In my last post, I took the uncomfortable step of pledging to be more direct in reviews of certain hostels, tours etc. There’s no point in writing a review if you’re not honest! It shouldn’t have to make me feel uncomfortable if I’m being unbiased. The reason why I wrote that last post is because I need to come clean about my feelings for Rio Muchacho Farm near Canoa and would be really happy to get feedback on this because I felt like it’s not living up to it’s ethos as well as the sparkling comments it received in Lonely Planet- I also have to say that it was the last time I really took a recommendation from LP because I just feel like it’s not for me; a bit commercial, outdated and sometimes it delivers a big misrepresentation of a place which is ultimately misleading. Ok, here goes.
Have a look if you can see any tarantulas crossing the road. Apparently they go onto the tarmac on the roads in the early afternoon to warm themselves up and then carry on into the trees.
We drove past one and looked at each other like “…was that a?” and then saw the one in the photo a few minutes later. After jumping out of the van and taking a few snaps, we stood near him until he had disappeared into the trees to make sure he wasn’t run over. Unfortunately, a tarantula a few metres down the road didn’t meet the same fate- even though we stood pointing and warning the oncoming motorist, he didn’t care and ran straight over it (this was on an A road and there was no traffic so slowing down or swerving wouldn’t have caused an accident), it was such a shame.
After sending my mum the photo, she replied that when tarantulas feel threatened they can run extremely fast and flick hairs on you which itch like crazy. So there you go, this was a friendly tarantula who didn’t mind us taking his photo.
When we were talking to locals in Puerto Lopez, a lot of people asked us if we’d been to Los Frailes and Machalilla National Park. The look on our little curious faces prompted the locals to tell us that we could not miss it and tales of crystal water and safe surf. It’s billed as one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador and part of Machalilla National Park, a gated reserve found 12 km north of Puerto Lopez and perfect for a little day trip because it opens at 8 am and closes at 4pm.
We passed through on our drive north to Canoa and were greeted by the friendliest security guard I’d ever met- I would have liked to buy him a beer but he was working and we were driving so it wasn’t the best idea. Once he established that smoking is not allowed in the park and all rubbish must be taken with visitors we were on our way to have a little look.
The water wasn’t as crystal as we’d hoped because the sun wasn’t out but it was still a beautiful deserted beach. If you go, bring something to eat because there is only a kiosk selling ice cream and little touristy things, and toilets.
Apparently the best time of year to visit is January to April when I assume photo opportunities arise such as the first photo. For the rest of the year, you’ll probably end up with the kind of photo that I took. But it was still nice! Worth a visit.
Swish photo from here.
Before I begin on the wonder that is the Humpback Whale tour in Puerto Lopez, I have to tell you something. From a young age I have been in love with whales and sea life. I grew up with the dream of seeing any type of whale in the wild; Blue, Humpback, Sperm…maybe not Orcas after seeing how cunning they are with their prey, anyway, you get it- I really hoped one day I’d get the chance. And then we were on our way to Puerto Lopez and I realised my dream was about to become reality and I couldn’t wait, I secretly had visions of me diving spectacularly off the side of the boat and being taken to the depths of the sea to witness what it is they do down there. I actually did think that, it looks like my childhood imagination remains with me.
The whale season in Puerto Lopez officially begins on the 22nd of June and ends in September-October and while it’s mainly Humpbacks, Orcas have also been spotted (I only just found that out now!). Depending on the time of the season, the Humpies might be travelling through the area or coming to give birth in the bay- the shape and current means that it is harder for sharks or other predators to attack the newborn calfs.
We set off from Guayaquil at about 1pm for the two and a half hour drive to Montañita. From what we had been told by a few surfer friends from Arica, Montañita was the place to go- beaches and waves all in a chilled out town providing the opportunity to rest for a few days and explore the area. The reality, or at least how I perceived it was actually quite different and the sleepy surfer town that I was hoping for was actually really commercial and completely overrun with tourists. Yes, I understand that I am a tourist but when I see a huge sign for Texan Ribs and a restaurant serving both pizza and Thai food, it doesn’t really make me want to stay and sample the ‘local dishes’. I know there are lots of people who love Montañita but we decided to skip it and keep going to nearby Puerto Lopez, a small town famous for being a great location to go Humpback Whale spotting. Now that is my idea of a good time.
So, let’s get our little tour of Ecuador started but just before I begin, may I once again stress how amazing the motorways and connections between cities are in Ecuador. If you’re thinking of touring a country in South America in your own vehicle or motorbike, Ecuador would be one of my recommendations not only for the quality of the roads but also the seriously cheap petrol prices- we were paying $1.03 per gallon of diesel.
First of all, I really have to mention the drive along the coast from Mancora to the border-it is absolutely beautiful and definitely worth driving during the day (preferably when the sun is out) so you can see across the bay. We passed through many a town including Zorritos or ‘Little Foxes’, how amazing is that name for a town? If you’re not stretched for time and come out of Mancora looking for a place to stay, I would recommend Zorritos because it is quiet and gorgeous.
Back to the border. We had heard mixed opinions about the border crossing at Aguas Verdes which is after Tumbes, Peru’s last coastal city. Some people said it was fine whereas a Colombian couple told us that their immigrations forms were stolen by officials who then charged for new papers, as well as Tumbes not being a great place to be with a foreign number plate. If we had been travelling by bus, we probably would have gone for the Tumbes crossing and hoped for the best but because of the van we wanted to be sure and not run into any problems.
We asked Luis, the owner of the hostel in Mancora if he knew of anywhere other than Aguas Verdes to cross and he did, which was great because he didn’t have anything good to say about Tumbes or the border crossing nearby and instead suggested Santa Rosa, which is in Ecuador.
After a spontaneous exit from Mancora, we quickly popped over to the nearest Western Union which is south in Organos, a sleepy town woth few tourists and then hit the road back north.
We crossed the border into Ecuador and headed straight to Santa Rosa which is where you do all the paperwork. Before hand there was a little checkpoint and when we told them where we were heading, they waved us on. Once we got to Santa Rosa it was really simple and everything is done in one building- we were stamped out of Peru and into Ecuador within a few steps of each other. No unloading all of our bags or vehicle revising or queues, perfect! Note: I have dual nationality and was travelling as a Chilean in South America, but further down the line I left Colombia as a British citizen. If you are planning to do the same and will enter Colombia at Rumicacha, it’s better to enter Ecuador as a British citizen because everything is done at once on the Ecuadorian-Colombia further north, and this may complicate your exit from Colombia.
Anyway, we didn’t have to take any luggage out at all at the border but we did have to go to Huaquillas and buy insurance and present papers before we could continue our journey. The insurance is called SOAT, just like in Peru, and is sold everywhere. The papers were presented at Chacras and you will need a photocopy your vehicle’s papers as well the insurance papers which earn you official entry into the country for your vehicle. That part took a while because there were a few pusher inners (the technical term) and we were there for about an hour.
So after we got all the bureaucracy done, we were off on the incredibly built motorways to Guayaquil, the biggest city in Ecuador with a few little surprises in store.