By: Christopher Sacco
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An intense rivalry between Ecuador’s Coastal and Andes regions, played out principally by the cities of Guayaquil and Quito, has been one of the most important issues in the nation’s historical development.
Gabriel García Moreno’s granting of broad powers to the Roman Catholic Church in the second half of the nineteenth century began a period that would cement the dichotomy between the already disparate conservative Sierra and liberal Costa. Some believe Moreno’s decision to give the Church near absolute authority saved the nascent Ecuadorian state from dissolving, while others contend that it served only to polarize La Costa and La Sierra.
If Moreno began the rivalry, the rise of Eloy Alfaro and the radical liberal party, following Moreno’s 15 year conservative reign and assassination in 1875, burned it into the national conscience. Alfaro was the antithesis of Moreno. Alfaro seized power on behalf of Guayaquil Liberals and established a permanent separation of church and state. The move sparked a brief civil war that was won by the Liberals.
The removal of the religious issue from the national agenda did little to reduce the growing regionalism; economic differences between the large-scale, export-oriented agricultural enterprises of the Coast and the smaller farms and businesses of the Andean highlands replaced religion as the focus of the regional rivalry.
The Ecuadorian Coast.
Today, competition between the Coast and Sierra takes the form of chants when the Cities’ soccer teams take the field, or mild jeers and stereotypes. And while they may not openly admit it, Quiteños are quite happy that the Coast is still part of Ecuador. It’s hard to beat a day on one of the Coasts beautiful beaches, dancing to the beat of merengue or African marimba, or a bowl of fresh, lime cooked ceviche. Maybe the Costeños do have something on the Highlanders?
Jungle, mangrove forests, quaint fishing villages, and stunning beaches run the length of the more than 2,000 Kilometer expanse of Ecuadorian coast. Generally, the region is warm and humid with temperatures averaging 25 degrees C (76 F) to 31 C (90 F). The rainy season, from December to May, is warmer and down right muggy. The dry season is less humid but by no means dry. Four distinct provinces make up Ecuador’s coastal region: Esmeraldas, Manabí, Guayas, and El Oro.
Esmeraldas, the “Green Province” (excerpt from “Esmeraldas Province” page, by Lexi Hazam with Francisco Mallinson)
In the northwestern corner of Ecuador, cultures with roots spanning the globe come together amidst jungle, river, and sea. This intriguing nexus of peoples and ecosystems is the essence of the province of Esmeraldas, and its primary allure for the visitor.
European feet first touched Ecuadorian soil here when the Spanish landed on the Pacific coast in 1526. The conquistadors were astounded to find Indians bedecked in emeralds awaiting them on shore. Convinced that the region was abundant in the brilliant gems, they named it Esmeraldas.
While today’s Esmeraldas harbors few emeralds, it does live up to its other name, the “Green Province.” The northernmost of the coastal provinces, Esmeraldas is also the lushest, riddled with estuaries, mangroves, and flooded tropical forest. Its wild and remote inland areas, accessible only by canoe, make Esmeraldas the ideal staging ground for an epic river safari. Gliding past frontier towns that suddenly appear out of the dense green tangle of jungle, you will be reminded of scenes from “The African Queen” and “Heart of Darkness.”
Ecuadorian coastal sunset, an everyday, but never-the-less brilliant experience.
If you’re not feeling up to an Indiana Jones impersonation and would rather vegetate than hack through vegetation, Esmeraldas also boasts some of the coast’s most stunning beaches, most bordered by small settlements subsisting on the sea’s harvest. The catch of the day, however, is increasingly bound for a tourist’s plate at one of the province’s oceanfront resorts, which range from party-towns bringing in swarms of vacationers to tranquil elite hideaways.
The beach cities along the Manabí coast are very popular with Quiteños and Guayaquileños; all summer long and during holidays, Ecuadorians head to such beach towns as Puerto López, Montañita, and Bahía de Caráquez, as well as Machalilla National Park, with the near perfect beach of Los Frailes – arguably the best on South America’s Pacific Coast – and plenty of wildlife.
Whale-watching, snorkeling, and margaritas on the beach are just a few of the pursuits you can look forward to while visiting the relatively undiscovered province of Manabí.
The Central Coast: Montañita to Isla de la Plata (excerpt from the “Montañita to Isla de la Plata” page , by Sarah Lazarus)
The middle section of Ecuador’s Pacific coastline is an excellent place for a holiday. It features miles of pristine beaches set in sweeping bays, lively fishing villages and unique pre-Columbian archaeology. Ecuador’s “middle coast” is the southern portion of Manabí and the northern part of the Guayas Province.
Guayaquil and Southern Guayas Province
The Guayas Province is home to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and chief port. Guayaquil’s Puerto Marítimo opened in 1964 and now handles approximately 90% of Ecuador’s imports and nearly 50% of its exports. Known more for its commercial prowess than as a vacation spot, historically Guayaquil has not made it on many tourists’ itineraries. This being said, Guayaquil’s new Mayor is giving the City a facelift and is working hard to make it both attractive and friendly to tourists. One of the more ambitious elements of the Mayor’s plan is the renovation of Malecón Avenue. The well known, riverside street now includes a number of parks, restaurants, and a new theatre. In addition to Malecón, the picturesque Las Peñas district and the Plaza Centenario are worth a look. These are just a few of the attractions that Guayquil visitors should check out. Like Guayaquil, the Guayas Province deserves more attention than it gets, especially the beaches of Montañita, Punta Blanca, Playas (General Villamil), and Puntas Arenas.
El Oro stretches from Guayaquil to the Peruvian border. Considered by many as nothing more than way station between Ecuador and Peru, El Oro can surprise those willing to spend a few days exploring it.
The thriving banana and shrimp producing city of Machala divides El Oro’s portion of coast in two. While not a beautiful destination in itself, Machala is a great jumping off point for exploring the mangrove circled town of Puerto Bolívar, the markets of Santa Rosa, and the delightful gold-mining community of Zaruma.
On the Río Zarumilla, just across the border from Peru, sits Huaquillas the main immigration point between the two countries. Outside of its function as a checkpoint and a shopping destination for Peruvian’s looking for bargains, Huaquillas offers travelers little else.
If you slept on the bus all the way through El Oro, do yourself a favor and take a day or two to wander north before heading to Peru, you will be pleasantly surprised by what you find.
Anyone who wants to seriously know Ecuador must venture beyond the highlands and Amazon regions. While much of the Ecuadorian coast resembles the beach paradises of Mexico and the Caribbean, La Costa, particularly the less visited provinces of Guayas and El Oro, offer travelers a window into nation’s soul.
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