Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ecuador, A Wonderful Introduction to South America
(Part 3: Guayaquil & the Coast)

Though better known for its Andean Mountains, Amazonian rainforest and the unique Galapagos Islands, Ecuador has a spectacular beaches that rivals some of the best beaches along the Pacific Ocean.  Stretching some 1,500km (937 miles) from the border of Colombia to Peru in the south, the Pacific coast embraces long expanses of deserted beaches, with warm swimming waters, charming fishing villages, luxury vacation resorts, surfing beaches, and wildlife sanctuaries.

The road building projects along the coast opened up much of this area, and few towns, like Montañita, Salinas and Manta, have already been “discovered” by international and local tourists alike. Nevertheless, much of Ecuadorian coastline remains undeveloped and unspoiled, and in many little villages, I felt as if we were the only tourists.

It’s a scenery that so many travelers of earlier generations 20-30 years ago have described of the Yucatan and Baja Peninsula, the Caribbean or the Greek Isles, surrounded by sense of serenity, organic beauty, and of course, the friendly people who seem to enjoy a simple way of life. La Costa is a state of being, a state of mind and a place where Ecuadorian vacationers like to go to spend time with their family, to relax and have fun!

Montañita is the only town that I’ve actually heard of through various travel sites and community before traveling to Ecuador. This tiny beach town has gained a fair amount of fame among surfers and backpackers, and it’s a perfect place for anyone looking for inexpensive hostels and motels, cheap eats and lively bars.

The vibe is definitely young and beautiful, similar to the setting of Alex Garland’s book “The Beach”, and anyone over 30 will feel like a chaperon at a high school dance.

I much prefer Olón, a sleepy little village few miles north from Montañita, where there are miles and miles of gorgeous white-sand beaches, and I was able to enjoy a day at the beach without having techno music being blasted in my ears and being bombarded by the sight of Midwesterners and Europeans in dreads. Instead, I was able to enjoy the tranquility of one of the most beautiful beaches in the world with Ecuadorian families.     
Sadly, as in the story, “The Beach”, Montañita has become a place that lives up to the caricature image and stereotype of a developing country. It’s a fictitious bohemian bubble created by the imagination of someone drenched in suburbia that meets their fantasy of a place where people run around in dreads and tattoos, and eat squatting in the streets.

The irony is that most coastal towns in Ecuador, as in most developing countries, are not poverty stricken. Although they lack some infrastructure, they are charming, family friendly, and full of quaint little shops and open-air restaurants (cabanas) that serve freshly prepared delicious meals.  

Also, there are resort towns like Salinas, about 2 hours from Guayaquil, where you have all the comforts and conveniences of European coastal towns. My favorite thing to do was to take a stroll along the Malecón, which reminded me of the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, checking out the wonderful outdoor markets and enjoying one of the many beach side seafood restaurants.     
San Pedro is another undiscovered gem 30 minute south of Montañita.  Like so many less-known fishing villages along the coast, it has maintained its rustic charm. 

Also, it was fun to witness the daily ritual of fishing, where the whole village comes out to help and collect the day's catch.  Then, once the entire net full of fish is pulled onto the beach, everyone, even the tourists, is allowed to take home as much fish as they can carry.  It was a wonderful experience in getting to know the locals, and we came back not only with a bucket full of fish that we grilled for dinner that evening but also with a truly unforgettable travel memory.
the spectacular views along the highway with miles and miles of empty beaches
Parque de Simon Bolivar, aka Iguana Park
Ecuador, Part 1: Quito
Ecuador, Part 2: Cuenca
Great Day Trips From Cuenca


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