San Miguel (Ecuador)
San Miguel is a small afro-Ecuadorean community in Esmeraldas Province in northern Ecuador. The village is one of the bases for visiting the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, designated as one of the top 10 biodiversity hotspots in the world. The local community runs an ecotourism project to help preserve the local environment. There are also opportunities to teach English in the school.
Get in and out
There is a daily passenger boat to San Miguel from Borbón. The boat is run by the community of San Miguel. It’s their only way to transport people, food and other things between their community and the next access point to the public road net in Borbón. As this daily connection is financially challenging, they are happy about every passenger.
The daily passenger boat to San Miguel leaves at 9:30 am from the river port of Borbón. A phone call one or two days beforehand will assure that they are waiting. A ticket for the 4 hour trip is 10 Dollars. To return to Borbón, the boat leaves at 2:00 am. This is due to the fact that at night and in the morning it doesn’t rain as much as in the afternoon. It is recommended to put your baggage in a large plastic bag so that it will not become wet if it rains.
There are no roads to San Miguel or any other community around. There are not even walking paths connecting it with other communities. The only way to get there is by boat.
Right behind the community hotel of San Miguel begins dense rain forest. There is a several kilometre network of foot paths connecting various clearings in the forest where locals plant pineapples, cooking bananas or yucca. These foot paths can easily be used without guides. A GPS device might be useful for not getting lost.
The river is the best way to get around. Locals call it their “highway”. They will be happy to earn some money getting you around in their motorized canoes.
In March 2017, it was possible to rent a dugout canoe. This is a great way to have access to private transport. You can explore the Rio San Miguel, Rio Cayapas and several canals leading far into the land. It can be challenging to paddle against the currents during the rainy season.
The only official place to sleep is the beautiful community hotel, a big wooden house on the top of the hill with great views on the river and the forest. It has about 10 rooms with shared bathroom, two big terraces, and a kitchen. Mattresses, bedclothes, and towels are new and very clean (2017). The hotel charges 10 Dollars per person/night. Add another 11 Dollars per day and you get three big meals. Mrs. Merlin Nazareno who is in charge of the hotel, can be reached by phone: 06 03035008. Usually, they have a free room, but as there is no other hotel, it is a good idea to call them a day or two before you arrive.
There is no restaurant in San Miguel. For 11 Dollars per person, a woman from the community will come and cook for you three meals a day. The meals are very big and consist of several dishes. The quality of the food is excellent. Local ingredients are used.
There is only one little shop in San Miguel where you can only buy the most necessary things. If you want sweets or snacks, it is best to bring them from Borbón.
Behind the hotel, there is a drinking water source from which the water pipes of the hotel are supplied. The water is very clear and tasty. In the kitchen, there is a water filter through which you can run the water before drinking it. If you have a sensitive stomach, you might want to bring your own drinking water or water disinfection tool. Bottled water is not available in San Miguel.
There is no internet and no mobile phone connection in San Miguel (March 2017). They do have a stable land line telephone connection which can be used in urgent cases. The telephone number of Mrs. Merlin Nazareno (who is managing the community hotel) is 06 03035008.
There is a satellite internet connection in the Chachi village of Loma Linda, 1,5 km down the river. It is used for education purposes, but outside of school hours, it is an open WiFi connection which can be used by everybody. However, this connection is very unstable. In March 2017, it worked only once within seven tries on different days.
Sit on the wonderful wooden terrace of the community hotel and watch the colourful birds in the tree tops just some metres away.
Walk alone and undisturbed through wild, untouched rain forest.
Have a swim in the river, where locals use to wash their clothes and hair.
Rent a dugout canoe and learn how to use it.
Talk with Afro-Ecuadorian locals. They are friendly, easy going, and reliable. They are curious about the Western world.
Visit a Chachi ceremony. Around Easter and Christmas, there are interesting mass weddings.
There is not much to buy in San Miguel. A small shop provides the most necessary food products such as vegetable oil and salt. Some locals are making handicraft items. The Chachis are producing beautiful baskets.
There is no doctor in San Miguel. The next doctor is in Zapallo Grande, 30 minutes downstream.
San Miguel is almost free of mosquitoes. There is no need to carry antimalarial medication.
Black flies are a big nuisance. Their bites are very itchy and not easy to avoid. Insect repellent can only decrease but not avoid bites. Long clothes are the best protection. Black flies only bite during daytime, mostly when the sun shines and next to the river. After sunset, they are not active any more.
In 2014, the WHO officially declared Ecuador free of river blindness (onchocerciasis), a disease transmitted by black flies. 
There are no safety issues whatsoever. The locals are gaining from tourism all together. They would do anything to protect you.