Most visitors to Ecuador stick to the heart of the country and the Andes – however there are plenty of great travel destinations on Ecuador’s Pacific coast that aren’t so heavily visited. There’s good wildlife watching, whale watching, surfing, some fine beaches and some riotious nightlife especially during carnival. Here’s a brief guide to travelling along Ecuador’s Pacific coast, or the Ruta del Sol. I’ll mention the travel highlights as one travels North from Guayaquil along the Ruta del Sol.
Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city, though it’s not the capital (which is Quito). There’s little of interest to visitors in the city itself, other than various fine restaurants and Ecuador’s most buzzing nightlife.
The reason so many tourists do visit Guayaquil is that it is a convenient stop off point if travelling to or from the Galapagos Islands. Guayaquil also has excellent flight connections to Central and North America, as well as numerous other capital cities in South America. In addition, there’s regular buses into Northern Peru.
For further travel advice on Guayaquil, including tips on hotels, see the Guayaquil section of this guide.
Playas & Salinas
Playas and Salinas are both found within easy travel distance of Guayaquil – as such they can get extremely crowded at weekends and during the high season of December to April. Playas has some decent surfing though is usually a little chaotic and overcrowded. Salinas is a slightly more upmarket beach resort – still very crowded though.
Montanita & North
Montanita has rapidly developed recently to become a major surfing and backpacker hang-out destination. The small town still remains a relatively laid back stop off point on the Ruta del Sol, and has some lovely beaches nearby. Montanita itself is a little too busy – Baja Montanita, which is at the far end of the bay, offers a little more space. Just North, Olon has a long and beautiful, uncrowded beach.
Travel further North still to find more off the beaten track beach destinations along Ecuador’s Pacific Coast, such as Ayampe, Puerto Rico, Rio Chico and Las Tunas. Each of these small fishing villages offers some basic accommodation and cheap hotels.
Puerto Lopez & Around
Puerto Lopez is a small fishing town a little further North. The beach is decent, though nothing special – the real reason to travel to this part of Ecuador is to arrange tours to the Machalilla National Park, Isla de la Plata or to go whale watching (in season – June to September only).
Machalilla National Park extends over 50,000 hectares and is one of the real highlights on Ecuador’s coast. Los Frailes beach is in the park – it’s hard to get to, but you’re rewarded with Ecuador’s most beautiful beach (some argue that it’s one of South America’s finest). Agua Blanca and San Sebastian are both not far from Puerto Lopez, and are fine starting points for exploring the forests and wildlife in the National Park, which is a good area for birdwatching.
A little offshore is Isla de la Plata – an island known as the “cheap mans Galapagos” as the experience and some of the birdlife found there is present. If you can’t afford a trip to the Galapagos Islands, it might be worth a visit – otherwise avoid the place completely.
Manta & Further North
Travelling North from Puerto Lopez you’ll find the town of Montecristi, the birth-place of the Panama hat. If you want to buy one, or visit a Panama hat factory, this is the place to do so en route to Manta.
Manta is a busy seaside town – and also a large Port city. The beaches are ok, there’s some decent surfing and some great nightlife especially at weekends. From here North, the local people (from Guayas & Manabi) as well known throughout Ecuador for being a laid back, friendly and fun loving bunch. Manta has an airport served by regular domestic flights.
Travel a little further North to Crucita, a growing resort town popular for hand-gliding, para-gliding and kite-surfing. Further North still as the beautifully set resorts of San Clemente and San Jacinto.
Bahia de Caraquez & Canoa
Bahia de Caraquez is Ecuador’s “Eco-City” and full of recycling projects, organic farms and eco-taxis. Nearby mangrove forests are excellent for both bird-watching and dolphin spotting tours. The towns beaches are nothing special, though some great ones can be found nearby at Punta Bellaca, San Vicente and Canoa. Canoa is popular with international travellers due to its clean beach, wonderful setting and range of hotel options.
Atacames & Around
Travelling further North, en route to Atacames there’s various small beaches and resorts that might be of interest to travellers. Portete has a decent beach, Mompiche is a surfing hotspot, Playa Escondida is amazingly relaxing, Sua is a quiet resort set in a beautiful bay and Same has apartments and holiday homes owned by rich Ecuadoreans who enjoy the grey sand beaches nearby.
Atacames is one of Ecuador’s largest Pacific coast beach resorts. It’s one of Ecuador’s top party destinations, and is particularly busy during the months of July to September, at carnival and at weekends. Don’t expect much peace and quiet in Atacames.
Further along the coast from Atacames, there’s less beaches and more mangrove swamps. There’s little to attract travellers, except maybe the Reserva Ecologica Cotacachi Cayapas, a huge rainforest reserve of immense biodiversity that is accessible from the village of San Miguel which offers a basic community ecotourism project.