Blue-Footed Boobies, Pelicans & Sea Turtles In Puerto López, Ecuador
The majority of backpackers Dave and I meet in Ecuador are heading to the Galapagos Islands as part of their trip. It’s currently low season on the islands, yet prices for flights are in excess of two hundred pounds and it’s well over one thousand pounds per person for a tour. While I’m sure the wildlife and experiences you have on the islands are more than worth the expense, our six-month round-the-world budget just won’t stretch to include this. However, we have read online that there is a ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos’ on the coast of Ecuador, called Isla De La Plata, so we’re visiting this instead.
Isla De La Plata is most easily accessible from a small coastal town called Puerto López. We’ve yet to speak to any travellers who have visited, or will be visiting Puerto López, which actually makes it more appealing as we feel like we’re straying from the typical gringo route by heading there ourselves.
On arrival at the dusty, fairly derelict town, we can see two sides to Puerto López. First, the way it currently is, with plenty of beach-lined hotels and restaurants that contain barely any people, and a huge amount of construction work taking place aimed at improving the promenade and road system. Secondly, the way Puerto López could be in five or ten years time, bustling with backpackers and holiday makers alike. The town has huge potential to bring in tourists once the construction work has finished, but it’s clear from online reviews criticising how long the construction has been happening, that this will be in years to come.
It took two overnight buses to get us here, one from Baños to Quito and the next from Quito to Puerto López. We arrived in the early hours of the morning to a lovely warm climate, where we’ve treated ourselves to a private room in a budget hotel, called Hostel Del Mar. It’s clean, well-decorated with flowers and pottery, and just a minute’s walk from the beach, although a little pricey.
We grab a couple of hours sleep after an early check-in, then spend the afternoon booking our day tour out to Isla De La Plata for the following day, before walking the long length of the beach.
The view here is spectacular and we are privileged to be two of just a dozen or so people on the beach. The sky is filled with large pelicans that circle the water, before dipping and diving head first into the sea to catch fish. Small fishing boats ripple on the surface of the ocean and occasional waves roll up onto our feet as we stroll along. Puerto López is one of the fishing towns of Ecuador, so there are plenty of locals hoisting sealife-filled nets just off the shore. It’s a welcome break to sit on the sand and relax after such a hectic few days in Baños.
As suspected, our hotel is pretty empty so the evening is spent purchasing slices of one dollar pizza from the street stand next door and drinking beers. Our tour the following day begins at 9am, so we’re up early to eat our free breakfast before walking to the tour operator’s office. Despite it seeming like there are barely any tourists in Puerto López, we’re joined by around ten others in our boat, the majority of which are couples.
After a quick safety briefing, the two hour boat journey out to Isla De La Plata begins, and boy is it a bumpy ride! The further we get out to sea the bigger the waves are and our fairly small boat rocks from side to side, occasionally catching the end of a wave and lurching downwards suddenly, giving you that feeling that your stomach has dropped. We pretty much sit and look out to the horizon the whole time, holding on and willing our arrival on the island to come quickly. If we had been a month or two earlier in our visit, we would most likely have seen whales frolicking in the sea, but unfortunately we’ve come too far out of season.
When we eventually pull up near Isla De La Plata, we can see it’s a fairly large but bare island. The trees don’t contain any leaves and the ground is mainly sand, with wooden steps added for tourists to easily walk one of the five trails created. We walk upwards for about twenty minutes until we reach a wooden hut on one of the island’s peaks. It’s here we can choose between two main trails. We opt for the shorter; one and a half hour’s of walking in mid-twenty degree heat.
Before we’ve even set off we’re delighted to see two blue-footed booby birds sitting practically on the path. Our guide warns us to stay a few meters distance from the comical looking birds and not to use flash when taking pictures, as this can scare and injure them. Staying so far away is sometimes difficult though, as many of the birds have set up camp right in the pathway.
It’s amazing to be so close to them and hear their loud, almost honking
noises that warn us to stay away the closer we get. We try to find alternate paths where possible, or walk as far to the edge of the path as we can so as not to scare them. I get quite carried away with the photographs, they’re just so brilliant to see up close.
After a sweaty but enjoyable walk out to a clifftop lookout point, then back to the hut where we first began, we make our way back onto the waiting boat for lunch. Just as the tuna and mayonnaise sandwiches are being dished out, we spot a couple of sea turtles on one side of the boat. Within minutes there are around seven or eight sea turtles swimming around us, diving underneath the boat and waiting for the odd morsel of food, which the guide throws into the water. It makes for great entertainment during lunch, but unfortunately we’re not allowed to snorkel in this area and so can’t join the creatures in the water when we’re done.
Around half an hour later, we sadly leave the turtles behind and are taken to a bay nearby for some snorkelling. The water is freezing and a little murky. Dave and I snorkel for around half an hour, seeing a few different species of fish and some nice coral, before we clamber back onto the boat for warmth. The journey back to the mainland is just as rocky as the way out, but overall it’s been a lovely day and a bargain at just thirty-five dollars each.
That night we simply chill at our hostel and pack our things ready to depart the next morning. Our next destination in Ecuador is a surf and party town, also on the coast, called Montañita. It’s approaching Halloween weekend, so we’re ready to spend a few days letting our hair down!
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