Ecuador // The northern lowlands and coast //

Bahía de Caráquez and around

One of Ecuador’s most agreeable coastal resort towns, BAHÍA DE CARÁQUEZ, an upmarket place of spotless, white high-rise apartment blocks, broad tree-lined avenues and leafy parks, sits on a slender peninsula of sand extending into the broad mouth of the Río Chone. Yachts from around the world bob and sway in the town’s marina.

Following mudslides and a damaging earthquake in 1998, Bahía (as it’s called for short) started afresh, proclaiming itself a ciudad ecológica, an eco-city, and set up a number of ambitious projects, including recycling, permaculture, composting, reforestation, conservation and environmental-education programmes. Even the tricicleros paint their “eco-taxis” green, adorning them with signs reading “Bienvenidos Bahía Eco-Ciudad”. The Día del Mangle fiesta on February 28 marks the declaration with music and events such as mangrove planting in the estuary.

Bahía lies near several wonderful natural attractions, including tropical dry forests, empty beaches and mangrove islands teeming with aquatic birds. The vast shrimp farms in the estuary displaced more than sixty square kilometres of mangrove forest during the 1980s and 1990s, with the obvious exception of the world’s first organic shrimp farm, a pollution-free enterprise that also helps in reforestation. Local tour agencies, some of which have played a major role in the local environmental movement, organize a number of good excursions in the area.

Bahía is a pleasant town for a stroll – or taking a cruise with a triciclero ($5 per hour) – following the Malecón around the peninsula and viewing the busy river estuary on the east side, or the rough rollers coming to shore on the west. Locals swim and surf here, but to find more generous expanses of sand, take a taxi to the beaches south of town like Punta Bellaca (7km away; arrange return journey in advance). A good complement to the seaside promenade is the short push up to Mirador La Cruz, on top of the hill at the foot of the peninsula, which affords grand views of the city and bay.

In town, the renovated Museo Bahía de Caráquez del Banco Central houses pre-Columbian artefacts, such as a Valdivian belt of highly prized spondylus shells from 3000 BC, plus a replica balsa raft, as well as temporary art exhibitions.