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ROUTE salinas - manta (ruta del sol)

The “Sun Route” is the name for the coastal road which stretches along the Pacific coastline from Salinas in Santa Elena province to Manta in Manabi, now also called the Ruta de Spondylus. Signs along it note an uninterrupted highway running from the frontier with Colombia at Mataje, although it requires a few leaps of imagination or diversions from the coast to accept that.

Along the Sun Route you will see a mix of beautiful beaches, wonderful resorts, desperately poor villages seemingly oblivious to the tourist potential of their location and a dry, tropical landscape which tests the resourcefulness of those who choose to live off the land.

Villages generally consist of a few shacks, shops selling basic provisions and numerous little bars selling beer. It has been resurfaced and is currently a fantastic drive. The road was previously in unbelievably bad condition; in between the villages the driver had to negotiate around or into and out of (depending on the oncoming traffic) deep pot holes and swathes of scarred, weathered tarmac, peeled back in places by the winter rains to leave rough gravel.

From La Libertad the road runs north through an arid landscape, past some apartment blocks and small residential complexes. There is public access to little beaches along many of the narrow tracks turning off from the main road. Just before San Pablo you pass a junction with a new road which connects to the Guayaquil- Salinas highway and is a shortcut to the big city. If you are travelling from Guayaquil read the Santa Elena Peninsula page for details of the route.

You enter San Pablo by crossing an old bridge over a channel which is almost always dry. The road then heads straight for the beach, until a last minute 90 degree bend sets you alongside the sea following a lovely stretch of beach, lined with rustic wooden restaurants which serve delicious seafood at good prices. Many have showers and hammocks. You can relax and move to and from the beach. We usually eat at a place called El Farolito. In August you can sometimes see whales frolicking out to sea.

Many of the inhabitants of the villages along the Ruta del Sol are fishermen and you can often see them bringing in their haul on the beaches. There are also several shrimp farms on the other side of the road and in the next village Monte Verde there is a tuna processing factory that creates jobs. There is also a colourful little church.

Monte Verde is one of villages where the communities welcome visitors with a series of roughly constructed DIY speed bumps (in Spanish wonderfully named vigilantes acostados – sleeping policemen) which are unnecessarily big or steep and require the driver to slow to 10km/h and approach from a slightly sideways angle to not jar the underbody of a car. The beauty for the communities is that this allows them to walk along and stand in the road as if they are just leaving a football stadium. Although I wish they had a pavement, I approve of their nonchalant disregard for the vehicles which have to crawl along the centre of the street to avoid hitting anybody.

Beyond Monte Verde there is a low lying stretch of road which follows a causeway between pools of water from which salt is extracted. The road continues to El Palmar where there is another petrol station, the last for a while. El Palmar has a great stretch of beach some distance down a side road. It has great potential as a resort but is currently just a dirty mess and its inhabitants seem to lack inspiration to make the village an attractive location.

So continue to the next beaches.

Firstly, passing the tiny village of Pueblo Nuevo you can take a dirt track which leads 4 km to Playa Rosada. There is a sign but check with the villagers. Alternatively a little further on a paved road takes you down to Ayangue, a nice fishing village with a huge bay. Although it is often filled with boats there is room to swim in the calm waters. You can also go out on a pedalo or banana. There is accommodation and excellent, cheap food in a simple restaurant on the beach.

Beyond Ayangue the road stays inland for a while, crossing small hills on a dangerously potholed stretch of road. The misery continues until you descend down into San Pedro. This village has tried to do something to promote itself. Cabaña restaurants line the beach.

All along the Ruta del Sol you pass little settlements where people love to relax and drink or show off. On a Saturday evening the streets are filled with young people all dressed up, especially the girls, and parading up and down, greeting each other and having fun. Although there may not be much to do in these places the people have an air of contentment.

Valdivia is 40 kilometres from La Libertad and is named after the culture that lived in this region in the 4th century BC and were the first in the continent to produce pottery. Nowadays Valdivia is a poor village but does have one little museum (established by a local man) which exhibits a few original ceramics and produces replicas in an adjoining workshop.

