Earthquakes Reset Ecuador’s Pacific Coast
A lot of people write off Ecuador’s Pacific coast. It’s too hot, the skies are grey and then there was that awful earthquake. It is hot – in the 90s. Nowhere closer to the sun than here. So when that blinding, white hot equatorial sun burns, cloud cover is a blessing. ‘Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun.’ And then there was that earthquake.
On a Saturday, April 12, 2016 at 7 p.m., the north Pacific coast of Ecuador buckled under one of the deadliest earthquakes to hit South American in a decade – 7.8 on the Richter scale. The official tally was 280 dead. But off the record they say it was over 2,000. The government may have under reported fatalities.
The northern cities of Manta, Bahia Caraquez and Pendernales were the hardest hit; overpasses buckled, shopping malls, office buildings, hotels collapsed killing hundreds. Most of the ruble has been removed and reconstruction is underway. What can you do? one man said. It’s part of life when you’re living in the ring of fire.
Tourism and fishing are the coast’s most important industries. The fish hadn’t left. And they feared tourists would write Ecuador off. But they kept coming. The beaches were phenomenal. The tourists who came after the quake either forgot there was a recent earthquake or as, many admitted, never even knew one ever hit.
Travelers who want to go see the Pacific in South America have their work cut out for them. Colombia’s Pacific coastline is hard to get to and completely undeveloped. Sparsely populated villages of Bahia Solano and Nuqui, are only accessible by boat or plane.
Hands down Ecuador has the most accessible and developed Pacific coastline in northern South America with beaches to fit everyone’s tastes.
Big city resorts:
In the south of the country, Salinas is one of Ecuador‘s biggest resorts and popular with Ecuadorians tourists mostly from Guayaquil. This town is a Miami Beach knock off with hotels, clubs and high-rise apartments appealing to the wealthy locals but the town seems to hold little of interest for foreign tourists.
Is the north coast’s most popular luxury resort visited mostly by wealthy tourists from Quito. It’s not really a city or even a village but a string of white hotels and apartments on a 1.5 mile beach located 5 miles south of the coastal town of Sua.
Most famous party beaches:
If you’re looking for a party, Mantanitas has one year around. It’s the party town of Ecuador. A lot of people on the beach, foreign surfers and back packers mix with hippie Ecuadorians. It’s a surfing mecca with year around breaks reaching 2-3 feet. A coastal town of 7,000 people, it’s a little too touristy with all kinds of souvenir shops, liquor stores, hotels, hostels and all kinds of restaurants: Indian, Italian, fish and chips, beer bars, cocktail bars, fruit juice stands, ice cream. I was told the town was once eco-friendly with upper end tourism 20 years ago. But now the town caters to surfers and low-end alternative tourism. The residents complain of too much garbage on the beach and a lack of administrative initiative to keep the place clean, high tide at night takes most of the beach strewn garbage away. They say there is a lot of riffraff and thieves. Montanita is known as a backpackers, surfer’s paradise for people who want to party. But they also complain of a water crisis, not enough water to support all that human activity. It’s a problem that plagues most of Ecuador’s coastal towns.
Is the northern coast’s busiest beach resort and one of the most popular for the Ecuadorian tourists offering loud, brash boom-boom all night parties on the beach? Foreigner’s tourists are avoiding it in favor of more relaxing environments. Today’s tourists want peace, tranquility and a place to get away from it all. Also, numerous robberies have been a problem in town.
These places have a pretty steady following of tourists seeking relaxing/laid back environments.
If its peace and quiet you’re looking for, Olon is small resort of 700 people just a $.50 cab ride north of Mantanita. Most of the town is centered on the beach and all the hotels are within walking distance of the beach so you can spend the entire day in your swim suit. There are miles of beautiful, empty beach to wander with no party atmosphere – in fact it’s hard to find a place in town selling beer. A lot of people stay in Olon during the day and take a cab to go party in Mantanitas at night.
