This is a bittersweet moment as it will be my last journal entry for this trip. It will also be a shorter entry as I have had little opportunity to play “tourist” over the last few weeks. However, I did get a chance to stay in two amazing cities along the Ecuadorian coast in Manta and Guayaquil. I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to describe my experience in these wonderful cities before signing off.
Manta- I originally was not planning on going to Manta, a mid-size Ecuadorian coastal city about three hours north of Guayaquil. However, I changed my mind when I had decided to head back to the United States rather than continue my journey into Peru. In order to get an extra week out of my trip, I added it to the itinerary and I am glad I did. From Montañita, I caught a passing bus to Manta which cost $4 USD and took about 4 hours. Initially, I was confused when I arrived because the bus terminal was on the outskirts of the city and the surrounding area of my hotel looked nothing like the sunny beach destination found through a Google search. However, I would go on to discover that despite the hotel being nice it was in a horrible location. Despite this fact, I ended up staying for 2 nights because I was tired and I wanted time to look for something better. I ended up moving to a nice little bed and break in the upscale neighborhood of Barbasquillo. While it was also outside of the center, my room had an ocean view there was a really nice commercial plaza within walking distance. As for the city itself, I really enjoyed Manta. In fact, if you offered me an opportunity to live in Ecuador, I would choose to live in Manta. Aside from the tropical weather, the beach was clean and the water was more pleasant to swim in than the beach towns down south (Salinas, Montañita). It was a small enough city to where the public transportation was cheap and simple (only 17 buses which are conveniently numbered 1-17) to get around. However, it was big enough to where there was Uber capability available if needed. The city’s main attraction was Mall del Pacifico which was a four story modern commercial center with high-end shopping, upscale restaurants, and a movie theatre. It was conveniently located across from the tourist beach. Manta reminded me of Fort Lauderdale in that it was nice but not overwhelming like Guayaquil. I stayed in Manta for about a week mostly hanging out in my ocean-view room and shopping at Mall del Pacifico.
Guayaquil- My first time staying in Guayaquil was a few weeks back when I was traveling from Cuenca to Salinas. I was aware that Guayaquil was Ecuador’s most populous city however, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people I would encounter at the bus terminal (made worse by the fact it was a holiday weekend). It took my Uber driver an hour to pick me up and get me to my hotel. However, my most recent trip went a lot smoother and I was able to enjoy the city. I took a bus from Manta for $6 USD and the trip took a little over 3 hours. To me, Guayaquil felt more like a capital city than Quito. It was bigger, had better infrastructure, and was home to many national and international financial headquarters. I stayed in a basic hotel right around the corner from the city’s central park. Leading up to the park was the main tourist corridor filled with restaurants, department stores, and smaller parks. In addition, Guayaquil was one of two places I visited in Ecuador that had an active nightlife and club scene (Montañita being the other). Along the water was the cities main attraction, known as El Malecon 2000. It was similar to Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles with theme parks and ice cream stalls strewn along the 2.5 kilometer boardwalk. The best part of the city were the street vendors which sold various items at below market value. For example, I bought $16 USD Samsung headphones for $2 USD. While it doesn’t have a historical sector like Quito, there were a few European style buildings which allowed for good photo opportunities. In addition, the city has an international airport which is convenient for those catching flights to the Galapagos Islands. Despite its modernity and size, Guayaquil still maintains a little of the natural beauty found throughout the rest of the country as one doesn’t have to walk to far down the Malecon 2000 to find a family of iguanas or turtles.
For the last 21 weeks, I have been on the road. What started as a volunteer mission in Puerto Rico ended with me typing this final journal entry in my hotel room in Guayaquil, Ecuador. I didn’t know what was waiting for me when I got on that airplane on July 1st, but I knew it would be something special. Indeed, these last few months have been the best months of my 30 years on this earth. Not only did I learn about the world around me, but I learned more about myself in the process. The question going for is not IF I will do this again, but rather WHEN and WHERE my next trip will be. That is a question that I hope to have answered in the near future, but for now I will forever be grateful for both this opportunity as well as those of you who took the time to follow along by reading my blog. Until next time.
Keep living the high life on a low budget.
About an hour up the coast from Salinas sits the small beach town of Montañita. While Salinas is more of a local vacation spot, Montañita is the opposite. Many ex-pats have established small hotels and restaurants that cater to the constant stream of foreign tourists that pass through on an annual basis. Even though I hate “tourist traps”, I love hanging out on the beach so I definitely couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore Montañita.
Arrival to Montañita- I checked out of my hotel in Salinas at about 1030 Monday morning. Fortunately, I was staying on the main road and there was a bus passing as I was walking out of the hotel which could take me to the regional bus terminal in Santa Elena for 30 cents. I ended up choosing the wrong bus as it was not a direct bus to the terminal with the trip taking about an hour (as opposed to 25 minutes when I arrived). However, I arrived at the bus terminal just as a bus was leaving to Montañita. The ticket cost $1.75 USD. The bus almost left me as I stopped to buy an empanada but I was able to chase it down. While more crowded then other buses I have ridden on, I was still able to sit comfortably with my travel bag. The trip to Montañita took about an hour and 20 minutes with most of the ride going down the Ecuadorian coast. There was no official bus terminal in Montañita as the bus stopped on the side of the road at the town’s main entrance. From the bus stop, it was a short walk to my pre-booked accommodation. While billed as a hotel, it was really a room rented out by an American expat. I also ran into a similar issue that I ran into in Salinas where the place couldn’t take credit card for payment. However, it was such a good deal, that I ended up staying and paying cash. Specifically, the room was had an ocean view with a private balcony and was only $78 USD for the whole week. I doubt I could have found a better rate anywhere else.
