North from Santa Elena

The coastal road north from
Santa Elena
parallels the coastline, provides access to some beautiful beaches, and crosses the Chongón-Colonche coastal range. Note that not all beaches are suitable for bathing: the surf and undertow can be strong in some places. Between June and September whales may be seen in this area.

The northern fork of the road at Santa Elena leads past
Ballenita
, which has a pleasant
beach. At Lomas de Ballenita is
Hostería Farallón Dillon
, run by Douglas Dillon
who is knowledgeable about the area. On the premises is
Galería Náutica
, an interesting,
eclectic collection of nautical objects from many countries; antiques are restored and sold.

North of Ballenita are a couple of luxury private beachside developments, with exclusive yacht clubs at
Punta Centinela
and
Punta Blanca
. The road then hugs the coast, passing
Monteverde
, and then
Palmar
, with popular beaches and beach cafés, but no accommodation. By Palmar is an area of mangroves.

Continuing north is
Ayangue
, in a beautiful horseshoe bay, 2.7 km from the main highway. There is snorkelling and diving by
Islote El Pelado
and
Islote El Viejo
, two small islands offshore; bring your own gear. Whales may be seen in season. There are a couple of resorts and some places to stay in town, but it gets crowded and dirty at peak weekends and holidays.

Valdivia

San Pedro
and Valdivia are two unattractive fishing villages which merge together. There is accommodation nearby at
Valdivia Ecolodge
and many fish stalls serving
ceviche
and simple meals.

This is the site of the 5000-year-old Valdivia culture . Many houses offer 'genuine' artefacts and one resident at the north end of the village will show you the skeletons and burial urns dug up in his back garden. It is illegal to export pre-Columbian artefacts from Ecuador, but the replicas are made in exactly the same manner as the originals and are copied from genuine designs. Ask for Juan Orrala, who makes excellent copies, and lives up the hill from the museum. Most of the genuine artefacts discovered at the site are in museums in Quito and Guayaquil. Some pieces remain in the small, local
Ecomuseo Valdivia
,
which also has artefacts from other coastal cultures and in situ remains. There is a handicraft section too, where artisans may be seen at work, and lots of local information.

There is a simple
aquarium
,
with three tanks and several huts with exhibits about marine life. You can also rent a boat here for excursions to Islote El Pelado or Islote El Viejo.

About 8 km northeast of Valdivia is
Reserva Comunal Loma Alta
, a reserve which protects a tract of
garúa
(mist) forest in the Cordillera Chongón-Colonche.

North of Valdivia is the village of
Libertador Bolívar
, where hammocks and crafts made of wood,
paja toquilla
and banana fibres are produced.

Manglaralto

This sleepy little town is the main centre of the region north of Santa Elena, 180 km northwest of Guayaquil. There is a
tagua
nursery and you can ask to see examples of these 'vegetable ivory' nuts being turned into intricate works of art. It is a pleasant place, with a quiet beach and good surf. There's little shelter, so take plenty of sun screen.

Pro-pueblo
, www.propueblo.com,
is an organization working with local communities to foster family-run orchards and cottage craft industry, using
tagua
nuts,
paja toquilla
(used to make Panama hats) and other local products. They have a
craft shop
in Manglaralto (opposite the park).

Proyecto de Desarollo Ecoturístico Comunitario
(
PRODECOS
)
, is another organization promoting ecotourism in the local communities. They have a network of simple community lodgings (US$9 per person), many interesting routes into Cordillera Chongón Colonche and whale watching and island tours.

Inland, 4 km northeast of Manglaralto, is
 Dos Mangas
, in the Cordillera Chongón Colonche. Crafts are produced here and it is a good area for walking by rivers and waterfalls.

Montañita

A popular destination with a good surfing beach, Montañita is 3 km north of Manglaralto. The main village has experienced haphazard growth and is crowded with small hotels. There are also restaurants, surfboard rentals, tattoo parlours, craft/ jewellery vendors and sundry other services. At the north end of the bay, 1 km away, is another hotel area with more tranquillity and elbow room, referred to as Montañita Punta, Surf Point or Baja Montañita (after one of the hotels). Between the two is the surfing beach. Various competitions are held during the year and at weekends in season, when the town is noisy and packed with visitors. Drugs are common in Montañita and the police carry out periodic raids. There are also many street dogs; don't contribute to the problem by feeding them.

Olón

About 3 km further north, Olón has a spectacular long beach. Starting here and continuing to the north, the surroundings get greener. On the headland between Montañita and Olón, built atop a cliff by the sea, is the sanctuary of
Santa María de Fíat
. There is access from either side and the views are spectacular. Nearby, 1 km north of Olón, past the bridge, is
El Cangrejal de Olón
, a 7-ha dry tropical forest, with mangroves, and the home of the blue crab (
Cardisoma crasum-smith)
, a species in danger of extinction. Horse riding tours in the area are available from Dr Wilmer Cevallos, ask around for him.

A beautiful beach continues 10 km north by the villages of Curía, San José and La Núñez, to
La Entrada
, where the Cordillera Chongón Colonche comes out to the sea. This is the provincial boundary between Santa Elena and Manabí.

Ayampe

Located at the foot of the Cordillera Chongón Colonche, on the south shore of the river of the same name, Ayampe is a small, poor village, with friendly people, but no hotels. Just south of it are a group of hotels offering a good option for those seeking tranquillity. This is a base for trips up to the
Cordillera Chongón Colonche
, which has tropical forest and good birdwatching. The area produces crafts with banana fibres, known as
sapán
.

Alandaluz and around

North of Ayampe are the villages of Las Tunas, Puerto Rico and Río Chico; there are places to stay all along this stretch of beach. In
Las Tunas
you can arrange for horse riding tours with
Kankagua
, opposite
Hotel La Barquita
. Just south of
Puerto Rico
is the
Alandaluz
Ecological Centre
, an organization involved in promoting ecologically sound practices in nearby communities, including recycling of rubbish, water conservation and organic agriculture. It is also a very good inn , which gives working demonstrations of its innovative practices. Near
Río Chico
, at
Hostería Piqueros Patas Azules
, there is a small private
museum
displaying ceramics, stone artefacts and funerary urns found at the site by archaeologist Presley Norton. These correspond to the Manteña, Valdivia, Machalilla and other prehistoric coastal cultures. A prize piece is the 2-cm-high Venus de Valdivia statue, the smallest of its kind.

Salango

Just north of Río Chico and 5 km south of Puerto López is Salango, a friendly commercial fishing port with a fish meal plant. It is worth visiting for its excellent
archaeological museum
,
housing artefacts from the excavations in town, and with a craft shop. There is a lovely deserted beach north of town, and just offshore is
Isla Salango
, a place for snorkelling.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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