At first, going to Puerto Lopez for Carnival in Ecuador was option B, but after we left this tranquil yet bustling little town we were already planning when to return. Puerto Lopez is a little fishing and beach town in southern Ecuador, anywhere from 6-8 hours from Quito by bus.
Puerto Lopez is known for a number of touristic qualities, but it doesn’t feel like an overly touristy town.? First of all, Puerto Lopez is a fishing village. Meaning that there are tons of boats on the beach of Puerto Lopez and right off the beach during the day as well as delicious and cheap seafood restaurants throughout the town. Puerto Lopez is also inside Parque Nacional Machililla, so it is not only a departure point to Isla de la Plata, but also close to Los Frailes and Agua Blanca.
The hostels and restaurants are open and booming during Carnival. Most restaurants have a set almuerzo, large meal, generally lunch, which usually consists of a main dish with rice, lentals, salad, some meat, weather it is fish, steak or chicken and a drink, usually juice. The prices of meals depend on how close you eat them to the beach, basically. The restaurants right on the beach look more legitimate, but meals can reach upwards of $7 or $8, while the almuerzos further from the beach are just as tasty, but generally cost between $2 and $3. Be sure to bargain the price before ordering, and remember when you pay what price was agreed upon.
The quality and price of hostels can vary greatly in Puerto Lopez as well. One that I recommend over the others is Villa Colombia. Here, our group of 7 weary travelers was greeted at 6:30am after an overnight bus ride with ready rooms and smiles from the owners. After checking in, they let us sleep and made us the complimentary breakfast around 9a. And we weren’t even paying to stay in the rooms that day. The advice about which parks to go to was invaluable as well as the personalized tour of Isla de la Plata from Galo, who also works at Villa Colombia. On our last day, we were even welcomed to check out just a half hour before our bus left for Quito; meaning we got to shower and rest before the long trip back. Villa Colombia is not directly on the beach, but a 7-10 minute walk away so there is tranquility in the hammocks of Villa Colombia that cannot be obtained at the bustling hostels on the beachfront.
Los Frailes is one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador and is a 15-20 minute bus ride from Puerto Lopez. It is also one of the most secluded as many Ecuadorians refuse to pay the entrance fee. It differs depending on what type of ticket you are buying; the general entrance fee for just the beaches run form $2, if you have an Ecuadorian resident ID, to $20 if you are buying a ticket for both the beaches and Isla de la Plata, without an Ecuadorian ID. Still, the $20 is definitely worth the 4-day pass to both the beaches and Isla de la Plata. There are three beaches available at Los Frailes. The first?is both the biggest and best for swimming. The second is more scenic with rocks along parts of the shore and an island off the middle of the beach. The third is a tiny, tucked away gem with black sand. All are wonderful places to pass the day away in.
Isla de la Plata is just as enchanting as the beaches at Los Frailes. It’s also called the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” as Isla de la Plata harbors many of the same species as the
Galapagos, for a fraction of the cost. Also, if you go during June, July or August, Isla de la Plata tours include whale-watching tours. Isla de la Plata is an hour to an hour and a half ride from Puerto Lopez by boat through beautiful blue waters. Many guides will then take you on a tour around the island and show the different species available there. Lastly, our group went snorkeling off the shore of the island and discovered a wealth of different fish and coal. Isla de la Plata is very biodiverse and a great place to visit if the Galapagos are not in your budget or tour.
Getting to Puerto Lopez could be tricky. There are two bus companies that run from Quito directly to Puerto Lopez, Carlos A. Aray and Reina del Camina. You can buy tickets from both lines in Quitumbre, the bus station far south of Quito. There is also an office of Reina del Camina in Quito, close to the Mariscal, so this option is more convenient for many. There are definitely differences between the two companies. Reina del Camina takes a route to and from Puerto Lopez that goes through the mountains instead of along the coast; meaning that is takes less time and stops
less?often than Carlos A. Aray. Since there is an office?in Quito, Reina del Camina drops all the passengers off in central Quito, not at the Quitumbre station (which is great if you’re getting in in the early morning as there are lots of taxis waiting to take you home). Also, the busses are air conditioned with Reina del Camina. Carlos A. Aray will get you to Puerto Lopez, but the bus ride is longer, stops more often, and is not air-conditioned. In Quito, the lack of air conditioning doesn’t really matter, but once on the coast it definitely makes a difference. Despite that, these are the only two companies that run directly to Puerto Lopez, so Carlos A. Aray is a better option than?taking a combination of busses to get there.
Puerto Lopez is one of the most enchanting and interesting beaches to go to in?Ecuador. There are many activities available despite the general atmosphere of a tranquil beach and fishing village, making Puerto Lopez a place to visit over and over again.