Montañita Town- Despite its widespread popularity, Montañita isn’t really that big. The entire town is spread out over 10 city blocks give or take. However, it is very congested and gritty reminding me of Playa El Tunco en El Salvador. There is a nice soccer field in the middle of the town where I assume the local team holds Sunday evening matches. While there was no big supermarket, there were plenty of small tiendas that provided everything one would need for a comfortable stay. However, as with many tourist areas, the prices for commodities were pretty inflated. It was the first time in over 4 months of traveling in the region that I paid over $1 USD for a liter of water. There were plenty of restaurants to choose whether it was local seafood places or high-end foreign cuisine. Most places only took cash and those that take credit card, add 10-20% on the price. Another surprising thing was some of the expat shop owners didn’t even speak Spanish which I would have thought you at least needed a basic understanding of to start a business in Ecuador. There was a nice boardwalk that bordered the beach. While the weather wasn’t exactly the greatest, the beach seemed to be pretty desolate which was emphasized due to how large it was. In fact, it was similar to Playa Venao in Panama in that the tide dictates how far you need to walk in order to reach the water’s edge (making it seem even bigger during certain times of the day). Right next to the main tourist boulevard, there were beach chairs and umbrellas set up for one to relax. While Ecuador doesn’t exactly have a “club culture”, there are also several bars in Montañita that are open until 12 AM and play several popular English language songs.
As I near the end of my time in Ecuador, I have decided to explore the areas along the country’s southwestern coastal region. My first stop was Salinas, a small beach town about 2.5 hours west of Guayaquil. It is a small beach town along South America’s most western tip which caters mostly to local Ecuadorians. Salinas reminded me of a poor-man’s Miami Beach (no pun intended). However, I am glad to finally be able to relax on a beach again after nearly 2 months of traveling inland.
Arrival to Salinas- After leaving Cuenca due to outrageous hotel prices, I technically stayed in Guayaquil for the weekend but made it a point not to explore the city. I decided to first explore the coast and come back a stay a proper week in Ecuador’s largest city. From the Guayaquil bus terminal, I took a 2 hour bus to the town of Santa Elena ($4.40 USD). The bus was comfortable despite being packed and the ride was smooth. After arriving in Santa Elena, I had to take one of the many local buses for .30 cents to Salinas which was about 25 minutes away pass the town of Libertad. I actually lucked out because I happened to check Google Maps right as the bus was passing my stop as there wasn’t a municipal bus terminal (my phone was also at 2% battery). I got off the bus and arrived at the hotel that I booked via Booking.com. Unfortunately, despite annotating that they accepted credit card for payment on the website, they did not accept credit card. That actually made me angry because it amounted to deception in order to get people to book non-refundable rooms. I ended up telling the owner that I would book another reservation for fewer nights but I wasn’t going to pay for 7 nights in cash. After I he cancelled my original reservation, I took a look at the other available room which turned out to be a dump. I ended up just leaving them high and dry. Fortunately, I only had to walk about 2 blocks before finding a nicer hotel which cost a little bit more but did accept credit card.
Playa Las Salinas- As for Salinas itself, it was a sleepy beach town transitioning between tourist seasons. The beach was so-so but the farther you went from the shore the more picturesque the water. Playa Las Salinas had a long causeway lined with restaurants and hotels that was reminiscent of South Beach in Miami, although not as nice. However, it was acceptable given the affordable cost. There was a nice pier (El Malecon) which provided a nice panoramic view of the city shoreline. The beach itself is a swimmer’s beach and I was able to rent an umbrella and chair for $3 USD which is cheap compared to other places. While not as bad as Bocagrande in Cartagena, I did constantly have to shoo vendors and ad-hoc masseuses away as I was trying to relax. The most frustrating thing about Salinas was the inconsistent hours of the restaurants in that a restaurant would be busy one day and completely boarded up the next. It was the same thing with food vendors, I never ran into the same vendor two days in a row. The only restaurants that remained opened throughout the week were either the ones that charged US expensive prices or the seafood places which I couldn’t eat due to allergies. There were several instances where I enjoyed a dish but didn’t get to eat it again. In the end, Salinas was a cheap place for locals to come to relax and do as little as possible which is why it seemed that there weren’t many foreign tourists hanging around.
La Chocolatera- Salinas didn’t have much to offer as far as site seeing. However, if there is one thing that I felt I “must do” while hanging out for the week, it was going to visit La Chocolatera at the most western tip of the country. The easy way of doing this would be to pay a taxi $6 USD to take me there and back. However, as someone who is always looking to save money, I decided to go the more “adventurous” route. I took a bus (.30 cents) to the entrance of the Ecuadorian military base where the site is located. (The Ecuadorian government only recently opened up the base to allow for tourist traffic). After showing the soldiers a photo of my passport on my phone, I was allowed inside where I had to walk another 3.5 kms to the point. I took the street path but could have taken the beach trail from La Loberia which is two miles and takes a little under two hours. La Chocolatera was fairly commercialized as it had multiple parking lots, souvenir vendors, and a small café. Because I went on a Thursday afternoon, only a few people were walking about. I was able to get some great pictures of the crashing waves, the small lighthouse, and the coastline. Despite being on a beach, the current is way too strong to swim in, although you theoretically could get close enough to touch the water. I spent about 30 minutes at the point before paying a waiting taxi $3 USD to take me back to my hotel. I think La Chocolatera provided a nice distraction from the beach and even better photo opportunities.