During the morning the tide is low, evening is high tide and the surfers come out. You can get a two hour surf lesson for $25, or just rent a surf board for $5 an hour or $15 all day. There’s a massage tent on the beach and a lot of thatched huts serving up food, mostly fish dishes with all the trappings throughout the day for $6-$9. Bicycle and walking tours are available. And a walk down the beach will take you to other little beach towns.
In the town’s central plaza at night a lot of people come to cool off during the evening hours. There are restaurants and bars grilling meat on sticks and the grill smoke wafts through the air while the kids play and a couple guys with guitars drift through the plaza’s restaurants playing for tips.
North of Olon, 40 minutes by bus is a bigger, mid-sized fishing port with plenty of beach. One can use Puerto Lopez as a base to see Playa Los Frailes in the national park of Machalilla which is considered the most beautiful stretch of Ecuador’s coast. Not easy to get to, get a guided tour from Puerto Lopez or take a motor taxi – $10 round trip.
The little village is turning into one of the hot spots for travelers who want a chill alternative. Just north of Bahia Caraquez it is one of the beach towns easiest to reach from either big city – Quito or Guayaquil. The town is small with a population under 1,000 but has over 7 miles of open beach to explore. It gets some local tourists on the weekends when late night partying can get noisy in town especially at the beach bars and last till late in the night. But visitors have the place to themselves during the week. There are 8 miles of beautiful sand beach and rolling waves all the way south to the city of Bahia Caraquez.
This modest fishing village is even more laid back than Canoa. It’s more like Canoa used to be they say, though I still preferred Canoa. Located in a big bay, it is much greener here as the jungle spills out of the mountains onto the beaches where one can walk for 4 miles north all the way to the mangrove swamps of Muisne. The sand by the inlet is so soft and fine one would need snowshoes to hike it. The village is only made up of 3 sandy streets with enough services to offer the basics – hotels, hostels, restaurants catering to a younger set of hippy rastafa types. At night with the high tide there is no beach.
Getting there: From Canoa take a bus to Penderales ($3) to the temporary bus station set up just outside town. The main terminal is still devastated from the earthquake. From Penderales take another bus to Chamanga ($2) and have them leave you on the road to Mompiche. At the intersection there are collectivos waiting to take people to town ($1).
It is an under developed resort just south of Atacames. Not much going on here and the beach is rather small. It has a fishing village atmosphere and a small selection of hotels and restaurants. One can use this town as a base to visit Atacames and Same. But I’d skip it and head to Canoa and Mompiche which are more laid back with better beaches.
Port cities North Coast
Is a tuna port with a population of 225,000. It’s Ecuador’s 5th biggest city. Tuna fishing and processing are its biggest industry. They catch and process tuna for export to USA and Europe. Bumble bee tuna is one of their big clients.
Tourism was its second biggest industry but the effects of the earthquake has kept most of that business away.
There was a U.S. military base in Manta from 1999-2009 to support military operations against Colombia drug cartels. But the Ecuadorian government didn’t renew their lease. Ecuadorian tourist used to come here in droves but haven’t since the earthquake almost completely leveled the hotel district by Tarqui beach.
There’s an incredible fish market to visit in the mornings on Tarqui beach . Try the Cazueola – a fish stew and a boat yard next to it where craftsmen build tuna boats completely by hand all out of wood using only drills, axes and chain saws.
Once the most beautiful coastal cities in Ecuador known for its white apartments perched on a sandy peninsula. A Spanish hotel owner in Canoa told me, why waste your time. There is nothing left. Everything came down. Stay at Canoe where you can see Bahia in the distance a few miles down the beach. You could make a visit to the city from here.
Manta is an easy bus trip from Cuenca. You have to take a bus from Cuenca over the mountains past the Cana National Park which sits in the clouds – to Guayaquil, a 4 hour – $7 trip. Guayaquil is a hugh port town. I was there back in the 1970s waiting a few days for a military plane to take to take me to the Galapagos. It’s a big city. The bus terminal is as big as a major airport. On the third floor or the terminal there’s a bus company that goes to Mantanita and Olon – another 4 hour – $7 trip.
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