We are engaging in four sports here on Puerto Lopez beach, the first two are very easy, and lazy!
First up is birdwatching, which means lying back and looking around. The white bird, pictured, was literally a one-off, seen hanging about one day at the back of the beach, and never seen again. The black bird, pictured scavenging food, is far more common – there are hundreds of them and similar ones: pelicans, frigatebirds, the odd vulture, and even the intriguingly named ‘boobies’ who fly to land from the Isla de Plata (more of them later). The birds focus on the small scale fishing industry located at the southern end of the beach, hovering over boats and sand and searching for scraps or flying down to steal from boxes of caught fish. They also hover over the rest of the beach, using the sea breeze to glide about. Pelicans skim the waves hoping to catch flying fish. At times 10 or more birds combine into a V-shaped formation, swooping above us like a scene from a Hollywood WW2 film. Wish we could fly!
The second sport is crab-watching, which also involves lying around. There’s numerous mainly small crabs on the beach, scuttling sideways at speed from crabhole to crabhole to escape advancing danger. The holes are 1 to 5cm in diameter, depth unknown – would you stick a finger down to measure? Worth watching were you sit too. At times 2 crabs into one hole doesn’t work, leading to a brief face-off, a bit like Germans & Brits in Spain fighting over sun loungers, but without the testosterone, or lager! Sadly the crabs are too well camouflaged and quick for our camera.
Sport no.3 is walking the golden sands of Puerto Lopez beach, which we estimate to be at least 3km long. The beach is a stunning crescent shape, backed by the hills of the Parque National Machalilla, which form a part of Ecuador’s last remaining coastal tropical dry forest – a mere 1% remains. The southern part of the beach is dominated by the town, seafront beachbars, and the fishing industry, and here can be quite busy, and dirty – rubbish is a real problem in Ecuador everywhere. But walk north 10minutes and it is quiet, cleaner, and the beach is backed just by scrubland at the foot of the hills.
Sport no.4 follows 1, 2 and 3 and means frolicking in the surf of the Pacific waves, which so far have been no more than 5foot high. We’ve noticed locals go no further in than shoulder deep, about 50m out, where the water remains warm. We suspect they avoid deeper colder water where bigger fish lurk, and are prepared to defend their territory – unsuspecting gringos have emerged with cuts and stings. Nature after all is way bigger and more powerful than us, and was definitely here way before us too!
Puerto Lopez is not a trendy beach/surf/party resort like Salinas, Montanito or Atacames, and perhaps never will be thanks to the Parque. It seems to attract mainly Ecuadoreans from nearby inland areas most of the year, and gets busier at weekends (except in the whale-watching season). It is a million miles away from the ‘managed’ southern European beach resorts many of us were reared on, and well worth a visit for a dose of local beach reality.