Ayampe Diving & Whale Watching
Tucked among the lush rolling hills and along the sandy beaches of the Ruta del Spondylus, Ayampe is a hidden gem in Ecuador’s Pacific Coast. Just 17 kilometers south of the fishing town of Puerto Lopez and 25 kilometers north of the surfing town of Montanita, Ayampe is a great place to relax and enjoy the sun, surf, and natural wonders of its waters. Ayampe enjoys consistent tubular waves, Ecuador’s only coastal reef, and proximity to the pristine Machalilla National Park. These elements make for world-class scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, and whale watching. Most significantly, Ayampe enjoys these natural benefits without the exposure and exploitation of other coastal destinations. Ayampe features far less crowds than nearby “party” towns while still having a friendly, community feel. Travelers come to Ayampe to experience the natural world at its finest without the distractions of over development.
Ayampe’s cultural history dates back to well before the Incan empire, with maritime nomadic tribes sailing up and down the coast in balsawood boats. Although Ayampe has long been a well-kept secret for nature lovers and surfers in today’s world, it has recently begun to embark on an initiative to increase tourism. That being said, Ayampe is very conscious of exploitation and has taken concrete steps to maintain nature preservation and to emphasize the strengthening of the local economy. Although Ayampe’s tourism will no doubt increase in the coming years as travelers learn of its quiet, pristine beaches and rich natural blessings, it is determined not to become an overrun beach city any time soon.
Ayampe beach and the surrounding shoreline are unique for having Ecuador’s only coastal coral reef. Ayampe also has more islets per square mile than any other coastal region. These features, paired with the isolated beauty of the beaches, make Ayampe a prime location for scuba diving and snorkeling. Local businesses provide guided tours and rental equipment to travelers. Many local hostels and hotels in Ayampe offer these services within their establishment or recommend affiliated organizations. These tours usually include boat rides right out of Ayampe and into Machalilla National Park. Some also reach Isla de la Plata, which has long been considered an affordable alternative to the Galapagos Islands. Expect to see plenty of colorful fish, untouched coral reef, and a wide variety of ocean crustaceans and other species.
Ayampe is also known as a premiere point of departure for some of the world’s best whale watching tours. From June to September, humpback whales migrate north along Ecuador’s coast from the cold waters of Chile. These humpback whales take advantage of the warmer water and climate between Isla de la Plata and the Ecuadorian mainland. Visitors can watch the humpback whales from up close as they engage in their seasonal courting rituals during the northern migration. Whale watching tours leave straight from Ayampe and can be arranged with local companies in town or through your hotel. Expect to pay between 25 and 35 dollars to experience these majestic creatures with a bag lunch often included.
Travelers can also take a trip to nearby Machalilla National Park to simply explore the area’s natural beauty. This park is only several kilometers from Ayampe and features a unique ecosystem and many endemic plant and animal species. Local guides are happy to show you the pride of their region. Tour packages can include whale watching or snorkeling. Some simply stick to a guided hike of the national park. Machalilla National Park also has its own archaeological museum, detailing the history of the area’s natural features and indigenous native cultures.
Due to its consistent break waves and not crowded beaches, surfing is also a big attraction in Ayampe. Surfers come from all over the Ruta del Sol to enjoy Ayampe’s waves. Some come as a day trip and others make it their primary base. Travelers can rent surfboards and take lessons with local guides or simply set off into the waters on their own.
While the beach and the ocean are undoubtedly Ayampe’s biggest attractions, the inland hills and the Ayampe River also deserve attention. Ayampe’s inland hills provide ample opportunity for hiking. Many travelers choose to take a guided mule tour or horseback tour with local tour operators up the Ayampe River and into the surrounding hills. These tours have a much slower pace and are a great way to experience the lush greenery and flora and fauna of Ecuador’s Southern Coast.
In addition to diving, whale watching, surfing, and hiking, many travelers simply enjoy walking along the secluded beaches and swimming in the Pacific Ocean. Visitors delight in the unspoiled beauty and take time to truly relax while in Ayampe. Finish the day with fresh seafood caught just off the shoreline and a breathtaking view of the Pacific sunset.
When to Go
With the rainy season lasting from December to May, and the influx of breeding humpback whales spanning from June to September, the summer seems the obvious season to visit Ayampe. That being said, hotel and tour prices do increase during these summer months, as do the crowds. Though the Ayampe will not be completely overrun with tourists during the summer the way Montanita or Puerto Lopez might be, travelers still might consider avoiding the peak season. September might actually be the best time to visit, when the humpback whales are still mating, the weather is temperate, and many tourists have returned to work.
Getting To and Away
Ayampe is right off of Highway E15, the main drag that runs along the Pacific coast and comprises the Ruta del Sol. Buses run up and down this highway regularly and it is easy to hop on one in a nearby town and ask to be let off in Ayampe. A trip all the way down to Ayampe from the more northern Manta takes about three and a half hours ($4-6). A bus from as far south and inland as Guayaquil takes about five hours ($5-7). Buses from Puerto Lopez and Montanita take under an hour and cost between one and three dollars.
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