The road along Ecuador’s coast is known as La Ruta del Sol (The Route of the Sun). I was able to travel a decent sized stretch of this route from Manta south to Montañita in one trip. After my solo trip to Manta, I took a bus south to Puerto Lopez. The drive was beautiful as it followed the coast, passing through Puerto Cayo, Machalilla, and many other small towns. It also went through the dry forest in Machalilla National Park. Puerto Lopez itself is a small town of about 20,000 people. The primary industries are tourism and fishing, both of which are always present. Fishing boats out in the harbor bring in the day’s catch while tour agencies line the streets. I really enjoyed the atmosphere in the town. The pretty beach, boats, and friendly people made it a great place.
I arrived on Sunday evening and ate a delicious ceviche with shrimp and fish after getting settled in my hostel. The Hinkle Twins (Chris and Adrian) met me first thing on Monday morning after taking an overnight bus from Quito. We ate breakfast and decided to head to Playa Los Frailes, one of the most famous beaches in Ecuador. Getting there involved a short bus ride north of town and a 1.5 hour hike. The hike passes through some of the only remaining dry forest on the coast. The beach itself has white sand and beautiful tropical blue water. However, the currents were very strong preventing us from spending too much time in the water.
Our next stop was Ayampe, a very small town farther south of Puerto Lopez. Ayampe has a microclimate that allows for tropical rainforest to reach the coast, while all of the surrounding areas have tropical dry forest. The town itself was more of a village with a few houses, two hostels, and a couple of hundred people. Apparently Ayampe has become known by some avid surfers who want a more relaxed place with fewer people than the famous Montañita. The beach was long, wide, sandy, and had a rocky area. Wetlands with lots of birds went right down to the beach. It reminded me a bit of Cape Meares, my favorite spot on the Oregon Coast.
We decided to get settled in our hostel and then go to Montañita for dinner so that I could see it. Chris has raved so much about it that I really wanted to check it out. It was only a 30 minute bus ride away, anyways. We arrived in the late afternoon to a nice town that was obviously aimed at tourists. There were many vendors in the street, surfers, and hostels. The town had many buildings with straw roofs. We ended up eating Mexican food and trying Venezuelan Arepas (corn cakes filled with meat). Montañita is famous for its party scene, but hardly anything was happening because it was the middle of the week. This prompted our decision to head back sooner to Ayampe to get some rest.
The next day we went hiking in the coastal rainforest near Ayampe. We just started walking out of the town and up the road along the river. It soon turned into a swamp. I was not equipped to really walk through it, so I put on my flip-flops and hiking pants. As we moved farther in, the forest scenery got better. What really differentiated this forest from the Amazon Rainforest was the difference in the vegetation and birds. The trees weren’t as big as in the Amazon, and the birds were coastal. It was beautiful in its own way. Hours of hiking made us tired and hungry. We got our stuff out of the hostel and hopped a bus back to Puerto Lopez.
More friends were waiting in Puerto Lopez. We all met up and had lunch. Afterwards we had some time to relax on the beautiful beach. The water is the perfect temperature on the Ecuadorian mainland. A nice afternoon of rest was in order after everything we had done.
Isla de La Plata is most often done as a combined trip with Puerto Lopez. It is known as the “poor man’s Galapagos.” We booked an all-day tour for only $30 that included a boat ride, one hour each way, a hike, snorkeling, and lunch. It was different than the Galapagos but definitely still worth the time and money. The highlight was seeing blue-footed boobies nesting with their eggs and chicks. We also got to see the Nazca Boobies and Red-footed Boobies. Schools of large, colorful fish were very impressive during the snorkeling.
Another nice relaxing night in Puerto Lopez marked the end of this part of the journey. A few of our friends came just for Isla de La Plata with us and left for Quito that night. The next day, the rest of us headed to Guayaquil.
Because my camera was broken, I give the photo credits to Christopher Hinkle.