As our next stop, Montañita, is only 10 minutes up the road we decide to live it up and get a cab rather than wait for a bus. The drive is quick and comfortable but it is most upsetting to see so many hammock shops line our route. Maybe we should have a hammock each?!
We manage to cause some confusion during check-in and the very nice lady thinks we are Italian. This isn’t the first time this has happened, Dave has been asked several times now if he is Italian. Seriously, the man could not look more British! Confusion resolved, we pop our bags in the room and go into town for lunch.
There are food options for days here, pizza, burgers, Mexican, Italian you name it, it’s here. We chose a Tiki themed restaurant which seems to have a few veggie options and get a couple of sandwiches. As we eat we watch the world go by and it certainly seems the party town reviews are accurate. We see groups of native and foreign young folk wandering by, picking a spot for a lunchtime bevvie. It seems whatever time of day it is, it’s happy hour in one bar or another. After our lunch we decide to join the youngsters and have a couple of cocktails. We pick the bar with the quietest (not completely eardrum shattering) music and order our drinks. As our drinks arrive, the waitress hands the TV remote to the table of 10 youths behind us. The volume is almost immediately cranked up and the current South American hit list is blasted into our old, tired ear holes. We finish our drinks and go for a walk along the beach.
The tide is out and the beach is long and wide, it looks like it goes on for miles. The sand is a dirty grey colour but pleasantly soft on my good foot. The sea is rough, there are people surfing the large waves. Unfortunately, my toe injury is still not quite sea ready, so no surfing for me. After walking the whole length of the beach we stroll back to our hostel.
We freshening up and head back out for some dinner. The food stalls lining the busy, narrow streets here all seem to be grouped by their wares. There’s one street full of cocktails bar stalls, another with all the pancake and waffle stalls and another with all the fresh fish stalls. We pick a small pizza place called Rastapan. The pizzas are like a little pizza pie and are really tasty. I imagine they would be a little piece of heaven at the end of a heavy night.
After our new favourite pizza snack, we take a wander down cocktail alley. We pick the establishment of a rather cheeky chap, who merrily mixes our cocktails, while we busily panic about how much he might be about to charge us. We don’t quite get to relax and enjoy our cocktails as he doesn’t take payment from us until we finish them. Turns out our worries were all unnecessary, he was a very honest cheeky chap and charged us the going rate for our cocktails. After stressing ourselves out over the cocktails we decide to give Alcatraz (a local nightclub) a miss tonight, there’s always mañana.
We get up late the next day and spend some time doing ‘chores’ (we sort our laundry and then take it to someone else to wash!). After the mornings domestic chores we grab some lunch, tacos in a trendy cafe are on today’s menu.
We wander a little around town and along the beach, treat ourselves to some Nutella, banana and strawberry pancakes and then go back to the hostel. We spend some time hanging out in the hammock (well one of us does!), getting some online admin done and listening in on an argument happening in a nearby room!
We get too caught up in our admin and end up staying in for the rest of the evening. Now we will never have a night out at Alcatraz. ?
We wake up a bit earlier the next day as it’s time to move on to our next coastal stop, Puerto Lopez. We pack our bags, check out of the hostel, have a farewell hug with the owner and walk to the bus stop. Or at least what we assume is the bus stop. We’ve become reasonably confident in our bus travel abilities nowadays so we’re less fussed about researching too many details before our journeys. Dave scopes out the ‘terminal’ (a ticket booth undercover next to the main road) and I wander to get us some breakfast. When I arrive back at the terminal, with two of the biggest waffles I have ever seen, Dave tells me the bus stop is on the other side of the road. The bus stops aren’t signposted outside of the cities and from what we can gather you can pretty much hail a bus from anywhere along its route. It’s not long before a bus pulls up and we’re on our way.
About an hour later we arrive in Puerto Lopez. As we get off the bus there are a couple of local guys sitting on the steps nearby. They ask us where we are going and tell us they will arrange a tuk tuk to take us to our hostel. Then they start trying to sell us various tours and say the tuk tuk will take us via the tour agency to book them. We thank them for their help and tell them we will do it later. Then a guy pulls up on a motorbike, he has more English than the other two. He introduces himself as Milton and joins in with the book this tour business. We politely stick to our guns and just take the tuk tuk to our hostel.
Our hostel is quite a sight…
We were expecting it to be a little on the quirky side but the reviews seemed good and the location looked nice. I’ve seen better looking sheds than this though! It’s a bit more shantytown than the idyllic treehouse I was expecting. I try really hard to reserve too much judgement before we see our room but man, it’s hard!
We walk in and there are 4 people sat around a table eating. We say hello and the man, presumably the owner says ‘Egma?’ I look to Dave bemused and ask him what egma means, he doesn’t know either. The man repeats himself and I stare at him blankly. Then it dawn’s on me, I’m egma, he’s asking if I’m egma! I feel very stupid and then confirm that I am Emma.
