Just over 100 miles west of Ecuador’s capital, the Pacific Ocean beckons. Beyond the fabled Galapagos Islands, visitors to Ecuador’s coast are offered plenty: pristine beaches, prehistoric art, exotic wildlife on islands just offshore, tepid seawater, gastronomical delights, colorful indigenous cultures, and an abundance of flora and fauna befitting the coast of this most bio-diverse country.
Infrastructure for tourism is rather limited here, therefore the coast maintains many of its unspoiled qualities for those willing to rough it a little to discover them. You can still find sleepy seaside communities where canoes are pulled through the waves in the morning to unload the day’s catch. These are settings where hammocks are hung between palm trees for afternoon naps in the sultry weather, as life moves at a slower pace.
The Ecuadorian coastline offers dry forests, tropical jungles, mangrove swamps, quaint fishing villages, fine sandy beaches, surfing, diving, hang-gliding, as well as more tranquil pursuits — like beachcombing, sunbathing or just relaxing — all to the beat of tropical rhythms.
The coastal route running 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) down the Ecuadorian coastline has been christened “La Route del Spondylus,” since early inhabitants of the area sailed on balsawood vessels north to Mexico and as far south as Chile to trade one of the most sacred and valued objects of all times: prickly spondylus oyster shells. This shell, found only in a limited area of the Ecuadorian coast, has been highly valued as a commodity and an adornment since prehistoric times, and it continues to be a symbol of both Ecuadorian culture and the natural bounty of this land.
For ancient history buffs, it should be noted that Ecuador’s pre-Colombian past outdates the Incas by thousands of years. Cultures were thriving on Ecuador’s coast as early as 9,000 B.C. Ceramics found here met such high standards that archaeologists originally ascribed their origins to Japanese artisans lost at sea who found their way to the Ecuadorian shoreline.
There are several small archeological sights available to tourists all along the coast, many offering amazing chances to delve into the ancient past without having to traipse around on a camel across a desert for days on end without food or water. A little archeological dig, followed by a dip in the waves and a fabulous seafood dinner with a cool sea breeze, might just be enough to bring out the Indiana Jones in any of us…
One of our favorite regions is the Afro-Ecuadorian province of Esmeraldas, with its tropical beaches, coconut palms and tiny lodges only steps away from the pounding surf.
Further south, Manabi province is home to the spectacular Machalilla National Park, with its dry tropical forests and spectacular underwater worlds. Here you’ll find Bahía de Caráquez, a small town that has been designated the country’s first “eco-city,” a small inland village called Monte Cristi (home of the famed “Panama hat”), and the surprisingly hip little fishing village of Puerto Lopez – gateway to the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” or Isla de la Plata. A trip to this island offers a chance to get close up to humpback whales or spend an afternoon with blue and red-footed boobies, frigate birds, sea lions and other wildlife usually seen only on the Galapagos Islands.
Continuing south is the port of Guayaquil, situated on the banks of the Guayas River. Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador and is the nation’s commercial center, though it’s better known on the tourist circuit as a stopover for the Galapagos Islands rather than for its own touristic attractions.
To the west of Guayaquil is the Ecuadorians version of Miami Beach – the town of Salinas. This is a great spot for those looking to enjoy a bit of modern Ecuadorian “fun in the sun.” Dancing, nightlife, high-rises and beautiful people await.