Our first in-the-water experience with Ecuador beaches was in Atacames, a major party scene. It usually throbs and gyrates day and night during holidays, but we happened to show up during one of its calmer periods.
Gary and I were invited to spend two days and nights in the Atacames apartment of an Ecuadorian couple we met in Ibarra. They wanted us to help their son sell a condominium building he was constructing on the beach in Atacames.
A free trip to the beach! We didn’t hesitate.
Going by way of Quito would have added another 2 hours to the trip, so we met the couple in Ibarra and headed north and west in their car.
We wound our way through the small towns, jungle landscapes and green fields of rural Ecuador.
The trip from Ibarra over the rutted roads to Atacames took 4 hours. As our host expertly dodged massive pot holes I could tell he’d made the trip many times before. We zipped along in comfort and stopped at the couple’s favorite roadside restaurant for a tasty almuerzo of rice, carne and fried bananas.
Skirting Esmeraldas, we turned south and arrived in Atacames in the afternoon.
We were delighted with the peacefulness and with the practically empty stretches of gorgeous beach that greeted us. It would have been easy to think that Atacames is always this way.
Our hosts’ simple apartment was in a quiet area apart from the town center and their son’s condo was at the far south end of town in an area where the wealthy have their beach enclaves. We were able to enjoy Atacames at its less extreme.
The main thoroughfare that borders the beach is absolutely jam-packed with thatched beach shacks and bars on the sandy side. There were few vacationers around.
Noise did amp up across the main road where business is booming and new construction was in full swing. Salesmen tried to hustle us into condos for a look around. Girls in short skirts passed out condo sales brochures and floor plans. Touts insisted that we stay in their hotels.
Gigantic hotels and condominiums are popping up everywhere and line the beach. They cut off the ocean view and lessen the possibility for viable development behind them.
But further on not much was going on during our visit. After a while we found ourselves on the edge of Atacames. The quiet returned.
Along the banks of the river that flows through the town there are rough wooden shanties with rusty tin roofs. This is what Atacames must have looked like before the rise of the high-rises.
The shacks perch on the water’s edge, crowded, with walls askew. They are a world apart from the condos and the concrete and glass businesses a short distance away.
In some areas, the land behind the rows of condos looks like another town altogether, dense with shacks, homes and buildings of poor quality. Little of the liveliness of the developed beach area is in evidence.
Atacames is a town of such stark contrasts. Our first taste of the beach scene was fairly tranquillo and that suited us just fine. Anyone coming to party would have found the day dull.
But the locals know better than to show up on a weekday unless they want R&R. Part of June and all of July and August are party months when the beach rocks around the clock. At Easter, Carnaval and Christmas things really swings.
Atacames has something for everyone—party animals, sun worshippers, surfers, sports enthusiasts and even me, who is perfectly happy with a good book, a fresh jugo de papaya, a straw hat and a hammock.
Atacames is in the canton of Esmeraldas. The whole area has a fascinating history of shipwrecks, slavery, conquest and survival.
Their culture is vividly depicted in one of my favorite books, “Living Poor“, already considered a classic. Written by former Peace Corps volunteer, Moritz Thomsen, it’s a great read and provides great insight into the Ecuadorian mind-set.
Another contrast is the one between rampant construction and rampant plant growth. The jungle may seem to have been tamed but I’m not fooled by her green fragility.
She is biding her time, waiting for the shift that always comes. At some time in the future, her ally Mother Nature will step in to once again restore the balance. In the long run, the jungle will reign supreme once more.
If you are hungry for more Ecuador culture, read this webpage.