On the way to Libertador (Simon) Bolivar you travel along a stretch of road hugging the coastline, with a cliff wall on one side and the waves crashing onto the beach a few metres below the road on the other. In the village cabaña restaurants line the beach and a number of families operate small hotels or rent tooms in their houses. Contact them via the prodecos website. (www.prodecos.com) You can also go horse riding, trekking or take a boat ride. The street here is clean and has a pavement, so people can take their evening stroll in relative safety. A number of shops sell good quality hammocks, handicrafts and one sells beautiful wooden furniture.

There is a horrible speed bump on the way out of Libertador Bolivar, just far enough away from the houses to surprise you, especially if you’re travelling from the north. little further on a large sign directs you slightly off the road to the Pro-Pueblo handicrafts shop. Manglaralto is the next village and is well-organised, attractive and quiet. It has a nice beach and is a good place to stay and relax. There is a hotel and some cabanas and a restaurant that serves excellent cazuela just off the main square. From here a track leads inland to Dos Mangas from where you can organise trips through the forest into the hills. There’s not much else to do in Manglaralto – there is one bar open at weekends but for nightlife it’s better to head into Montañita which is just three kilometres north and makes a lovely stroll along the beach.

Beyond the frenzied atmosphere of Montañita two roads lead uphill out of town. The main road climbs and descends directly into Olón. The other track passes a church, built on the cliff top by a group of European missionaries (with help) who established a foundation which supports a primary school and orphanage on the other side of the road. The church is designed in the form of a boat and is open at the sides. The views down to the ocean and the long white beach which stretches from Olón to La Entrada are incredible. We got married in this church and even as a non-Catholic I would recommend it as anyone else who falls in love with an Ecuadorian. The priest and assistants were so helpful, friendly and sincere. If you are a Catholic you can also ask to see the picture of the Virgin which is said to have wept a drop of blood.

So, then you drop down to Olón which is very small but has a great beach and a few places to stay. The road ploughs on for another 10km and at La Entrada starts to ascend into the Chongon Colonche range of hills which are still covered by green forest and stand out as a beautiful contrast to the rest of the arid scrubland along the coast which was cleared of trees years ago. It’s a long, winding climb (it takes at least 30 minutes to cross the range although the distance is small). At the top there is a turn off to an hosteria on top of the cliff and another inland. The road then descends to Ayampe which is another small village, not very pretty and not much going on, but with some lovely places to stay and a great beach. Again, it’s possible to walk along the beach for about 4km to the next cliff next to the village of Puerto Rico, which has an interesting bamboo church. You pass an ugly fishing village called Las Tunas and several nice looking hostels which front the sea. The last one is Alándaluz which is a beautifully designed hostería where we had our wedding reception.

The road turns inland and then returns to the coast and keeps doing this as the coastline alternates between beach and cliff. There are more places to stay before and after Salango, where there is a little archaeology museum and you can also take boat trips out to the islands just off the coast, which are part of Machalilla National Park. From Salango the road climbs up steadily and then passes through a gap in the rock. Puerto Lopez comes into view and you can stop and enjoy the view before descending.

From Puerto Lopez the main road passes along a nice straight part where the branches of the trees have grown up and over the road, forming a tunnel. It then passes the entrance to Agua Blanca and Los Frailes beach which are also part of Machalilla National Park. After passing through the drab village of Machalilla the road is mainly inland. You get a good sense of the dry tropical forest (which isn’t very attractive) and there are a few other opportunities to stop and follow walking trails which lead up to cliff tops or down to beaches. Otherwise it’s a winding 34km to Puerto Cayo where there is another long beach and places to stay.

From Puerto Cayo a road heads inland to Jipijapa . The Ruta del Sol continues to follow the coastline, sometimes inland, sometimes returning to the sea, through several little villages, San Lorenzo and Santa Marianita and past a few small stretches of beach before entering the larger town of Manta.


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