Puerto López, tucked along the coast, is one of the up and coming beach towns of Ecuador. Humpback whales pass by from July-October in their mating season, and red-breasted frigate birds watch the town from the boardwalk. Charming colorful buildings line the streets of this small town, and new restaurants, cafes, and hostels are slowly growing the population into a perfect retreat away from the larger cities.
Outside of Puerto López is Machalilla National Park, home to Los Frailes beach as well as Isla de la Plata, also known as “Poor Man’s Galápagos.” The entrance to Los Frailes beach, considered one of the most beautiful in Ecuador, is through Machalilla National Park. It’s a 2.5 km. trail to the beach, passing through other beaches along the way, or a quick tuk tuk ride. Tuk tuks are the ramshackle beach taxis, like an open air cart on wheels, that whisk both travelers and residents along the coast. Isla de la Plata is so similar to the Galápagos, it’s amazing more people don’t know about it. Some of the most prominent wildlife of the Galápagos is on the Isla, which is located about an hour boat ride from the shore of Puerto López.
The cozy town of Puerto López is a perfect nook between larger cities. It is easily accessible by bus or car via the highway that runs through the city. Guayaquil is 3 and a half hours away, and Quito is about 8 hours away. Guayaquil has an international airport with daily flights to and from North America, Europe and other parts of Latin America. Puerto López is located northwest of Guayaquil, between Salinas and Manta. The Ecuador coastal highway (also known as the Ruta del Spondylus) is a famous route long traveled by the indigenous communities and named for the spondylus, a shell that was used as a form of currency five hundred years ago. This paved highway makes travel along the coast fast and comfortable.
Living in Fishing Town
With a population of about 20,000, Puerto López has some of the amenities of larger cities but still keeps its small town vibe. There is a commercial grocery store, as well as smaller tiendas for fruits and vegetables. The fresh catch of fish is brought ashore each morning; fishing and ecotourism are the two largest forms of employment. There are a variety of restaurants and small cafes, and the town is about an hour from the more touristy hub of Montañita which is filled with bars, restaurants, and concerts. The Health Center (Centro de Salud) is located at the entrance to Puerto López, and there are three pharmacies in town, as well as ATMs and banks and a police station.
The government of Ecuador has chosen to invest in Puerto López as one of the most promising beach towns on the coast. The government has declared Puerto López and its surrounding areas to be part of the Protected Area of Tourism (ATP) program. The malecón, the boardwalk, is going to be one of the longest in the country as the government continues to develop this part of the coast, giving the area a lot of potential to grow in a very sustainable way.