) bungee jumping, rafting, canyoning down waterfalls and mountain biking. For younger kids or families looking for mellower activities, a day trip into the jungle is a highlight.
We used Geotours for our excursions in Banos. I had originally booked a very popular mountain biking trip to the waterfalls that I had done 20 years ago, but I quickly realized that even without the rain, this is better suited to teenagers than school-age kids. We did a one-day jungle tour, which I’d highly recommend for families who want a “jungle lite” experience with just enough adventure but not a lot of bugs.
At 3 hours from Quito, Banos is a weekend getaway and a very popular stop on the traveler’s circuit. Banos is modern city and does not have the colonial architecture that other Ecuadorian cities have, so staying in town is not a must. Samari Spa Hotel is a 5-minute cab ride into town; at less than $2 per ride, it’s not an inconvenience to stay outside the city. This is also one of only a few hotels in the area with a pool.
It’s not recommended for tourists to drive in Ecuador due to insurance rules and regulations. Most hotels have an arrangement for private transfers, or you can set them up on your own.
Banos has two seasons: wet and dry. The wettest months are June-August, and rainy season in Banos means that landslides are common on the road to the jungle and main waterfalls. There were multiple landslides every day we visited, with bulldozers permanently on location to clear away the mud. On our first day, the road was shut down completely, and on the second and third days we waited on the road several times for 15-20 minutes while slides were cleared off the road. This is important to know, as activity schedules may need to be adjusted based on the road conditions and having an indoor pool at the hotel is a huge bonus.
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Editor’s Note: Kristi received a media rate at Samari Spa Hotel to review the property. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Kristi Marcelle.
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