About 100 kms north of Ballenita sits the beach town of Puerto Lopez. With a population of about 20,000 its main industries are fishing and tourism. It is also the gateway to Machalilla National Park which includes Isla de la Plata or the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” which was our main reason for visiting.
We booked two tours and three nights accommodation through Palo Santo travel and boarded a bus at the nearby Santa Elena Terminal for $4 USD each for the 2 hour trip. The bus was comfortable, air conditioned, wifi equipped and there were few people aboard on a Tuesday morning. There was however the usual loud and violent movie dubbed in Spanish playing over the entertainment system.
The scenery on one side was spectacular views of the Pacific coastline and great looking beaches. Inland was mainly dry scrub land with a mix of pretty bleak looking towns and villages. We passed through the surfing town of Montanita where there were scores of hostels and seemed to be a much younger crowd.
There is a major bus terminal (Terminal Terrestre) in Puerto Lopez, but we got off the bus in the centre of town. The major mode of transport is by tuk tuk which costs $1 US wherever you go. With our basic Spanish and some directions provided by the tour company we found our way to our accommodation.
What we had booked for $20 US was somewhere between a motel, hostel and guest house. It was in the lower level of a large home that, like the grounds, seemed to be either not quite finished or in the early stages of decay. It was a comfortable enough room with a kitchenette and welcomed mosquito nets. There was even a large turtle to greet us in the hallway. The pool sure was refreshing!
Walking through the town we found it to be similar in many respects to most of the towns we have seen here. They are generally poor with dirt side streets which can be either very muddy or very dusty.
Cinder block construction is the norm and most buildings are not painted. We have been very disappointed in the amount of trash that is common everywhere, even in people’s yards. There are many small shops that sell an assortment of food items, household goods and seemingly hundreds of flipflops.
We have been very impressed with the Ecuadorian people however. Wherever we go they greet us with smiles and a friendly hola or buenos tardes. This is not the same response that we have received in many European, North American or Costa Rican communities. From the youngest children, teenagers, working people and the elderly we have been treated with openness and courtesy.
The beach is a central point for tourists and locals and is also home to a wonderful daily fish market. A pleasant malecon (boardwalk) runs the length of the beach and there are numerous beach bars, small restaurants and shops, tour companies as well as public washrooms. The waves were quite high and we watched young people surfing and boogie boarding.
We had supper at a couple different restaurants and the prices were very reasonable. You can pay $5 for a fish, chicken or meat dinner with rice or fries and $8 for shrimp. They also have a good range of ceviches, tacos, soups or spaghetti with various ingredients also for under $10 US. Drinks cost $2 US for a beer and $4-5 US for a glass of wine or a cocktail.
After a good meal we really enjoyed watching the sunset with a cold cocktail at one of the beach bars.
The main choices for finding food in Puerto Lopez are limited to either local markets or the Tia supermarket in the center of town. The local market is excellent and is located in a large building with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Smaller concession shops provide dry goods, milk and eggs. The Tia supermarket is located on the main street and carries a fairly good range of products at higher prices.
We were quite happy with our 3 night stay in the town but were ready to head home afterwards. We did the 2 tours which we will cover in our next posts.
A tuk tuk took us to the bus station for our return trip to Ballenita. This time it wasn’t air conditioned and was very hot, quite crowded and the movie was more violent and louder than the one on the ride up! We were relieved to get off 2 hours later at the Santa Elena terminal.