Let’s be honest, our lives are often hectic, and we do not always have time to take extended vacations. If you are short on time but yearning to explore South America, you may want to consider Ecuador. Ecuador's predictable weather and smaller size (in comparison to other South American countries) make it a great place to visit if you do not have a lot of time.
Along the coast of Ecuador lie a number of hidden gems. Numerous beaches, fishing villages, and upbeat party towns conveniently located several hours from Guayaquil. Regardless of whether or not you have a week, a month, or a year to spend exploring Ecuador’s coast, you will not be disappointed.
Things to do in Guayaquil
The city of Guayaquil is considered Ecuador’s economic capital and is home to Aeropuerto Internacional José Joaquín de Olmedo. If you are planning to explore the coast of Ecuador, it is an ideal place to start. Even if you only have a day or two to explore Guayaquil, it is more than enough time to visit the highlights.
Parque Seminario- Iguana Park
As you make your way through the city, be sure to stop at Parque Seminario, centrally located in front of Catedral Metropolitana de Guayaquil. Its more common name is Iguana Park. You may be thinking…why would they name a city park after an animal which commonly lives near the shoreline? Well, you guessed it, this park is humorously home to iguanas! How they made their home here is beyond me; however, I have a feeling the reason they stay is due to the tourists who continuously feed them.
The Malecon 2000- Guayaquil’s Boardwalk
The Malecon 2000 is Guayaquil’s newly renovated boardwalk, which overlooks the Guayas River. It is 2.5km in length and makes for an enjoyable stroll. Along the way, you will pass numerous cafes, restaurants, and even a small amusement park. If you are interested in art and culture, you can visit the Museo Antropologico y de Arte Contemporaneo located towards the end of the boardwalk.
If you are looking for some exercise and a fabulous view of the city, head to the neighborhood Las Peñas, located close to the Malecon 2000 (Guayaquils boardwalk). Find your way to Escalera 1 and prepare yourself to ascend 444 steps. It is impossible to get lost as each step is numbered. In addition to the view of the city from the top, the neighborhood’s colorful houses and the beautiful sky blue lighthouse attract many visitors. This neighborhood also has a fascinating history. Click here to learn more!
Things to do in Puerto Lopez
Three and a half hours from Guayaquil is the town of Puerto Lopez. If you are not in a position to rent a vehicle, you can easily take the bus from Guayaquil’s main terminal. If you want to read more about taking the bus in Ecuador, click here to read my article Traveling by Bus in Ecuador. Plan to spend at least several days exploring all that this beautiful town has to offer. The main strip, Vía Julio Izurieta, overlooks the beach and has many options for accommodations, including hotels and hostels. Whether you choose to lounge at the beach or venture further from town, you will not be at a loss of things to do.
Isla de la Plata- The Poor Man’s Galapagos
One of the main attractions near Puerto Lopez is Isla de la Plata (Island of Silver). You may also hear this island referred to as the Poor Man’s Galapagos. This name came about as a result of its affordability to visit in comparison to the Galapagos Islands. Similar to the Galapagos, you can see some of the same creatures, such as the curious blue-footed boobies. Isla de la Plata is part of the protected Machalilla National Park. Tourist agencies advertise daily excursions to this island. We visited during December 2019, which is considered the low season. An all-day tour cost us $45, which included an hour boat ride to and from the island, a guided tour, lunch, and snorkeling.
If you are a certified diver, you can plan a dive trip during your visit. Similar to the Galapagos, Isla de la Plata has a variety of intriguing wildlife, both above and below the sea. If you do not have time for a dive trip, you can still catch a glimpse of sea turtles, pufferfish, parrotfish, and coral with a short snorkel adventure.
One of the main highlights of visiting this island is the opportunity to see the famous blue-footed boobies. We were pleased to be able to witness the end of these beautiful birds mating season. If you are quiet and keep a respectful distance, you can watch their interesting courtship dance as the females decide whether or not they will mate with their admirer.
Although we visited late in the season, many people visit Puerto Lopez in June and October to witness the impressive humpback whales migrate along the coast of Ecuador. According to our guide, this is the best time to visit if you would like to glimpse this thrilling sight. Tours from Puerto Lopez leave daily, and many tourist companies guarantee a whale sighting or your money back!
While in Puerto Lopez, you also have the opportunity to learn more about the history of Ecuador and its indigenous people by visiting the Community of Agua Blanca. Your $5 entrance fee includes a tour of the museum where you can see pre-Inca artifacts and learn of the impressive feats of the Manteña people. A civilization that, although located in Ecuador, had the knowledge and skillset to travel and conduct trade with other cultures in South America. The pride of this community and their dedication to preserving their ancestral history is evident in the way they share their knowledge and maintain their traditions.
When you visit Agua Blanca, be sure to bring your bathing suit and towel. Visitors have the opportunity to enjoy a natural sulfur lagoon. The water is cool, and your skin will feel refreshed after lathering it in sulfuric mud and washing it off ten to fifteen minutes later. Facilities are on-site, making it easy to change into your bathing suit after you arrive. You can also take advantage of the spa located near the lagoon and get a massage. Check out their website for more information and prices!
Playa de Los Frailes
Playa de Los Frailes is known as one of the more beautiful beaches in the area and is worth a visit. Located near the community of Agua Blanca, it is easy to add a stop to this beach in your itinerary. Be sure to bring your passport as the park guards at the entrance will ask to see identification and must record your passport number. It will cost you $2 to park if you are driving, but it is also possible to take a taxi or ride a bike from town. Crowds of small crabs scatter as they sense your pounding feet approaching. It truly is quite a sight as their feet leave a curious pattern in the sand.
Things to do in Montañita
Beach, Surf and Party
Only 50 minutes away from Puerto Lopez sits a popular beach town. This town was the third stop on our tour of the Ecuadorian coast. Montañita is well known for several things; the beach, the surf, and the parties. If you are looking for a place to relax on a quiet beach, this may not be the place for you, but if you are looking to meet other travelers and surfers, this is your spot! Even if you are not a surfer, it is highly entertaining to sit on the sand and watch the pros. If you are a beginner like myself, there are many surf shops where you can rent a board and take lessons. Don’t be intimidated by the pros as they often stay to the right side of the beach where the waves are larger. Ask your instructor or the shop owner to direct you to the area of the beach best suited for your skill level.
Montañita is not only known for its massive waves but also as a party town, and rightly so. After walking through town, it quickly becomes apparent why it has earned this reputation. Bars litter every corner, and those that are looking for some action are sure to find it wandering these streets. As I’ve said in a previous post, I am not much of a party person, so, unfortunately, I cannot offer any reviews on the bars; however, if you are looking for some excitement, you are sure to find it here!
Montañita is just short of three hours from Guayaquil (by car). As your adventure comes to a close, you can easily make your way back to the city by bus or car and catch a flight home. Whether you plan to stay for a week, a month, or a year, this country has a multitude of activities to keep you busy. The relatively close proximity of the coastline towns make them a doable vacation for those with only a week or two to spare.