Ecuador‘s Pacific coast often gets overlooked by travelers, as most tend to head to the Andes region or the Galápagos Islands. There’s ample reason to venture out to the coast, though – with pristine sandy beaches, water sport opportunities and characterful towns and villages aplenty. Here are some useful things to bear in mind before coming to this under-explored part of Ecuador.
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Regardless of whether you tend to tan easily or not, there’s no scope for taking risks when it comes to sunburn on Ecuador’s Pacific Coast. Because Ecuador is on the equator, sun exposure is strong all year round, so applying low or even medium factor sun cream only once a day isn’t enough – especially when chilling at the beach out of the shade. As a general rule of thumb, it’s a sensible idea to apply high-factor cream every 90 minutes or so. Even if you don’t feel like you need it, it’s much better to be safe than sorry.
Ecuadorians are proud of their ceviche – a dish made with raw fish marinated in citrus juice. It’s eaten across most South American countries, but Ecuador’s version takes up more of a soup-like consistency than other varieties and uses shrimps and other seafood, as well as white fish. Naturally, along the coast is the best place to eat it at its freshest.
Ecuadorian people are renowned for their warmth and willingness to chat, but at the coast, you’ll notice that they’re particularly welcoming. If you need any advice, don’t be afraid to ask. Wherever you go, you’ll almost certainly find yourself in conversation with the locals.
Montañita is one of Ecuador’s most popular beach towns – and for good reason. It’s a perfect destination for surfing and partying and has a great choice of restaurants and accommodation. However, there are plenty of other quieter beaches and towns, such as Los Frailes – near Puerto Lopez – or further north, like Mompiche, Canoa and Esmeraldas. It all depends on what you’re looking for.
People on the coast tend to speak faster than in the rest of the country and have their own unique slang words, so if you think you’re starting to get the hang of conversational Spanish, your linguistic skills may be put to the test. English isn’t quite as ubiquitous in smaller towns as it is in major cities like Quito and Guayaquil, but in general, language barriers shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Ecuador is on both the Pacific Ring of Fire and the Nazca tectonic plate – countries along this seismic belt have experienced some of the strongest recorded earthquakes, most recently in 2016. Because tremors are fairly common in Ecuador – especially on the coast – it’s a good idea to know what type of buildings you will stay at when visiting and also know what to do in case of an earthquake or tremor.
Between June and October, thousands of humpback whales migrate from Antarctica to the coast of Colombia and Ecuador to mate and give birth in the warm Pacific waters. There are many whale watching companies offering tours, especially in Puerto Lopez – but while your chances are fairly high in peak season, be aware that you’re not guaranteed to see a whale. Some companies offer a money-back guarantee in the event of no sighting.
Isla de Plata is an hour-and-a-half boat ride from Puerto Lopez and is much cheaper to reach than the Galapagos Islands. It might not be quite as spectacular – and being uninhabited, it doesn’t have many amenities for travelers. However, if you want to experience Ecuadorian nature away from the mainland and see many of the same amazing animals as you’ll find on the Galapagos – like Blue Footed Boobies, sea turtles and hammerhead sharks – you can do so on Isla de Plata. It’s compulsory to visit on a guided tour.
Dancing is hugely popular in Ecuador – especially on the coast. Latin music is almost inescapable in towns in this part of the country and the jovial atmosphere it generates is infectious. You don’t have to be a salsa master, but be prepared to give it a go. Don’t know how to, or feeling shy? You can take a salsa class in plenty of coastal towns in Ecuador – and locals will be happy to see you join the fun.