We check in and then get our first glimpse of our room. To my surprise it is pretty special.
We’ve got a split level family room and a nice hot shower. Just shows how deceiving looks can be! The view from the bedroom upstairs is straight out over the beach. It’s gorgeous.
There’s a nice communal area with tables and a couple of hammocks.
After admiring our new digs we go out for a walk along the sea front. It seems a bit porty but the beach further along does look nice. The sand is golden and the sea is calm, it’s lined with little beach bars and cafes.
We stop a moment and sit on a couple of swings by the sea front. We’re happily chatting and swinging when we hear someone call ‘David’, it’s Milton on his motorbike. He pulls up and gives us both an elaborate hand shake. He asks if we have booked our tour yet and we tell him we haven’t. Next thing he’s telling Dave to jump on the back of his bike and he’ll take him to book it! We fold, we are suckers for the hard sell. Dave jumps on the bike with Milton and they drive off into town. I stay on my swing hoping Milton hasn’t kidnapped Dave and he will return him safely.
About 10 minutes later Milton returns Dave safe and well and our tour for the next day is all booked. We’re going on a boat trip to the Isla de la Plata, also known as the poor man’s Galapagos.
We decide to get some lunch now that the giant waffles have digested a bit. We find a pizza place and share a small pizza. It’s super yummy, it’s basically a garlic pizza, I love garlic. South American cuisine is very much lacking in garlic in my opinion.
After lunch we head back to the hostel via the pier, there are pelicans everywhere and swarms of magnificent frigates filling the sky.
When we get back we had planned to hop in the hammocks for a little relax but there’s a couple of Swiss ladies occupying them so we hang out at one of the tables for a while instead. A while later we head out for some dinner, I have a nice gnocci dish and Dave has another pizza. He claims it was one of the best pizzas he’s eaten, high praise indeed.
We buy a bottle of wine on the way back, to enjoy in the hammocks but when we get back the bloody Swiss are still in them. We polish off our wine at the table while playing cards and whispering about the Swiss!
The next day we get up bright and early for our boat trip and walk over to the tour agency. As we’re waiting Milton arrives and greets us with another elaborate handshake. I was hoping Milton might be our tour guide as he’s a right character. Unfortunately he’s not and the guy who is, Johnny, is seriously lacking in the personality department. Johnny walks us over to the pier where we meet a few more people coming on the tour. We’re soon loaded onto the boat and Dave and I have the short straw and are sat at the back of the boat where there is no shelter from the searing heat.
The boat ride takes us about an hour to reach Isla de la Plata. As the boat circles the island there are different birds everywhere, circling the cliffs and high points. The boat approaches the beach and suddenly there are turtles swimming all around the boat.
It’s a pretty incredible sight, they are huge and the water is crystal clear. The boat pulls as close to the beach as it can and we wade the rest of the way to shore. There are little orange crabs running up and down the beach and disappearing into little holes in the sand.
By now it’s almost midday and the sun is burning down on us. After already sitting in the blistering sun for an hour to get here, I’m hoping for some nice shady paths for our short trek around some of the island.
Sadly the path offers little to no shade and I am melting. The island doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of unusual or particularly interesting plant life but there are certainly plenty of birds. The first we come across is a couple of baby blue footed boobie.
Apparently their feet don’t turn blue until they are adults, it’s caused by the large amount of sardines, anchovies and mackerel they eat. As we walk further we find an adolescent female making the most of some shade under a small bush.
We arrive at the edge of the cliff overlooking a beautiful bay.
There are boobies all along the cliff edge and small lizards running around the ground.
We walk along the cliff to the next bay and Johnny points out a shark swimming along. He tells us it is a tiger shark and then suddenly another one appears. They look pretty big and impressive from up here.
We finish our trek and hop back on the boat. We have a little bit of lunch and then the boat takes us around to the other side of the island where we can snorkel. With the tiger sharks and the jellyfish they tell us they have spotted today? Erm, no thanks, I’m good, I’ll just have a look from the safety of the boat thank you!
Dave jumps in and enjoys some snorkeling while I watch from the boat. I can see the fish clearly from here as the water is so clear anyway. They are very pretty and are all different shapes, sizes and colours.
On the journey back to Puerto Lopez we see a whale breaking through the waves. Johnny tells us it is a humpback whale and that it has arrived early. Whale season here doesn’t start until June, we are really lucky to see this guy. He puts on a good show for us, breaking out of the water and blowing air out of his blowhole, it makes quite a noise. We also spot a manta ray swimming a little way away from us.
After the adventure of the day we go to the restaurant next door from the hostel and have a seafood paella and a pitcher of sangria.
The paella is nice but the sangria goes down better. We finish with a little dessert and a cheeky homemade chocolate liquor which is very nice so we both have another one.
