The coast of Ecuador is very different to the places that one finds along the spine of the country (the Andes). Puerto López on the Pacific coast is in Parque Nacional Machalilla and a place to enjoy some marine wildlife and sandy beaches.
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A Country of Contrasts
The vast spine of the Andes that runs north to south through Ecuador has many valleys and plateaus easily large enough to allow cities such as Quito, Riobamba and Cuenca to sit comfortably at altitudes of 2,500 metres (8,200 feet) or more. At such elevations, the countryside is green and the heat is never debilitating.
In a matter of hours one can descend to the lowlands on the way to the coast where things are immediately very different. There is arid countryside with scrub-like plants, heat, dust, motorbikes and mopeds everywhere, slap-dash architecture and a laid back attitude that one associates with hot Latin America. On the subject of architecture, in the lowlands the building standards are frequently terrible. The houses look like the builder had had a heavy session at the pub beforehand and had a budget of $10. There is a heavy sense of ´that´s good enough´ about it.
Around Puerto López
The town of Puerto López sits in the sweep of a bay. It is a dusty town with much of the activity centred on fishing (many boats in the bay) and the tourist trade (trips for diving and to Isla de la Plata).
Bars on Beach at Puerto López
North of Puerto López is Playa Los Frailes, a great sandy beach for swimming, with two smaller but more rocky beaches just around some headlands to the north. I enjoyed my first ever swims in the Pacific Ocean!
Beach Just North of Playa Los Frailes
A little inland to the north of Puerto López is the site of a previous indigenous community at Agua Blanca. The artefacts are not particularly impressive, but set in the woods nearby is a thermal bath. I enjoyed some relaxing dips in the sulphurous water as well as covering myself in the silt-like mud which did make my skin feel pretty good.
Tim Enjoying Some Skin Treatment at the Thermal Pool at Agua Blanca
Isla de la Plata
One day I took an excursion to Isla de la Plata, an island that lies around 40 km to the north west of the town. The island is a wildlife reserve and is awash with bird life. A walking tour of the island gave the opportunity to see birds such as Piqueros de Patas Azules, Frigata, Pajala Tropical and Piquero Enmascarado close up. In fact, the Piqueros de Patas Azules (with their blue feet) are so docile they almost seem happy to pose for photographs.
Piqueros de Patas Azules on Isla de la Plata
Frigata on Isla de la Plata
While lunching on the boat in a bay of Isla de la Plata I saw turtles and colourful fish. During the return to Puerto López the boat cruised around looking for Humpback Whales that pass this coastal region at this time of year. Spotting them was made a little difficult by the high swell but we did see one long enough to get glimpses of its tail, fin and back as they broke the surface. After a while the whale spotting was abandoned as the height of the swell was increasing and many people were starting to get sick. The journey back was a rough affair with many people (myself included) projecting their lunch off the back of the boat.
Turtle in Bay of Isla de la Plata
Back to Higher Planes
I left Puerto López, the coast and the lowlands to head to the city of Cuenca which is back up in the Andes (at 2,500 metres / 8,200 feet). After changing buses in Guayaquil, the route shortly started climbing up into the mountains. The rate of change in environment and temperature was incredible. Closer to Cuenca the road passed Parque Nacional Cajas whose misty and cool valleys reminded me of Europe – very different to the environment in the coastal lowlands not far away.