By Linda McFarlin
My first impression of Ayampe, an Ecuador beach on the southwest coast’s Route of the Sun was---OMG, I’m in a time-warp! Coming over and down a hil,l my first glimpse of Ayampe made me catch my breath and hold it. Stretching out before me, long and secluded, was a sandy beach sparkling in the sunlight.
Over a bridge and then--a glimpse of a tiny fishing village that time forgot. Empty shoreline. Gulls and terns. Solitude and sand.
Meandering river meets the ocean. Birds swoop to catch their dinner. A surfer's paradise.
The town of Ayampe itself seems untouched by modern ideas. Very little of the unfinished cement box architecture has found its way here yet.
Bamboo houses with thatched roofs dot the beach. Unpaved roads, friendly people hanging out, a blocked street with dancing and revelry. Locals and a few tourists were enjoying leisurely lunches of seafood, beer and laughter, augmented with lively Spanish music.
The meandering Rio Ayampe north of town generally flows unimpeded to the ocean. However, the periodic buildup of sandbars creates a lagoon that eventually bursts its confines, rushing to the ocean and dumping a layer of rounded stones on the Ecuador beach. At these times there's a lot of extra activity from birds diving to catch the abundance of shrimp and fish that pour out of the lagoon.
Families can drive their cars upriver and park to enjoy swimming, picnicking with the kids, or hiking along the banks, which are wooded and shady. Young couples find romantic spots to enjoy some time alone.
Ayampe sits just off the Route of the Sun, or Ruta del Sol, with the Pacific Ocean on the west and rain-forested mountains on the east. Most of the Ecuador beaches on the southern coast are very dry.
But Ayampe is in the middle of a micro-climate where the rainforest comes down to the ocean. This gives it a unique climate not found anywhere else on the southern Ecuador beach coast.
17 kilometers south of Puerto Lopez and even closer to Machalilla National Park, Ayampe abounds in natural wonders--sea shells, brightly colored rocks and interesting plants. Birds are everywhere—pelicans and cormorants vie for fish in the river and the ocean.
Two distinctive small islands that rise a few miles offshore backdrop a stunning sunset. The two rocky islands are known as La Tortuga and La Iguana. They are well-known for excellent diving and snorkeling among the coral reef.
This is an area for lying around, soaking up the sun, reading a book, staring at the clouds and waves, becoming one with nature. Or just spend your time chowing down on the incredible seafood at nearby restaurants.
Whale watching starts the end of June/early July and continues until November. Birds flock to the river, ocean and mangroves, so you’ll see gulls, cormorants, ducks, even flamingos.
If you are the more active type, adventure and exploration await you in the hills, and in or near the water. There’s something for everyone’s taste and activity level.
My greatest exertion this trip was walking along the beach picking up shells and lifting a fruit drink to my lips. There is hiking, all kinds of water sports such as kayaking, snorkeling, diving, boating, sailing and fishing and the surfing here is great.
According to one surfing website I researched, Ayampe is safe for all levels of surfers. Waves of 50-150 meters wide break right and left. The waves usually break quickly and mornings are the best surfing time.
You can surf the reliable beach break every day if you want to; the beach is usually uncrowded. Ayampe has some of the best surfing and the biggest breakers in all of Ecuador.
The River Mouth and the Secret Spot are local names for two of the lips you can ride. There are qualified surfing instructors in the area and surf boards can be rented so there’s no need to bring your own.
Aldo Rocco is the owner of Finca Punta and a long-time surfer. His website lists a number of tours, among them one called Rio Chico, a tour to surf a left-handed wave that many think is the tallest wave in Ecuador, and San Mateo, the longest wave in Ecuador.
The beach is also very safe for swimmers and boogie boarding, as there is little undertow or riptides.
There are several nice hosterias in the area, including Cabanas La Tortuga, with individual thatched cabins and good food. Ours was right on the beach and came with a king bed, lots of hot water with good pressure in the shower, hammock, table and chairs on the front porch. La Tortuga also has tent camping right across the road.
I especially like the second floor of the main building which houses Cabanas La Tortuga’s kitchen and restaurant. I could have stayed there much of the day, enjoying Latin music and watching the action on the beach. My favorite spot was a comfy wooden lounge chair near the overhanging branches of a large almond tree.
Finca Punta Ayampe is a small rustic hotel and several two story cabins made of guadua (reeds )and native palm leaves. A model of sustainability and low environmental impact, this hotel/lodge is nestled in dense vegetation high on a hill with beautiful ocean vistas.
There’s a reading room with books in several languages, many hammocks, and a restaurant with vegetarian food. Prices for rooms are available upon request.
Tours offered by Finca Punta Ayampe include sea activities, cloud forest, boat tours, scuba, surfing, snorkeling, horseback riding and whale watching. Several thousand humpbacks head north each year, escaping from Chile’s chilly waters to Ecuador’s balmy temperatures. Finca Punta Ayampe will also arrange a tour of Canta la Piedra, an organic farm.
Alandaluz, “City of Light,” is another ecological resort, the place to stay if you want to gain some serious points in saving the environment. A short distance north of Ayampe, this green “pueblo ecologico” has spectacular bamboo architecture, botanical gardens, an organic orchard, bamboo forest, a great pool. There’s also a secluded beach to explore.
The site has 33 cabins and a convention center. Alandaluz has won national and international awards.
Alandaluz is really “green”--
Alandaluz supports an ecological farm called Cantalapiedra Natural Reserve. This wildlife sanctuary is near the Ayampe River and the rainforest of the Chongon-Colonche mountain range. With over 200 species of birds, howler monkeys, exotic plants and bamboo forests, it's a nature-lover's delight.
If you are lucky, you may be able to rent a house on the beach. Friends of ours rented a partly-furnished 2-story house a very short walk to the waves, with a large fenced yard, covered porch, lots of trees and flowers. The atmosphere is one of privacy and quiet, but it’s only a short walk to restaurants and music if one is so inclined.
I love cruising up and down coastal areas, exploring secluded beaches, climbing rocks and hills to enjoy the wind-swept fusion of sea, sky and sand.
While having a great tour guide to show us around is a wonderful way to quickly learn more about an area, even better is the idea of following my intuition in my own vehicle as the land and water share more of their secrets with me. The fact that our old Toyota Land Cruiser isn’t in the best of shape to tackle the potholed roads of Ecuador makes the anticipated adventure even more exciting. No telling what twists and turns our explorations will take.
I’m already contemplating my next visit to the Ayampe area and the Route of the Sun.
You can also travel by bus from Guayaquil or Manta.
To Ayampe from Guayaquil and Manta--recommended bus companies and routes:
From Manta, take the green bus, “Manglar Alto”, south through La Costanera or along the Ruta del Sol, or Route of the Sun, the highway that runs along the coast. The trip takes about 3 ½ hours.
From Guayaquil find the direct CLP bus to Montanita and Olón. In Montañita take the green "Manglar Alto" bus north to Ayampe. The total travel time will be approximately 4 ½ hours. You can also take the CLP or “Libertad Peninsular bus all the way to Santa Elena and then the green Manglar Alto bus to Ayampe, a total of about 5 hours.