The next day is definitely not as productive, we get up late and take a wander to the other end of the beach. It’s much prettier this end away from the fishing boats and the pier.
We visit a very pretty veggie cafe with lovely views of the sea and both enjoy a vegetarian lunch.
Dave said his sandwich was nice but would’ve been better with a bit of chicken in it!
We spend some time planning a trip to the national park for the next day and then spend some time on the beach. Until now I have only been able to dip my good foot in the sea so I’m excited to finally get in. The sea is calm and warm but it’s a bit on the grubby side. I’m reliably informed it’s the worst bit of sea so far but it’s still pleasant and it’s nice to be able to cool off in it.
The next day we catch a bus down the road to Machalilla National Park. We have heard that the best beach in Ecuador is here. The bus drops us off on the main road opposite the national park. We sign in (we’ve handed our passports out so much since we’ve been in South America, there must be copies floating around everywhere) and start walking in the only direction there is. We’ve read there is a short hike which will take us to a few beaches and then end on the best one. It’s super hot, there is no shade to walk in and we are just following the dirt road which leads to the final beach. A car full of Ecuadorians pulls up and they offers us a lift directly to the beach. We thank them and forget how to tell them we will walk, so do some sign language at them. A short while later a path breaks off from the road and we follow the gentle incline, under some dappled shade from small trees lining the path. The incline gets a bit steeper and the shade starts to disappear. After about half an hour of walking we see the sign for the first bay Playa Prieta, we walk down and there are a few people swimming but there are no more than 6 people including us. It’s very pretty and offers good views of near by Machalilla fishing village.
We have a swim, the water is warm and refreshing after the heat of the hike. There is a strong current but there is a nice gradual incline from the beach.
We sit in the shade of the cliffs and have some lunch.
We premade some sandwiches to bring with us…
After some lunch we continue our hike to the next beach Playa Tortuguita. There is a steep downhill to get onto the beach and the view is hidden behind sand dunes. Once we get down I am blown away by how gorgeous this beach is.
It is truly stunning and we have the whole thing to ourselves. The waves are big and fierce, the sand is almost pure white and there are loads of little orange crabs scuttling up and down the beach.
I could stay here all day! Unfortunately the sea is not swimmable, the current is really strong and traveling in all sorts of crazy directions.
We spend a while slowly walking along the beach and taking it all in. As we reach the corner it seems we have to climb over a few rocks to get to the next beach section.
After making easy work of the small climb, the beach changes dramatically. The sand is now volcanic black and shimmers like glitter under the blazing sun. The sand is far too hot to walk on and there are dark, flat rocks leading to shear drops into deep, dark sea.
We leave the beach and follow the path back into the vegetation. The path winds back up the cliff and then splits, one way to a view point and one down to the grand finale beach. We follow up to the view point, there are wobbly, wooden steps leading up to it but it’s not far.
The views are great, we can see the beaches we have already explored and the huge stretch of Playa Los Frailes, the best beach in Ecuador.
It’s an impressive sight, it’s very long and the sand is a light, golden white colour. It’s not too busy and not too South American looking either (there doesn’t appear to be people selling stuff and dropping litter everywhere!).
We walk down, drop our stuff and run in the sea. The water is warm, fairly calm and very clear. We spend the rest of the afternoon on the beach, mainly in the sea and leave just before the park closes.
We’re both pretty tired after a full day of sun, swimming and walking but we manage to drag ourselves out for a little walk around town in the evening. We walk past a park and there is music blaring, it’s so loud it’s all distorted and crackly. We investigate further and find it’s just some middle-aged ladies taking a Zumba class.
The next day we are moving on to Manta, another coastal town further north. We pack our bags and store them at the hostel while we go out and get some breakfast. The small town is buzzing, much more buzzing than any other day we’ve spent here. It’s carnival at the weekend, Monday and Tuesday too and the party seems to have already started. There are new stalls all set up along the road and all sorts of political rallies happening. We weave through the excited droves of people and as we get further along we see a parade happening.
It’s a shame we are leaving today, we’re going to miss all the carnival shenanigans. Hopefully there will be just as much of a buzz at our next couple of stops.
We go back to the veggie cafe to make use of the good WiFi! We have some lunch, squeeze in some last minute planning and make some calls home. I hear a familiar voice and look up to see Charlie and Becci, from the Lost City back in Colombia, have just walked in. What are the chances!
We spend a good few hours catching up and finding out how each others trips have been so far. It’s so nice catching up we forget to keep an eye on the time and have to rush to catch the last bus to Manta.
Two hour later we arrive in Manta and take a taxi to the apartment. It’s a shame we only have one night here because the place is great. We have an apartment to ourselves and there is a lovely swimming pool too.
It’s late so we hop across the road and after spending 20 minutes working out how we get in, we have a Chinese. We have an early bus tomorrow so early night and no dip in the pool for us. ?
Tomorrow Ecuador part dos (the bits we missed) begins!