Ecuador’s Coast actually refers to the lowland region on the coastal side of the mountains, (as opposed to the Jungle side), so you can be in the Coast and still 3 hours from the beach…
The Northern province of Esmeraldas has the most popular beaches for people from Quito, with places like Atacames being swamped at holiday weekends. If you want somewhere quieter (and I do recommend this with kids, then try Tonsupa, Mompiche or Same, which are all lower key.
We went so often to the coast at Esmeraldas that I never bothered taking any pictures, but if you take a slice of Ecuadorean jungle and populate it with Afro-Ecuadoreans, you will get a rough idea. A lot of Ecuadoreans will warm you against travelling to the capital city itself, but I visited on several occasions for work and always found people as welcoming as anywhere else in the country, and of course you can get some great seafood and some really atmospheric bars-cum-shacks.
On balance I would probably not choose Esmeraldas if I was going to have one beach holiday in Ecuador, but if you’re based in Quito and want to get away, or have a particular hankering to listen to some marimba then it’s a good option.
La Ruta del Sol
La Ruta del Sol is term coined by some bright spark in the ministry of tourism to refer to the mid section of the Pacific coast line. We have been to various spots along the route and it is an interesting part of Ecuador that Montanita aside (in all its tacky glory) is visited by relatively few foreign tourists.
We first drove from Quito when Tommy was a baby in an Opel/Chevrolet Corsa and it was 8 hours of pot-hole hell. When we finally arrived in Puerto Lopez Tommy was in meltdown and the only way we could get him to sleep (after 8 hours of driving) was to keep driving up and down the road outside the hotel….
Still the roads are much better now, and the chance to go whale watching (at the right time of year) makes the place a real draw, as well as the fantastic chevices.
While you’re there you can also mess around on the beach, chat with the fishermen and visit some local indigenous communities from the Huancavilca culture. It’s not the most spectacular part of the country, but it is the nicest part of the coast for families in my opinion.
Ecuador’s second city doesn’t get the same attention as Quito, and if you are travelling for a family holiday to Ecuador chances are it’s not on your itinerary. A Guayaco would say that’s your loss, and it’s true that there’s plenty do, like visit the Malecon, go up the hill to Las Penas, check out the the Parque de las Iguanas try the new Parque Historico (which we haven’t yet), or just stroll around the downtown and soak up the very Latino vibe of the city.
But if you are travelling with kids, the city can be very muggy and warm and you do need to be aware of where you are, as there as still some reported muggings in the city, (but NOT I should say in the places I have just listed).
Only Tommy has been with us to Guayaquil, (and that was pre-digital camera), I used to go a lot for work and have very fond memories of the city, but Lorena is a typical Serrana who only goes when she has to.
Montanita and whale watching
After something like 11 years we returned to the coast of Manabi and some Whale watching in 2018. Last time Tommy was a baby and uncle David wasn’t much more himself. This time everyone’s all grown up and we expanded the group to include Lorena’s dad, sister Lily, brother-in-law Angel and nieces Majy and Anjy.
We rented three rooms in cheap place in Montanita on the road, run by a well-meaning Venezuelan lady. She was really friendly but hadn’t seemed to have got the idea that you need toilet paper in the bathrooms, which also need to be cleaned once in a while and that after 5 days the exact same breakfast seems a bit too much like groundhog day. Still the price was right, the shower was hot and there were hammocks, so onward and upwards.
Montanita has possibly changed even more than we have over the intervening years. I seem to remember a one-street sleepy surfer spot that has now become a bustling tourist town completely with boom boom discos, latte bars and even a couple of upscale hotels. The march of progress isn’t particular welcome in this case it has to be said, but after a sulky first day I began to realize that under the skin the place still had its charms, not least the shopping mall on legs that is the beach. To give you an idea of what comes to you when you are on the beach here is what we partook of during three beach days: Massage (back and arms and shoulder), deck chairs, a football, temporary tattoos (the kids), cold beers, ceviche and assorted other snacks. We could have gone the whole nine yards and had surf lessons a three course meal or God knows what else, but enough was enough. The beach itself is great, with cracking big waves, although Danny managed not to heed locals’ warnings about strong undertows and got himself a serious fright as result. Tommy went out to save him (I was blissfully asleep), but it was the quick attention of another (taller) swimmer and the local lifeguards who saved the day.
