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ROUTE bahia - pedernales

This route crosses the River Chone from Bahía and continues north, along a beautiful coastline and through some pleasant countryside, crossing the equator just before the beach town of Pedernales.

Bahia de Caráquez is on the south shore of the mouth of the River Chone, which empties out into the Pacific Ocean here. It used to be necessary to take the ferry (gavara) across the river to San Vicente on the north bank but at the end of 2010 a new bridge was opened, the longest in Ecuador and pride of the locals. Bus companies don´t cross the bridge so if you are on foot you have to take a taxi or the canoe (panga) which can hold about 10 passengers and runs into the night.

Getting your car on and off the ferry was an adventure which involved plunging down a steep concrete ramp towards the water and then up onto the ferry in Bahia and plunging down onto the beach 20 minutes later in San Vicente. In holiday periods you could be waiting for over an hour to get on board, on a strictly first come first served basis.

San Vicente is a smaller and more laidback/ disorganised town depending on what you want to do there. An earthquake hit in the late 90s and the town has not yet rebuilt its malecon. It has a nice beach and the potential to be an attractive town for tourists, but is not at this moment. There are a few cool bamboo bars on the edge of the beach that can keep you entertained at night. Otherwise there is not much going on in town apart from the trade in fish. The people are somewhat isolated from the country, as the roads north and east along the river are not in good condition and therefore eager to get a bridge built over the River Chone to provide closer links to Bahia. It’s not finished yet.

The real beauty of the area is evident once you leave San Vicente. Following the coast line to where it turns and heads north, you can see a beautiful expansive sandbank which can be accessed by vehicles when the tide is out (spoiling the scene somewhat). You can choose to swim in warm, calm waters protected by the sandbank or on the other side, in the waves that sweep in from the Pacific. Continuing along the coast you pass the tiny settlement of Briceño which also provides access, over a dry riverbed, to a beach, where sunbeds and food are available from a cabaña restaurant.

The road now straightens up and, passing a few houses, runs north with reddish cliffs on the right and the ocean on the left until you enter Canoa which is the last significant settlement for some distance. If you continue north, you will enjoy a feast of greenery. You never stray far from the ocean, but it disappears for long periods, returning with tantalising glimpses through the trees atop small hills. Valleys stretch inland, appearing drier with less trees. There is just enough rain for the cattle. Only part of the land here has been cultivated so you can feel at times that you have escaped population – a rare sensation in Ecuador.

More people live in the canton of Jama, which proudly boasts its history of settlement on billboards at the roadside. It may have been important in the past but there is not much to see now, in fact a trip to the museum in Quito will probably enlighten you more. The modern town is also pretty insignicant and is some distance from the sea. However, there is access to a palm lined beach (El Matal) down a dirt track off the main road just before you enter the town from the south. I haven’t made it there yet though and am basing my description on a promotional picture. The locals seemed oblivious to the existence of a tourist attraction, which is more likely to mean that not many tourists visit, rather than the beach does not exist.

From Jama, the road continues north and again it becomes a peaceful and beautiful journey. There are a few hosterías with private beach access where you can stay. We did not discover any public beach access from hereon but I am sure there is some if you could explore on foot. A few kilometres south of Pedernales you cross the equator, on a curve in the road marked with a simple sign. If you are not looking out of the window you will miss it.

Soon after, you enter Pedernales. Only one road leads from the south but, given the prominence any map gives to Pedernales you may think you have entered by some forgotten track skirting the centre of town. No, that pretty much is the town. Find your way down to the dirty beach or better still keep going north or east to Santo Domingo. Or turn around again. But don’t stay in Pedernales.


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