Where is the best beach town in Ecuador to hang your hat? Well, that depends entirely on the lifestyle, climate, and environment you’re after, of course. Because not every beach town is created equally.
That’s especially true in Ecuador, where every journey along the country’s 530–mile long Ruta del Sol coast, from the border with Peru northward to Colombia, takes you through several diverse eco-systems. Also known as the Ruta Spondylus (for the spiny red mollusks found in the sea here), this highway has been improved considerably in recent years as hopes abound that coastal Ecuador will one day become a major tourist attraction.
For now, though, should you think of settling along this coast, you’ll have to be content with small-town amenities and, in most cases, inadequate health care. The flip side is that the beaches are wide and pretty and, in many cases, you’ll have them all to yourself.
If you have two weeks to spare you can easily check out the following areas:
Salinas/La Libertad/Ballenita: This may be the flattest, driest area along the coast, so if you’re looking for a lower-humidity destination, this could be it. These three beach towns seem to be the most popular with expats in this, the Santa Elena province. Salinas is characterized by high-rise condos that front the malecon and the beach. (It’s party central during holidays.) La Libertad is a bustling commercial town, with plans to spruce up the malecon that fronts its attractive beach. Ballenita is where you’ll find more single-family homes. Tip: look a block or two back to find outstanding real estate bargains in these towns.
Olón/Montañita: Most expats here live in quiet little Olón but go to nearby Montañita for nightlife and its variety of restaurant choices. About an hour north along the coast from the Salinas area and still in the Santa Elena province, the landscape and climate here changes. Lush hills border the coast, which in this area gets more rain than the Santa Elena province but, for most, makes for a prettier setting. You can live right in town, or up on the ridge, with never-ending views of Olón and its long wide beach and the ocean beyond.
Puerto Lopez/Puerto Cayo: Always one of our favorite beach towns in Ecuador, Puerto Lopez (and neighboring Puerto Cayo) is in the Manabí province. Puerto Lopez sits on the beach at the heart of a crescent bay rimmed by lush jungle-covered hills. This is a popular spot for whale watching from June to September and for daylong boat trips to nearby Isla de la Plata, sometimes referred to as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos,” for the Blue-Footed boobies, iguanas, and sea lions found here. Also nearby is the Machalilla National Park and its popular Los Frailes Beach.
Manta/Crucita: Also in the Manabí province, Manta is Ecuador’s third-largest and fastest-growing city (and the busiest and largest commercial fishing port in the world), and you’ll find all the services and facilities you’d expect. Because of the port and the many fish-processing plants located here, Manta has a bit of an industrial feel. There is a well-organized expat community, but bargain properties are harder to find, snapped up by Ecuadorians who rent to the growing number of workers flocking into the city to build a new oil processing facility near here. For a more relaxed lifestyle, look 35 minutes north to the small town of Crucita, with a rapidly growing expat community. Not much goes on in this little fishing town, and for major shopping you’ll need to go to Manta or Portoviejo, but that’s exactly what many expats here appreciate about Crucita.
Canoa/Bahía de Caráquez: The small town of Canoa, about 25 minutes from the larger Bahía de Caráquez, is a surfer and backpacker town with a pretty beach and a youthful energy. It’s just now reaching its stride, and there are plans to further develop this area into an even bigger tourist destination. The tidy town of Bahía de Caráquez sits at the point on a peninsula where the Rio Chone meets the Pacific Ocean. Yachtsmen from around the world take refuge in the Rio Chone inlet and use time on shore in Bahía for R&R and to restock supplies. The city is popular with expat retirees, most choosing to live in one of the water-views high-rise condos that rim the point. Both Canoa and Bahía de Caráquez are in the province of Manabí.
Other beach towns in Ecuador worth a look include Playas in the province of Guayas. At less than an hour’s drive, this is the closest beach town to Ecuador’s largest city of Guayaquil. A new shopping mall was opened not too long ago at Playas, and the beach itself—especially to the west—is very pretty. The drawback is that hordes of day trippers from Guayaquil descend on Playas on weekends…and picking up after themselves is apparently not a virtue.
The small picturesque towns of Ayangue and Ayampe, between Salinas and Montañita are also worth a look. If you live in northern Ecuador, your closest beach resort area is found in the province of Esmeraldas. The small beach towns of Suá and Samé are nice. The larger (and unsightly) town of Atacames is where all the action happens, so if you like thumping disco bars into the wee hours, go here. If not, you may prefer the more residential beach community of Tonsupa, the most popular destination for vacationers from Ecuador’s capital city of Quito.
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