When my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I visited the Ecuador coast recently, one of the nicest surprises was Bahia de Caraquez.
It’s hard not to describe this little city of 20,000 people as a gem.
For one thing, it sits on a sandy peninsula jutting out into the Pacific like a gemstone pendant at the end a necklace… but in this case the necklace is the Chone River, which winds down from the Manabi highlands and flows into the ocean in a wide estuary next to the town itself.
For another thing, the city looks like it has been worked in polished stone due to the many condo towers stretched along and in back of the beautiful seafront malacon (boardwalk). Once a wealthy trade and shipping port with rail connections to the rest of the country, Bahia has evolved ov er the years into a favorite coastal vacation and getaway spot for many Ecuadorians.
It’s not hard to see why. The estuary where the Chone River meets the ocean is a spectacular expanse of water and majestic headlands. Bahia has taken advantage of both natural blessings… restaurants, parks, and shops line the banks of the Chone on the north side of town where pleasure boats and commercial crafts ply the river and crowd the docks. And on the west and south sides of town, the Pacific ocean stretches out from the waterfront walk into the vast distance. The best condos in Bahia sport both these stunning river and ocean views.
The town center is a hive of activity during the day, but thanks to its small population and seasonal popularity, vehicle traffic is so light as to be almost non-existent outside the town commercial center. This makes strolling the river walk and the oceanfront malacon a quiet and relaxing pleasure at almost anytime of the day or night.
We spent a lovely evening at a riverfront restaurant enjoying local ceviches and cold beers and got the feeling that during the traditional Ecuadorian family holidays of Christmas/New Year and Holy Week, the place would be packed with people from Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca enjoying the mild weather and beautiful setting. But outside those holidays, we were pretty confident that there would be no crowds to fight at any restaurant or bar you wanted to try in town during the rest of the year.
And Bahia has recently had another gem added to its setting… a new bridge across the Chone now eliminates the time-consuming ferry ride that used to be the only way to get across the river to San Vincente and the stunning beaches to the north. Bahia is now more than ever a natural base from which to explore newly accessible beaches from the surf mecca of Canoa all the way up to Pedernales and another great surf destination, Mompiche in southern Esmeraldas province.
In between are long stretches of incredible Pacific Coast beachfront that has, until now, been known only to the fishermen and farmers who live here, surfers who venture out for the perfect waves, and the most adventurous Ecuadorian and foreign travelers. The bridge at Bahia has changed all that, and it will change Bahia as well, making it a readily accessible town for services and shopping for those who will inevitably explore and settle along those northern beaches.