Ecuador's Pacific Coast
The paradisiac beach resorts are synonymous with Sun, Sea, Sand, Relaxation and Fun.
Today we are going to explore part of Ecuador’s Pacific coast. The entire coastline extends for more than 500 miles, from the Colombian border in the north to the Peruvian frontier in the south. It is made of rocky shorelines, green hills reaching the Pacific Ocean and an endless chain of bays and coves with small, mid-sized or long beaches of extreme beauty. Resorts, retreats, fishing villages and tourism-oriented towns, together with four major port-cities put the human touch to the coastal strip.
Known as the 'Route of Sunshine', there is little wonder as to why… The paradisiac beach resorts are synonymous with Sun, Sea, Sand, Relaxation and Fun. From the coast’s center to the south, the sun is warm and intense, particularly between December and May, while it tends to be overcast and breezy between June and November. Whilst from the coast’s center to the north, it tends to be sunny all year round with some rainy spells between January and April.
The name 'Route of the Spondylus' comes from the translation or description of what is a 'Spondylus'. Doing pre-travel research, I find out that this is a large bivalve mollusk, whose shell has a uniquely beautiful shape with near-artistically twisted edges and shining surface, while the interior bears a delicious bright-red, orange or intense yellow meat. The ancestral inhabitants of Ecuador’s coast, thousands of years before the Incas or the Spanish conquests, found in the beauty and sensuality of this shell, a symbol of deity, and thus, it was adored and treated as a Goddess of Fertility. Due to its great symbolic value, when intra-regional commerce began to flourish along the East Pacific coast, still in Pre-Columbian times, the Spondylus shell started to be used as a unit of exchange or ancestral 'money', of huge value. It is known to have abounded, particularly along the rich waters of Ecuador’s central coast. Nowadays, due to centuries of uncontrolled extraction and depletion, whether for economic, gastronomic or even 'aphrodisiac' uses, it can only be found at greater depths and in smaller quantities. Authorities have established tight regulations to protect this unique and historic mollusk.
Whichever name we prefer to give to the route, me and my friend Ivan set off this morning from Guayaquil, the country’s main seaport, and in less than two hours’ ride on a good highway, we can see in the horizon the silhouette of the two-towered church of Santa Elena town, capital of the namesake coastal province and peninsula, announcing the proximity of the ocean. We take a short detour to visit the small museum of the 'Lovers of Sumpa', a former cemetery of one of the country’s most ancient human settlements. Here, the arid climate has preserved for posterity an unearthed touching tomb, featuring a male and a female skeleton, two youngsters, according to the experts, lovingly embraced for thousands of years. While archaeologists and anthropologists do their research, we experience a moment of reverence in front of those lovers who intertwined their bodies forever, until the end of times.
Soon we arrive in Salinas, the largest, most traditional and for decades the most popular and developed beach resort in the southern coast of Ecuador. An ample and nicely sheltered bay is framed by the golden sands of a long beach, the venue to some of the most relaxing vacations and, equally so, to some of the most exhilarating celebrations, like the New Year’s Eve festivals, concerts and fireworks, the carnival festivities and even fashion shows, musical events or beauty pageants. Salinas boasts a long waterfront, lined with high rise hotels and condos, great seafood and specialty restaurants, a maritime museum run by the navy and plenty of aquatic sports outlets and suppliers. It is also a great place to party, so we promise to return to enjoy the night life; but now we must move on….
We continue our northbound journey and, just 15 minutes from Salinas, the quaint town of Ballenita ('little whale') leads us to a cliff with spectacular views of the Salinas Bay to the south, and to the miles-long open beaches to the north. At a local restaurant, we find the ideal place to try a delicious fish and shrimps 'ceviche', Ecuador’s signature dish, sitting around a wooden table covered with a sunshade. This is just perfect medicine for any stress or worries. The view from the terrace, the ceviche, and the cold beer make up for a pleasantly relaxing occasion…
Next stop on our northbound journey is the picturesque fishing village of San Pablo, its dozens of fishing fiber-boats, some over the sand, others rocking on the semi-sheltered cove’s waters, are a kaleidoscope of colors, while some children merrily play in the sand. Roadside kiosks tempt the voyagers with typical food delicacies from the coast. As we approach the totally calm and perfectly crescent-shaped bay of Ayangue, the warm afternoon temperature tells us it is time for a dip in the waters of the Pacific, so Ivan and I plunge into the refreshing waters for a good swim. We are told about the great snorkeling along the rocky extremes of the bay, the 'Pink Beach' and the fabulous sunsets from the top of the adjoining hill cliffs. More to-do’s on our list for the next visit…..
We resume our trip, as we intend to reach Montañita ('Little Mountain') on time for sunset and for an overnight at Ecuador’s 'Surfing Capital'. Within a little over 20 minutes, we finally arrive in perfect time to watch a spectacular flaming sunset, with a cocktail in our hands, looking at the Pacific Ocean. As the sun disc plunges into the Ocean, Montañita begins to live yet one more of its perennial lively nights, because not only the rather small and quite picturesque town is the capital of Surfing, but also, it is recognized as Ecuador’s coast most famous 'Party town'….
Just one day, just the southern part of the Sunshine or 'Spondylus' Route and a myriad of soothing experiences have made us realize the relaxing effects of travelling along the beautiful Pacific Coast of Ecuador.….