Published on July 12th, 20156
Puerto Lopez – Not My Cuppa Tea
Rarely do I wax glum here at TravelnLass. Mainly ‘cuz I’m a “glass half-full” kinda person, and I see no point in sharing my infrequent minor mishaps with my loyal TL readers. Furthermore, I tend to be a “lemonade” kind of lass ever striving to make the best out of even the seemingly worst sort of calamity – as evidenced by my (surprisingly upbeat) take on Getting ROBBED in Vietnam.
Ah but as an unauthorized scout for perhaps others who might likewise be looking for the perfect Ecuadorian beach, I feel this tale of grump needs to be told.
Though I rarely am foolish enough to harbor giddily high expectations for any of my travels, I must admit – I was indeed a tad excited to (finally, after more than a year atop this mountain in the Andes) wiggle toes in some nice warm SAND along the sunny shores of the ocean. Indeed, I was looking eagerly forward to relaxing on a “playa” for a week between teaching terms here in my (beloved, but nonetheless not exactly seaside bliss) Cuenca, Ecuador.
And I surely had done my due-diligence research on the matter. As detailed in THIS POST, choosing among the many beaches scattered along the Ecuadorian coast for my 7 night getaway was no easy task. But I eventually (wisely, as it turned out) settled on splitting my beach holiday at two different beaches: Playa Ayampe and Puerto Lopez.
The former beach (Ayampe) I stayed at first for (sadly) but two nights. Indeed, a most regrettably brief stay because Playa Ayampe turned out to be utterly DIVINE! Absolutely perfect in every way. My new bbf (best beach forever). The beach – long, wide, wild and all but completely empty, save for a stray surfer or three gracefully gliding off-shore along frothy aquamarine waves. And the village of Ayampe, tiny and tranquil, with but a handful of restaurants and nary a single souvenir stand dripping with useless plastic and polyester crap. Indeed, I soon learned that the main attraction in the sleepy little paradise of Playa Ayampe – was watching the sun turn crimson and gold each evening, as it sank languidly into the sea.
So too, my chosen digs at Ayampe (Spondylus Lodge) were nothing short of heaven-sent. At just $30 per night single, my air-conditioned accommodations included a private balcony with hammock, and a frilly white canopied bed set amid hand-painted murals on the walls. In short, it was among THE most beautiful bedrooms I’ve ever slept in. Spondylus Lodge amenities also included access to a full kitchen, free coffee, an outdoor jacuzzi, and a relaxing lounge area set in a lush garden of palms and bougainvillea.
Ah but alas, all too soon it was time to head 18 kms north for the remaining pre-booked 5 nights of my holiday – to Puerto Lopez.
Thereafter – the ambiance of my little beach getaway went swiftly downhill…
From the moment I arrived in Puerto Lopez, I was less than thrilled with what I saw. Having just come from a pocket of Warner Brothers beach splendor at Ayampe, the difference was nothing short of (disappointingly) spectacular. Whereas Ayampe was a study in tranquility and visual loveliness, with an all but empty beach as far as the eye could see – Puerto Lopez on the other hand, presented a jumble of dusty kiosks (all selling the precise same made-in-Taiwan trinkets) and tour tiendas (all hawking the precise same trio of tours: 1. Isla de la Plata a.k.a. “The Poor Man’s Galapagos”; 2. Playa de los Frailes (which you could easily reach independently via hopping on a trimoto for $4); and 3. See the “Ballenas” (whales).
And all this – crammed together along a dusty road lined with a mile of green plastic construction fencing, blocking any dream of accessing a poetic stroll on the beach.
So too, my sleeps at Puerto Lopez – though allegedly among PL’s very best (Victor Hugo Hotel, at nearly twice the price of my fairy tale Ayampe digs) – turned out to be likewise mediocre at best. Far less alluring than the online photos would suggest.
And while I tried to make the best of it, after 4 days, I simply couldn’t bear to stay another night – so I checked out early (waving bye-bye to my $56 non-refundable 5th night reservation), and hopped on the bus back to Cuenca. A first for me in all my travels, so you KNOW it was just short of oppressive – leastwise for this “TravelnLass” who’s arguably run the gamut from fabulous to dreadful locales ’round the world.
And it wasn’t just the current construction of the new malecón (clearly a temporary blight that I was just unlucky enough to witness). The entire town just seemed ragged and worn out – and not in a charming way like some of my favorite little backward corners of the globe. Nonetheless, I put on my “lemonade” panties and tried my level best to make the most of my stay.
The big draw at Puerto Lopez seems to be excursions to off-shore Isla de la Plata a.k.a. “The Poor Man’s Galapagos”. I wouldn’t know as I just recently enjoyed 11 days in the true Galapagos (for a fraction of what most folks pay) and thus wasn’t interested in adding to my 200 photos of Blue-footed Booby birds and sea lions ($45 for a day trip – though you could easily negotiate it down to $35 as the hawkers that lined the beach verily bumped elbows in their frenetic eagerness to reel you in).
Instead, I hired a trimoto for $4 and headed for the legendary “Los Frailes” beach about 12 kms north of PL. Los Frailes is indeed a most beautiful stretch of seaside splendor and the view from the cliffs above, spectacular. But unless you want to simply bake to a toasty mocha in the sun, it was merely a momentary (albeit panorama-perfect) photo op and… for me at least I had the fun of seeking and finding a geocache hidden along the cliffside trail.
I was also looking forward to tossing back bountiful bowls of ceviche and other fresh seafood yummys that I read about in my Ecuador beaches research. But at first, that too proved disappointing. The first civeche lunch I ordered (at $6 for fish only, no shrimp) was bland at best. Indeed, I tried several different small cafes shmushed between the souvenir and tour hawker stands, and none of the ceviches was even moderately memorable.
Ah, but then I got lucky (or I should say, I finally followed my own sage street-eats advice). I discovered a little beach-side canopied cafe and watched while my ($5 with all manner of shrimp, octopus, etc.) lunch was sliced ‘n diced into the freshest of seafood goodness. Needless to say, thereafter I was a near constant customer for lunch and dinner on those rickety plastic chairs wobbling in the sand.
And finally, I did opt for a $20 (negotiated down from $25) half-day boat tour to see the Humpback whales off-shore. And though my camera simply couldn’t capture the magnificence of those huge beasts gliding effortlessly through the waves, I dare say it was spell-binding to witness them in their natural home. In short, the best $20 spent on this first little Ecuador beaches scouting trip.
To be fair to Puerto Lopez, some (many?) folks favor the bustle of a more touristy spot for their beach getaways. I guess I’ve just seen more than enough of them in my travels (e.g. Kuta in Bali, Corfu in Greece and g-knows such seaside tourist meccas abound in Thailand), and thus I seek out more placid corners for my beach holidays. It’s clearly a YMMV kind of thing (and thank goodness there’s plenty of the former to keep the latter sparsely serene).
Ironically, (thanks only to the magic of Lightroom and my own veteran digital photo editing skills) I did manage to put together a bundle of Puerto Lopez images that, uh… make it look far more attractive than imo it actually is.
Nonetheless, I will no doubt one day drop back into Puerto Lopez on a future trip to the coast (when all the acky malecón construction is complete). If for no other reason than to give it a second chance to tickle my peculiar paradise-seeking toes. But likely it will be limited to but a day visit – a quick excusion from my new beloved Ecuadorian beach at nearby Playa Ayampe!