Ecuador is a country we’ve yet to explore in depth even though we’ve been there 3 separate times. Like Peru, Ecuador boasts gilded Spanish cathedrals, breezy colonial palaces, tropical jungles, mountain villages and sprawling beaches. Culturally rich as well, Ecuador promises vibrantly dressed natives filling the colorful markets with exquisite handcrafts and archeological sites to ponder and explore.
Although Miro and I have spent a total of four months in the country, we tend to travel deeper than wider making our experiences more immersive. We’ve only really sampled the beaches of Montañita, volunteered in the mountain town of Banos and marveled at the culturally rich Quito including a stop to the center of the world.
As we’ve just returned from our third visit to Montañita, my interest has sparked to explore the entire Ruta del Sol (Sun Route). Our trip was cut short this time due to my passport issues (which I will write about soon) but I wanted to share with you my research in hopes you too will find inspiration to follow the route of the sun. We plan on returning sometime in the next 6 months, so here are some of the beautiful destinations that inspired me to research more:
Ruta del Sol (Sun Route)
Manta is home to Ecuador’s largest seaport. It has many attractive beaches making it a popular stopping point for cruise ships.
Manta was originally known as Jocay.The Maya people arrived in Manta around five hundred years A.D. However, they found that it was inhabited by other people and left. By this time Jocay was an important trading centre for the Inca and its inhabitants. The first Spanish explorer arrived in 1526. Other Spaniards followed and took the Chief Ligua Tohalli as a prisoner. They found large quantities of precious stones, gold, silver and emeralds.
During the colonial period Manta was part of Guayaquil until the 18th century when it became part of the Canton of Montecristi. There are two wonderful beaches to explore in this area. The are Mucielago Beach and Tarqui Beach
This picturesque beach has a board walk that has many restaurants where you can sample the best dishes from the region. Murcielago beach is a popular tourist destination. People got to this beach for the surfing, wind surfing, sky diving and sunbathing.
This is the best place to watch boat builders and fishermen as they carry on with their daily business. The beach has many open air boat yards. I think it’s definitely worth a trip.
It is located on the Western coast of Ecuador in Manabi Province. Canoa has beaches that stretch for miles. The town has magnificient palm trees. The best part is that the town centre is near the beaches. You do not have to worry about moving around since everything is a walking distance from the town centre.
Canoa was originally known as Pantaguas o Pintagua. The original inhabitants escaped from the beach when they saw the invaders approaching and hid in the hills. A century later priests arrived , they included the beach to be part of Canton Sucre in the twentieth century . This led to changing of the name to Canoa.
One of Conao’s best known celebrations is the festival of San Pablo.This festival is held in August. You will enjoy the music and the lively crowds as everyone comes out to enjoy this spectacular festival.
The beaches in Canoa have some of the best waves for surfing in the Pacific. There is also paragliding, surfing, kite surfing and kayaking on the great waves of the Pacific ocean. Other draws to Conoa for the outdoor or hiking enthusiast, are the great hiking routes in the country side.
San Lorenzo is a small town located in the northern part of Esmeraldas. Many years ago, when Europeans arrived in Esmeraldas, San Lorenzo became an important trading centre. It was a major slave trading centre which led to its growth.
San Lorenzo is known for its lively Marimba festival. The festival draws large crowds eager to hear traditional Ecuadorian music fused with Afro beats.
Esmeraldas province is located in the north western part of Ecuador, thought of as quite cosmopolitan since it is inhabited by many ethnic groups.
The first Europeans to reach Ecuador arrived in Esmeraldas. They called it Esmeraldas since they believed it had vast quantities of gems. San Lorenzo became the main town and trading centre. Slaves from Colombia were brought to work in the province of Esmeraldas.
Not only do people flock to the Esmeraldas province for the beaches, they come to explore the jungles too. You can move through the dense mangroves using a canoe since rivers are the only way to move around. Nature lovers will enjoy bird watching and seeing unique mangrove species.
Located within Esmeraldas’ jungle areas is the Mataje-Caypas Ecological Reserve. The reserve has many unique plant and animal species. It is home to the world’s tallest mangroves. The reserve has uninhabited beaches, mangrove forests and other species that are native to Ecuador.
Another attraction within Esmeralda is the Caypas River. This river has spectacular falls, gorges and unique species. At the Zapallo Grande you will see indigenous architecture and clothing.
A little farther down is the Santiago River. On the upstream side of this river you will find the Playa del Oro community. The community runs an eco lodge where you can spend the night and relax.
Puerto Lopez was once a small fishing village, however in recent years, Puerto Lopez has been able to take advantage of it’s spot along the Ruta del Sol. Now, Puerto Lopez has become a delight for eco-tourists. The Parque Nacional Machalilla is close inland and promises to be the perfect place for hiking. Puerto Lopez also offers numerous eco-tourist lodges offering exclusive windows into the biodiversity and archeological nature only found within the coastal rainforests.
The Silver Island or Isla de la Plata is also in close proximity. This is the only place other than the Galapagos Islands where you can see many exotic sights, including the Blue Footed Boobies living in their natural habitat.
Also, between July & October, you might see Humpback Whales brought by Pacific’s Humboldt current. Whale watching is one of the most popular activities in Puerto Lopez during these months. I’m told, it’s a breathaking site, something on our to do list for sure. The Humpbacks are know for slapping their tails in order to attract mates. I imagine it is something to remember for a lifetime.
Our favorite stop along the Ruta del Sol is of course, Montañita, which is just an hour’s drive from Puerto Lopez. As we know, Montañita is popular with tourisits and surfers alike. There is a small downtown area packed with many restaurants, shops, bars and clubs. Montañita is famous worldwide for its nighttime beach parties and incredible surf. The high season is is between December & March, but Miro and I prefer to visit during the low season April through November.
Exploring Ecuador’s Ruta del Sol would not be complete without a trip to Salinas. Salinas is about two hours south of Montañita by bus. Like many of the beaches along the Ecuadorian coast, Salinas promises many beautiful white sandy beaches. But the town itself has modern towering shopping complexes, chic stores, restaurants and condos. Some say Salinas has a “Miami touch” as it is often described as “retro, yet modern with a funky vibe and high-end choices. One day we’ll see it for ourselves.
Finally, the most southern stop on Ecuador’s Ruta del Sol will bring you to Guayaquil. Guayaquil is one of the largest and most populated cities in Ecuador, but don’t let that dissuade you from exploring its wonderful attractions. The famous Malecon is a beautifully remodeled waterfront along the tidal estuary flowing past Guayaquil. The Malecon stretches 2.5 kilometers offering many cultural exhibits along the way, like lush gardens, docks for boats, restaurants, artisan markets, chic boutiques and nightclubs. There is even an Imax theater to pass the time. Guayaquil seems like the perfect place to wrap up the journey down the Ruta del Sol.
Creative Commons license – Manta- Johnny Chunga, Canoa – vtoxic, San Lorenzo- (-J. Nilsson Photo) , Esmeraldas- Rinaldo W., Puerto Lopez- Szymon Kochanski, Salinas – Johnny Chunga, Guayaquil – Yassef,