From La Libertad, a paved road runs 137km up the coast to Puerto Cayo – a stretch promoted as the Ruta del Sol, offering fantastic views of long, empty beaches and passing a string of modest fishing villages and resorts. At Puerto Cayo, a branch of the highway heads inland to the unremarkable town of Jipijapa, while a new coastal road continues to Manta. Along the Ruta del Sol sit the moderately interesting archeological museum at Valdivia and the attractive little seaside village of Manglaralto; most visitors give these a miss and head straight for laid-back Montañita, a favourite with surfers and a rapidly growing backpackers’ beach hangout. A little further north, the dry, featureless landscape gives way to lush vegetation as you enter the Cordillera Chongón-Colonche, where the road veers inland from the coast through thickly wooded hills. The next gringo stop is Alandaluz, an ecologically focused resort, while further north Puerto López is a base for whale-watching trips (June–Sept) and visits to the Parque Nacional Machalilla, which takes in a major tract of tropical dry forest, fabulous beaches and the Isla de la Plata – favoured by bird lovers as a cheaper alternative to the Galápagos Islands.
Getting to the various points along the Ruta del Sol is easy on the many buses running up and down the coastal highway. In high season (Jan–April) there are regular direct services from Guayaquil to Montañita and Olón. Otherwise, there are frequent year-round services from La Libertad to Puerto López (continuing to Manta, beyond), stopping at all the villages en route; Puerto López can also be reached on direct year-round services from Guayaquil, as well as from Manta or Jipijapa, north of the town.