One of the beaches in Ecuador most frequented by tourists and locals alike is Atacames. Tourists and Ecuadorians, especially Quitenos, flock to this very popular vacation destination on weekends and holidays, filling hotels and living it up well past the wee hours of the morning.
The easiest way to get to Atacames is a 30-minute cab ride from the Esmeraldas airport with connections from Quito. Otherwise the trip from Quito can take 4-5 hours by car and 7-8 hours by bus.
The north route from Ibarra to San Lorenzo was improved several years ago. Now the northern beaches in Ecuador are easily reached by car from Ibarra in about 5 hours.
The 5 kilometer long, grey sand beach is a magnet for beach lovers, sports enthusiasts, families and sun worshippers. They come during Carnival and especially during July and August. If you have partying on your mind, plan your Ecuador vacation to coincide with those months or weekends. If you don’t want to party, avoid these times.
And be forewarned: if you come during high traffic times, be prepared to sleep on the beach if you don't make a reservation.
Palms line part of the beach but there is little shade along the wide shoreline. Wear a hat or at least take one along in case you decide to go for a long walk.
Francisco Pizarro landed in Atacames in 1526. The ruling Incas successfully resisted his attacks and he left in defeat.
The canton of Esmeraldas is mostly peopled with Afro-Ecuadorians who came as slaves, some surviving ship wrecks and swimming to safety. Others managed to escape from plantations and mines and made a life for themselves along the northern coast and as far inland as Lita and Chota.
They integrated with the indigenous and mestizos over the centuries through a combination of violence and intermarriage. Isolated for many years from the rest of Ecuador, their unique culture preserves African rhythms and cuisine.
The building boom in recent years means that there are lots of hotels and hostels to fit any budget, large or small. Naturally the most expensive accommodations are located along the beachfront. Search side streets for bargain rates.
Finding a room further from the center of activities may be more beneficial than just savings on the hotel rate. If you actually plan to sleep, the closer you are to the bars and music on the main drag, the louder the music and the longer you will feel the repercussions.
It never hurts to negotiate on the price of a room but this is harder during peak season when rooms are scarce and prices are higher.
Unlike many of the smaller Ecuador beaches, you’ll find a wide range of dining options. Choose from local fare, seafood, even international cuisine. You can dine on pizza one night and fish or steak the next. Dine on fresh caught lobster and delicious ceviches.
For lighter fare, a variety of food and drink can be had at the numerous restaurants and tiendas that dot the beach. These colorful shacks each express the individual artistic style of their owners.
As far as beaches in Ecuador go, Atacames is definitely a bi-polar beach. Its mood swings range from calm to chaos.
During the week the town is the soul of tranquility.
For those who prefer to take it easy and soak up the sun, there are plenty of beach chairs or you can lounge in hammocks. Stroll on the beach or relax and enjoy the calming effect of waves lapping along the shore and the leisurely dip of the sun in the evenings. Some hotels have pools for those who don’t want to brave the ocean currents.
Weekends and holidays are raucous fun. The beach scene pulses with action day and night. Tourists and locals young and old come to Atacames especially to partake in the active nightlife. There’s always lots of dancing and drinking along the waterfront bars. Salsa, reggaetton, disco, whatever your pleasure.
Electronic music is loud and each establishment blares their favorite tunes. Somehow loud music equates with more customers and it is ever-present.
With so many bars in hotels, restaurants and lining the beach, a frosty cerveza, cocktails, fruit drinks, sodas or something harder is always just a few steps away.
Sports enthusiasts will love the availability of such activities as fishing, diving, swimming, surfing, snorkeling, boating and water skiing. Beach volleyball is extremely popular.
Robberies, purse snatchings and attacks happen in Atacames, though not as frequently as other beaches in Ecuador further north. It’s always best to travel with at least one other person, especially if you are a woman. Stay away from the beaches at night.
Leave valuable jewelry, clothing, cameras and accessories at home especially if you are staying in a budget hotel or hostel where security may be lax.
Don’t leave your drink unattended when you go to the bathroom or dance. People have been known to slip drugs into drinks.
Be a responsible traveler and you’ll be less likely to run into any problems while at the beach or elsewhere.
Bordering Atacames on the north is Tonsupa, an upscale area of expensive beach hotels and high-rise condos. Tonsupa will seem more on par with North American resorts, with manicured gardens and lawns, sidewalks, swimming pools and beautiful high-rises.
Farther north of Atacames you’ll find Esmeraldas and San Lorenzo. Esmeraldas is highly recommended by the more adventurous as a tourist hub known for its Afro-Ecuadorian cuisine and music. Others say stay away, warning of high crime, pollution and extreme poverty.
Theft and muggings do occur, so go to these destinations at your own discretion and exercise caution when on the beach. Don’t spend time on the beaches at night or alone. Not using caution can turn your Ecuador vacation into a desperate situation.
South of Atacames are Sua, Same, Muisne and Mompiche. Sua and Same are charming little beach towns, much quieter and less crowded than Atacames. With little to do, these beaches in Ecuador are best for those who want quiet and relaxation. A high-end resort community at Same--Casa Blanca--has a golf course.
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