After years of travelling you can generally rely on a huge amount of experience to make things go smoothly, but occasionally you still make some classic mistakes. Last week my stupid decision was to travel to the beach on a holiday weekend. Everyone I spoke to in Guayaquil told me that it would be fine, everyone leaves on Thursday, no need to buy a ticket in advance. I arrived at the bus station early on Good Friday morning to scenes that wouldn’t be out of a place in a disaster movie. You know the kind – a tsunami warning has been given or an alien spaceship is hovering overhead, and the entire city is fleeing in stampedes.
After weeks in the highlands of Colombia and Ecuador during the rainy season, I was happy to arrive in Guayaquil, on the south-west coast of Ecuador. It was a long but scenic bus journey from Quito as the road drops dramatically down from the mountains then follows mile after mile after mile of banana plantations.
I remember very little about Guayaquil from when I was there in 1999. It was a dangerous city back then, but it’s reinvented itself and an impressive walkway or Malecón has been built along the banks of the river Guayas. Like all cities now seem to require, it even has its own Ferris wheel, La Perla. And it’s a lot cheaper than the London Eye.
There’s not a lot to do apart from wander the Malecón and enjoy the sun. The 90% humidity wasn’t so pleasant though. At the end of the Malecón is the Cerro Santa Ana, once a no-go area, but now gentrified, with winding streets and steps up to a lighthouse with great views over the city.
I didn’t want to be in the city over the Easter weekend when everything would be closed, so I decided to head for Puerto López, a beach resort just 3 or 4 hours ride away. The first thing I had to do at the bus station was find the end of the queue, as each counter for each bus company had an enormous queue snaking back and intermingling with others. A security guard vainly tried to explain to Ecuadorians how to queue, but with little success.
After two hours standing in line in sweltering conditions, I finally had a ticket in hand and was on a bus heading to the coast. Luckily, it was all worthwhile, since Puerto López is a laid back beach town and even over a holiday it wasn’t too crowded.
On my first full day there I took a boat trip to Isla de la Plata, often described as a poor man’s Galapagos. During a two hour guided hike into the interior I saw magnificent frigate birds and some blue-footed boobies, then went snorkelling with turtles. In English the island’s name means Silver Island and is allegedly named after the fact that Sir Francis Drake buried some treasure stolen from the Spanish. Surprising how often his name has cropped up on my travels since Colombia.
The next day I visited Playa de los Frailes in the Machalilla National Park, reputedly one of the best beaches in Ecuador. It didn’t disappoint. I opted to take the two hour trail which goes up to incredible viewpoints and past deserted stretches of beach.
I headed back to Guayaquil on Easter Monday which luckily is not a holiday here, but a regular working day, so it was a lot quieter. I was relaxed and chilled out, but the trip to Isla de la Plata had also made me excited about visiting the Galapagos, where I was headed next. My only concern was how expensive it was all going to be, as the islands have a reputation for being incredibly pricey. How I was going to survive on my budget?