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Ecuador has a lot to offer the international traveler, including the pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial history of the capital city of Quito and the rich biodiversity of the Galapagos Islands. Often overlooked, however, is Ecuador’s sun-drenched coastline, which the locals call their Ruta de Sol (Sun Road), stretching along the coast from Guayaquil to Manta and beyond.
The town currently generating the most buzz is Montanita, favored by the younger set and surfers of all ages. It is about three hours from Guayaquil by bus or less with a rental car.
Here, the first boutique hotel group in Ecuador, Ciocotel, has entered the market with its property Majagua. Tell your clients that the top-floor suite at the hotel has a magnificent view but be warned — the hotel has no elevator and guests desiring that view will get a good stair-stepping workout at no extra charge.
Montanita has witnessed a surge in growth over the last seven years. The streets are now paved and, with lots of bamboo and wood construction, the town has a tropical feel — especially when the bar carts begin opening up around 10 p.m., each blasting music to attract passersby.
About a half-hour by bus north of Montanita is Ayampe, a small village with a spattering of tourist offerings and wide-open beaches. Visitors should ask that the bus stop at the Las Tortugas Cabanas road sign and then head west to the beach.
One lodging option is Las Orishas, run by an Ecuadorean woman who speaks English and her Italian boyfriend. They offer rooms that may appeal to a younger clientele, and the amazingly low rate includes breakfast.
Just two blocks away, Palmas Coco offers cabins with an ocean view. The cabins are new with colorful tiled floors, hot water, good netting around the bed and a quiet fan.
Continuing along the coast, Puerto Lopez is a sleepy port town that has a tourist trade due to its proximity to Machalilla National Park and a wonderful hike to a beautiful undeveloped beach called Las Frailes. An offshore island called Isla de Plata is also part of the park. This island is sometimes called a poor man’s Galapagos because of the low cost of a tour there — $37.50 for the boat ride, lunch, snorkeling and a hike across the island where one can see dozens of blue-footed boobies up close.
The place to stay in Puerto Lopez is The Mandala, an establishment run by an Italian man and his Swiss wife. The hostelry consists of wooden chalets with palm-frond rooftops tucked in a lush garden with bougainvillea sweeping down the sides of the structures. The Mandala attracts an international crowd with many guests coming from the wide-ranging diplomatic corps stationed in Quito, and each morning the owner walks along the veranda and greets his guests in various languages.
This homey vibe is just part of what makes Ecuador’s Ruta de Sol perfect for a seaside getaway.
Getting There:Lan and Avianca have inexpensive flights from Florida to Guayaquil, but also look for deals on American Airlines. United also offers flights departing from Houston.
Getting Around:Guayaquil has renovated its waterfront into a safe tourist haven, and the old district of Las Penas is within walking distance for a taste of old colonial Guayaquil. In other parts of the city, be careful while exploring, especially on buses. Keep things on your lap or check your bags with the bus attendant. From Guayaquil, direct buses to Montanita cost about $5 and take three hours. Taxis and private transportation services cost around $80.
When to Go:A good time for a coastal visit is November and December. The rainy season begins in mid to late December and lasts until May, but rainfall is low and typically takes place at night. Though a summer visit might be tempting, locals often complain of June gloom during the season.
What to Do:Just 20 minutes north of the port town of Puerto Lopez is the National Park Machalilla. A short hike away is Los Frailes, a beach with crystal clear waters and white sand. For surfers, Montanita offers ideal waves all year long, perfect for enthusiasts and beginners alike.