After spending a night in the busy, loud and fairly unlovely city of Guayaquil, we navigated the cavernous bus station and set off north. Arriving in the late afternoon, we checked in to our hostel, ‘Viejamar’, perched on the desolate coastline between Puerto Lopez and Montañita.
Ambling along the deserted beach, we passed a decomposing sea turtle and a dead seal, which was being tossed around in the surf and gave off a deeply unpleasant odour. Hundreds of tiny crabs fled at our approach, scurrying down holes in the sand and peering out at us with trepidation. The ramshackle beachside shacks here had a strong shantytown feel to them, while our laid-back hostel had a strong surfer vibe. In the evening we drank beers and watched the colours shift as the sun set in to the sea.
After recharging our batteries (literally and figuratively) we spent Thursday in Puerto Lopez, the bay filled with chipped trawlers and the sky filled with hundreds of circling birds. We lay in knackered sun loungers by a rickety waterfront bar and lazily whiled away the day.
Friday was the highlight of our time on the coast, as we boarded a boat for a trip to Isla de la Plata. The waters off this part of the coast are filled with humpback whales at this time of the year, gathering for the mating season. From the deck of the ‘Aventura’ we watched as the males breached spectacularly in their attempts to woo the females – watching a 25-ton animal hurl itself in to the air is quite a spectacle.
Several of these majestic giants grew curious about our boat, drawing almost close enough to touch as they swam around and underneath us. It was one of the best experiences of our journey, and one we will never forget!
Arriving at Isla de la Plata, we set off on a brief 2km hike with Winston, our guide. The birds on this island have no fear of humans, and we passed within metres of nesting blue-footed boobies, watching their clumsy mating dances and wobbly landings. For those seeking treasure on ‘Silver Island’, it is named for the silvery-white salt that the boobies excrete in their poo and which coats every surface here.
After our hike we snorkelled amongst huge turtles and a variety of brightly coloured reef fish, pausing to watch the whales again on our return journey to port. We then checked out of our hostel and set off for Montañita, ‘ the Ibiza of South America’.
Montañita was once a tiny and obscure fishing village, before New Age hippies and surfers invaded its long, sandy beaches in the 1960s. Now it is the party capital of Ecuador, with streets lined with clubs, bars and hostels. Street vendors hawk everything from weed to tribal tattoos, while the sea is teeming with surfers.
Our hostel was in the grounds of a poultry farm, and we were awoken in the morning by a discordant cacophony of squawks from dozens of roosters. The surf was fairly naff during our stay, so we spent our time in Montañita relaxing in the town’s many bars and watching the spectacular sunsets.