Guayaquil is the country’s largest port and business centre. The city’s Malecón 2000 riverfront development is a revamped promenade with gardens, restaurants, a handicraft market and Latin America’s largest Ferris wheel, La Perla. At its northern end lies the bohemian Las Peñas district, a reminder of how the city used to be.
West of here are Ecuador’s main resorts, Playas and Salinas, but the coast road soon heads north to lower-key destinations and a string of fishing towns, including Valdivia, site of a culture dating back to 3,300 BC. Montañita has a perfect surfing beach and, in town, all the requisite shops and nightlife. Next is Puerto López and the surrounding Machalilla National Park, where you’ll find hills, the fabulous Los Frailes beach and trips out to Isla de la Plata, known as “the poor traveller’s Galápagos” for the similarity of some of its wildlife. Manabí province’s main port is Manta and just a short way inland from there lies the Panama hat-making town of Montecristi. A few kilometres further east is the hang-gliding and kite-surfing spot of Crucita, while across the Chone estuary lies Canoa, a thriving resort until it was decimated by the 2016 earthquake. It’s rebuilding now and has yet another of Ecuador’s wonderful beaches.
From Chone the main road to the Sierra heads towards Aloag, near Machachi, but if you wish to see more of the coast, continue from Canoa to Mompiche, another surfers’ hangout, and on to Esmeraldas (also reachable from Ibarra, north of Otavalo), whose beaches are favoured by Quiteño and Colombian holidaymakers.