Ecuador's coastline can be divided into two regions -- northern
and southern. The northern coast is made up of the provinces of Esmeraldas
and Manabí, and extends from San Lorenzo -- on the border with
Colombia -- to Ayampe which is just south of Puerto Lopez. The south
coast comprises the province of Guayas, Punta Santa Elena and the
"Route of the Sun" south of Ayampe.
The province of Esmeraldas is a lush tropical region
famous for its friendly and lively Afro-American community. Culturally,
Esmeraldas is awash in danceable rhythms which are banged out on marimbas
and drums. The costeña cuisine is exquisite and includes
such dishes as encocado de pescado (fresh fish served with
coconut) and delicious fresh crab.
Esmeraldas is also known for its beach resorts and towns which are
popular vacation getaways for the people of Ecuador's Sierra. A recently
inaugurated highway connects the Sierra to the coast just north of
Ibarra. From Quito, Esmeraldas' beaches are a four hour drive away.
Esmeraldas is also known for its extensive network of mangrove forests
which are unfortunately, threatened due to human activity.
Driving south from Esmeraldas is the drier but still tropical province
of Manabi. Manabi also contains wide, spectacular beaches. This region,
however, is also known for its dry tropical forests (unique in the
world), national parks and important thousands of years old archeological
sites. The most important national park is Machalilla which is characterized
by undisturbed white sand beaches and rocky outcroppings. Isla de
la Plata, otherwise known as the "Poor man's Galapagos"
for the animal species present on the island, is located within Machalilla.
In the summer months, the towns along the coastline become takeoff
points for whale-watching.