My last holiday to Ecuador took me to some new areas, not often on the list of many people travelling to Ecuador. I travelled along the Central Coast, an area with natural beauty, ancient archaeology, small sleepy fishing villages, beautiful long empty beaches, surfing, whale watching and very good food. What more could you want?
My journey took me from the beach resort town of Salinas, very popular during the summer months and weekends with Guayaquilenos. As soon as you are out of this busy town the pace of life slows, the beaches empty and the buildings shrink. You come to small towns each specialising in a different craft. For example, one town produces wooden furniture and toys, another carves the Tagua nut (known as vegetable ivory), one makes beautiful traditional style ceramics and another processes the palms used to weave Panama hats.
All the people in these villages are very friendly, they welcome you into their homes and workshops to proudly show off their skills, they do this
for your interest and not as a hard sales pitch. All the coastal towns along this stretch are very simple and laid back and many rely on fishing as an income. If you go down to the beaches early in the morning you will see the fishermen bringing their boats back laden with fish, if you are willing you can help push the colourful boats back onto the beach, a really great experience. Watch out though as there are many birds circling overhead waiting for an opportune moment to swoop down for breakfast!
Mid way along the coastal stretch, I visited the Machalilla National Park. It is a beautiful national park on the coast, with fantastic marine and wildlife; a diverse area and a real unexpected treat. It is a special area as it is the meeting of two currents, Humbolt from the South bringing food and El Nino from the North bringing the species. If you want to stay dry, take a boat trip to the nearby island of Isla de la Plata or for those happy to get wet, jump in and do some snorkelling or diving.
Species that can be found here are hammer head sharks, various rays, sea lions and whales. Along the coast I saw many bird species too, often associated with the Galapagos Islands, including Nazca, blue and red-footed boobies, waved albatross and frigate birds. It is a lovely area for walking too, very varied landscapes in either the tropical dry forest, tropical moist forest or the cloud forest, the later two areas are the best places for seeing howler and capuchin monkeys, jaguar, ocelot, sloths, deers and anteaters.
If nature and wildlife isn’t your thing then the National Park also has some incredible archaeology, with ruins and ceramics dating back to the Manteno civilization, the Pre-Incan Cultures (AD800 – 1530).
Having driven along a short, dusty road I reached the small, friendly settlement of Agua Blanca within the National Park. A number of ruins have been excavated already, the people are very proud of the artefacts found here and have worked hard as a community to preserve them. I went with my guide to view some of these and looked around the fascinating local community museum, the ceramics on show are beautiful but the incredible thing is the area has not been fully been excavated but surveying of the ground has shown many sites are still hidden.
I found this stretch of coast to be very peaceful, incredibly friendly and hugely diverse. If you are looking to experience an area off the main tourist radar then I would highly recommend the coast of Ecuador. It is easily accessible from both Quito and Guayaquil so can be combined with other areas on the country or the Galapagos Islands.