Esmeraldas, Ecuador

This beach destination also has a rich history

Clouds over Tropical Beach
••• Clouds over Tropical Beach.

There are varying reports about Ecuador's northwestern province of Esmeraldas and its coastal cities. Some sources warn visitors away from the port of Esmeraldas, citing dirty beaches, pollution and a high crime rate.

Others highly recommend using Esmeraldas as a gateway to the beaches and coastal resorts.

Named Esmeraldas by the Spanish explorers who found the local natives bedecked with emeralds, this area of Ecuador is lush. Rainforests, tropical vegetation and mangrove forests, together with rivers and dense foliage make this province green in color and in conservation efforts.

Until a few decades ago, the area around Esmeraldas, in the province of Esmeraldas was accessible only by sea. The only inhabitants for centuries were of the Tumaco/La Tolita culture that spread over the modern borders of Colombia and northern Ecuador.

After slaves were brought to the New World to work the growing sugar plantations, the mines and other efforts. Some of them escaped shipwrecks and swam ashore on the Esmeraldas coast. They overcame, first by violence, then by breeding, the local cultures, and created the "Republic of Blacks" which became the haven for escaping slaves from other Ecuadorian provinces and South American viceroyalties and countries.

Isolated for so many years, the black and indigenous cultures interwove and created a culture that remains vibrant today. With the coming of roads, the development of the port and the establishment of Esmeraldas as the site of Ecuador's largest oil refinery for the Trans-Ecuador pipeline bringing oil from the Amazon, the city of Esmeraldas has become a large commercial and tourism center. At the same time, ecologically concerned citizens have created wildlife reserves and mangrove conservation groups.

Cruise ships call in at Esmeraldas. Some offer on-shore excursions to Quito, 116 miles (185 km) to the southeast, Cuenca or Chan Chan, but many of the passengers prefer to spend the day sightseeing locally.

Getting There

By air:

  • Daily TAME flights to and from Quito use the airport By land:
  • Bus service connects the coastal cities as well as inland cities.
  • Taxi service between Esmeraldas and Quito is fast and relatively inexpensive. By water:
  • Esmeraldas is a commercial port and a port-of-call for several cruise ships who offer sidetrips to Quito and Cuenca
  • Small boat and/or ferry service between the coastal communities When to Go
  • There's no "perfect time" for coastal Ecuador. The north coast is hot and wet with tropical rainstorms, which may close local roads, from December to June. It's cloudy and humid from June to September and drier and cooler from October to December.
  • Mosquitos and malaria like the wet months, so make sure you have plenty of good sunscreen and antimalarial medications.
  • The best time for Esmeraldas city is in early August for the independence celebrations when day and night revelry includes the marimba bands whose music is based on ancestral African music and dance.Shopping Tips
    • Though Carludovica Palmata, the palm-like bush that provides the material for Panama hats grows in the neigboring province of Manabí, you can buy the hats anywhere along the coast. Food and Drink
    • Seafood and tropical fruits are a staple along the coast. Be sure to try:
      • Encocado de Pescado - fish prepared with coconut juice
    • Tapao - wheat with fish and banana
    • Arroz con Menestra, Camarón, y patacones - rice with lentils, shrimp and pressed green fried banana
    • Ceviches - made with fish
    • Empanadas and bolones de verde- balls made of green banana, that usually have some stuffing inside
    • Cocada - sweet made of coconut, peanut and brown sugar.
    • Aguardiente de Caña - sugar cane liquor)
    • Coco con Aguardiente - coconut juice with liquor

    Things to Do and See in Esmeraldas Province

    • Manglares Mataje - Cayapas Ecological Reserve contains 55,000 hectares of untouched mangrove forests, uninhabited beaches, and abundant fauna, and offers excellent bird watching opportunities
    • Ocean kayaking
    • Warm water and sea breezes make for crowded beaches when the weather is hot and humid. Some of the more popular ones:
      • South of Esmeraldas, Atacames is wildly popular with beach bars, discos, waterfront hotels and restaurants. Be careful with the powerful undertow. photos
      • Sua is a fishing village with pretty beaches and a quieter atmosphere
      • Upscale Same, twelve miles from Esmeraldas, has clean white sand beaches, palm trees, a beautiful bay with a gentle surf. The Casa Blanca beach resort, offers a Jack Nicklaus golf course, tennis courts, swimming pools, and a marina. Take one of the "ecological taxis" - a three wheeled pedicab.
      • South of Same, the island of Muisne has a beyond the back-roads feel with nice beaches and a relaxed atmosphere
      • San Lorenzo, the largest town north of Esmeraldas, is very popular for the bay and nautical events
      • San Vicente is a resort village with nice beaches
    • The annual May Marimba festival in San Lorenzo is three music and dancing filled days.
    • The August Fiestas of San Lorenzo is devoted to salsa, in which locals and orchestras from neigboring Colombia play late into the night.
    • Birding in the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve in the Chocó Rainforest
    • Note: It's best to avoid the small villages of Borbón and Limones, also known as Valdéz, for the crime rate and high malarial risk.Don't forget to send in your review of Ecuador!