Ecuador continues to capture our hearts
GUAYAQUIL | MANTA
It was great to revisit Ecuador as we cruised the West Coast of South America northbound for Miami with Oceania Cruises on our 110-day voyage.
Last October, we were blessed with the opportunity to visit Manta, Puerto Bolivar, Machala and Guayaquil as we sailed southbound on the coast of Ecuador on our North to South Pole cruise.
Ecuador's incredibly kind and friendly people have continued to capture our hearts. We are grateful we had the opportunity to revisit Guayaquil within the last six months.
We are smitten with this magical country, an undiscovered gem in Latin America. Docking in this morning, we were surrounded by the greenest mangroves on the edge of a large city, encapsulating 3.2 million Ecuadorians. It could easily have been the Capital City, which I believe was in the running initially with Quito.
We couldn't miss the opportunity of being surrounded by the locals again; the energy they share with the world around them is infectious, so we were on an early shuttle bus (complimentary from the port) to a central location in the city, which is our favourite park scattered with Iguanas overlooking a gorgeous church.
We enjoyed capturing some snaps of the Notre Dame-style cathedral in the city's heart and the park, which you could nearly mistake for a zoo. It was full of Iguanas roaming around, turtles and fish populating the pond. It was wonderful.
Following this, we had a mission to find a hair salon to look presentable once again, and across from the park, we spotted one and were soon at their mercy with clippers in their hands to bring us back to looking sharp again! The ladies at Peluqueria Unibella were all lovely, and we had some fun conversing in our broken Spanish. For a total of USD 14 each, you can't go wrong!
We strolled the city, discovering parks and squares, where we were in awe of the gracious architecture; the buildings were stunning. As we walked, we greeted all the lovely locals and scattered police officers who were only too happy to have us exploring their incredible city. The local police on bikes and standing on corners is not due to safety concerns, but rather a hospitable approach welcoming us to their city.
During our last visit to Guayaquil, we found a quaint coffee shop (another of their primary exports). As we walked into Puertofino Cafe, we were greeted with a huge hug and kiss from the lovely cafe owner; she was so excited we returned after six months; it was very special! We hoped to catch up again with our friendly young policeman, but he has been reposted to another location, so we missed him this time.
Guayaquil is incredibly safe and is steeped in history, magnificent architecture, a beautiful beachside esplanade, museums, and an old and colourful Spanish town which made you instantly feel like you were back in Europe; the bright, colourful buildings and vibe were inspiring.
Ecuador is truly a hidden gem; you are guaranteed to leave a piece of yourself in this beautiful, warm and gentle part of the world.
Ecuador has a population of 18 million; both Quito and Guayaquil have approx 3m
Ecuador is the first country to give rights to nature - you can go to prison for harming a protected plant
Ecuador is the first country to provide rights to disadvantaged people; the business must hire and not discriminate
Guayaquil's main exports are Cacao beans, seaport services, bananas, oil
Ecuador cacao beans were Queen Elizabeth II's first choice to make chocolate for the royal family
Recently, they have started producing high-quality chocolate at $300 a gram
Guayaquil is the gateway to Galapagos Islands
Colombia and Ecuador have the highest number of species of birds in the world
Energy is powered by water (Ecuador is on the equator); it is four times more efficient than solars
Our final destination in Ecuador was a day in Manta, a lovely popular coastal city decorated with beautiful beaches nestled on the northern tip of the country.
On our first visit to Manta six months ago, we were whisked away to the enchanted Pacoche Forest, a tropical rainforest, to experience the rapidly changing rural vegetation and landscapes. We also passed through some rural villages where 'The Montecristi' is generationally sourced, prepared, and handmade. The Montecristi is known to most of us as the 'Panama Hat'. We learned a significant 'fun fact' six months ago during our first visit to Panama: the hats are actually from and made in Ecuador, referred to as 'The Montecristi', a small village in Ecuador (near Manta) where they are hand-crafted by artisans. One hat with the finest straw can take up to three months and sells for over $1k.
Today we actually had to meet some deadlines for work, so we were kept busy for most of the day; once we were free of work, we had one goal, and it was to find a Pisco Sour before we left Ecuador.
We quickly disembarked and travelled by foot to stretch our legs to the nearby rooftop bar our lovely Holly had recommended Casa Rosada Manta. It was lovely strolling the streets and being greeted again by the beautiful people of Ecuador; you are genuinely welcomed by all the bright smiles and waves from the community, and you can't wait to want to support the local businesses.
The rooftop bar was a little hidden oasis, nestled at the top of a gorgeous historic building with panoramic views over the ocean and the city below us. The Pisco Sours did not disappoint, and we devoured them along with the local empanadas, which were overwhelmingly delicious!! The team were full of positive energy and smiles, we loved our short visit, and it continues to reaffirm that we must be back in Ecuador to travel much more extensively; Ecuador truly deserves much more credit than it receives.
We heard multiple conversations around the ship of people avoiding getting off the ship and cancelling excursions because of a few passengers citing it was not safe and spreading rumours amongst other passengers, and it breaks my heart to hear this as it couldn't be further from the reality and they all missed out on something so precious; we walked freely, with jewellery and through crowds of locals, fishermen, port workers and markets and not once did we feel uncomfortable or at risk.
The community's cleanliness and pride are heartfelt, and the positive energy they exude is infectious. Thank you, Ecuador, for the warmest of welcomes, and we will find our way back in a few years to continue unwrapping the layers of your beautiful country.
More Fun Facts:
Ecuador is a major exporter of bananas, coffee and chocolate.
The construction of the Panama Canal caused a great demand for toquilla straw hats from Ecuador because of their qualities to protect from the sun. The hat was internationally known from Panama, and people began to call it 'Panama Hat' even though the place of origin is Ecuador.
Ecuador is also home to the smallest hummingbird in the world, 3-5cm in height, called the 'Bee Hummingbird.'
The Montencristi hat is known to the world as the Panama hat, but it is the Monticristi in Ecuador. The hat production is commonly generational; one will go to the forest to collect the straw, another will dry the straw, and one will make the hat. The process is all by hand.
Ecuador is home to the tagua tree, which produces the corozo nut. It is an ivory nut that, when fresh, you can eat and drink from, like a mini coconut; once dried, it becomes hard and is used to make buttons; they are very durable. Much more friendly and sustainable than using elephant tusks and plastic.
Our next adventure is coming soon as we continue our 110-day journey with Oceania Cruises, the circumnavigation of South America.