Anyway, we ate a lot of ceviche drank a few beers, swam and bit and wandered around, all good.
Still the main reason for a trip to the coast was the whales. And so off we went for a full day of whale watching, snorkeling and wandering around the Isla de la Plata for $45 a head, can’t be bad.
We got the local bus 40 minutes up the road to Puerto Lopez after booking ahead with a chap in Montanita and again after doing this so many years before I was surprised by how much more organized things are now. This includes the boats themselves and the boarding process to the guides and the way the boats conducted themselves around the whales.
So it’s a bit nerve wracking on the boat as it belts along at a clip but it’s well worth it to see the whales. There was puking going on but thankfully none of us but again the wooziness was soon forgotten as we sited the humpbacks doing some love somersaults right in front of us. The pictures and video don’t really do it, but move over Attenborough anyway.
Then it was off to the poor man’s Galapagos, the Isla de la Plata. It was a bit hot there and there are only so many Blue Footed Boobies you can take photos of, but it was worth it to break up the boat trip.
The boys were a bit bored but thankfully chose a different path to walk on than me, David and Lorena, so they bothered grandad instead of us.
We walked up and saw boobies, we walked down saw boobies, lots of them. Then we got back on the boat.
Next was snorkeling, which was eh, OK. It was no Great Barrier Reef but we were still snorkeling of a boat in the pacific next to the Island that was said to be the inspiration for Treasure Island and yes, there were some fish and what-not, so I was happy, as were the kids.
Then it was back to the mainland for well-earned ceviche and beer on the beach. This bit coincided with the local fisherman bringing in the catch so we got to marvel at some of the whoppers they had caught and wonder how much longer it will be that small fisherman like these manage to survive, sad face.
It has to be said, we do like to be beside the seaside. You can’t beat an easy afternoon on the beach with the family, and Ecuadorian beaches are great because they are so laid back. We had some good food a few laughs, the kids hung out in the waves and with cousins.
This was a first for me. I pride myself on knowing Ecuador pretty well, but this spot off-the-beaten track was somewhere I’d never been. We were there for the occasion of my in-laws renewing of vows, which was also an excuse for a family get-together. The town itself is between the mountains and the sea, so it is still a bit elevated but warm and a bit sweaty.
It’s also worth mentioning that the drive there from Quito is a beast, but is one of the prettiest drives anywhere in Ecuador, going as it does right past Chimborazo, complete with Vicunas and that.
Caluma is all about the oranges and the waterfalls and we got plenty of both. Angel is the town mayor so he was keen to show all of its delights, which while not exactly big ticket, are nonetheless pleasant.
The town itself is the typical coastal Ecuadorian one horse town, one street, lots of people tooling up and down on motorbikes and shops blasting out music. You can get a huge sack of oranges for a couple of dollars and there is one other ‘site’ which is a group of trees where literally hundreds of Egrets come to roost every night. This would be a tourist attraction in itself if it weren’t so off the beaten track, which made finding it all the more cool. Excuse the quality of the picture, I’ll try and put some video up when I have time.
So, it was off to a swimming hole for a freezing dip at least for Juan David ,Mayelry and the boys. Myself, Lorena, Lili, Angel, Laste, Papil Juan and Tia Hilda retreated to the safety of a beer.
We also rented a chiva for the afternoon and went off somewhere to pick oranges and take the grand tour of the parish. It was fun too for the group to pile on and off including three generations of the extended family. We stopped for some ice cream, talked some nonsense and took some photos.
The other noteworthy spot was a trip to a waterfall (there really are loads of them in Ecuador). Me, Tia Jorge, Angel, the boys and Papi Juan braved the extreme shower and felt all the more invigorated when we followed it with a BBQ cooking banana and cheese.
I’ve included a couple of photos of the wedding for family, the day was nice, we all had a dance and nobody hit anybody, which is about all you can ask of a wedding. The only dark cloud was that poor Tommy got a bug, on this holiday he was one of about half of us, but it hit him and Danny the hardest.
He was so weak we had to take him to get a drip, which perked him right up and I was glad we were seen to quickly and efficiently by the clinic.