A friend and I just spent one week in Esmeraldas, Atacames and Tonsupa and here is my take for those considering this coastal area as a place to live.
1. Esmeraldas is not on the coast, it is about 20 miles inland and you have to take buses or taxi to the beach town, which is Atacames.
2. Esmeraldas gets about 5 months of rain a year and not just gentle spring rains, but real gully washers. Other than the main streets, which are sort of paved, the side streets and shoulders of the main streets are dirt and the whole place is a mud hole. But after the rains and mud dries up, you can imagine the dust clouds from driving in dry muddy streets.
3. The city makes no attempt to clean the streets and a half-hearted attempt to collect garbage. In the six days we were in the city, I saw garbage being collected once and it piles up everywhere. In Cuenca for example the street sweepers work 7 days a week and garbage is collected 3 times a week.
4. Atacames, the beach town reminds me of Atlantic City NJ, of 40 years ago. The beach is filthy as is the sand and I saw no effort to clean it. But that is the same everywhere in coastal Ecuador. Pristine is not a word to use in describing Ecuador’s beaches.
5. Tonsupa has been touted as a garden spot, but other than a couple of high rises on the beach, there is not much else. Two blocks away, are dirt streets and residents living in shacks, which in many cases had no doors or windows. Ditto for Atacames and Esmeraldas.
6. The Pacific coast in Ecuador is very similar to the Pacific coast in the US, the water never gets very warm—it is not like the Atlantic Ocean at all which the water will get to the upper 70s. Having lived in California many years ago, I can say that the sunsets on the Pacific are not nearly as spectacular as on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida.
Esmerldas is a coastal city, but is separated from the city centre by the industrial port area. The beach is called Las Palmas and can be reached from the city centre by bus for 25 cents (15 minutes) or a taxi for $1.50. If you are arriving at Esmeraldas bus station it is nowhere near the centre, it will cost you $2 to $3 to get to centre (the taxi drivers will try to charge you more especially at night, you could try telling them someone at the hotel you are going to stay at told you the price for the trip). If it´s daytime or early evening you can catch the blue Las Palmas buses from the main road in front of the bus station (cross over to the other side of the road to catch the buses going into the city). These buses cost 25 cents whether you are going just to the city centre or all the way to the beach. Take off any good jewellery or watches as occassional robberies (I heard of these but luckily in my year in Esmeraldas city I never experienced any bad incidents). The beach area is not very well developed and rather isolated at night so better to stay in city centre and catch a bus to the beach. Taxis to most places in the city centre cost $1, they are bright yellow and many now have camaras and emergency buttons in them. Esmeraldas is a small city, more of a big town really and unfortunately they demolished most of their original wooden houses and replaced them with usually ugly and unimaginative, half finished, concrete block buildings. The people are usually very nice and friendly and are interested in foreigners. Supposedly the dangerous area of the city centre is between Calle Pedro Vicente Maldonado and Esmeraldas river, and is called La Isla (the island). Stay clear of this area especially at night. The Casa de Cultura is located on Calle Sucre and there´s a nice icecream and coffee house called Nice Cream in front of the childrens park (Parque Infantil) on Calle Colon. There is also a small mall/shopping centre on Calle Pedro Vicente Maldonado (look on google maps for Centro Comercial Multiplaza. Don´t forget should only cost you $1 to get there from the city centre. If you walk it´s about 15 to 20 minutes and walk down Calle Bolivar most of the way as larger main street with more people. There is a good supermarket there called AKI, a chemist, KIWI (sells household/plumbing/electrical items), Radioshack, TVentas, some clothes shops and a food court with another Nice Cream store, KFC and another few restaurants. There are lots of other small shops in the city selling clothes, toiletries, food, dvd´s etc and a big electrical store that sells the usual white and brown goods on Calle Bolivar called CASTRO (pay cash if you don´t want them to add an additional charge for using credit OR debit cards, I think they tried to charge me an extra 12%. I have used my foreign debit card in AKI for no extra charge and in lots of shops in Quito for no extra charge so I don´t know why they charged for debit cards too or maybe it was just a sales assistant who didn´t know what the difference between credit and debit cards was (as the store had just recently opened). If you are coming to the coast bring those self closing (with magnets) insect nets for doors. They are brilliant and will let the air in but keep the mosquitos out. Bring a few as I haven´t seen them here in Ecuador. They do sell mosquito nets for over your beds called TOLDOS. Also bring some nets for putting over your windows. You can buy plug in Mosquito repellents (brands like SAPOLIO) here and repellent sprays and sunscreen. Plugs are 2-pin square. Weather-wise Esmeraldas gets rain showers, usually in the afternoon, the heavier ones are often at night, they are usually short in comparison to the English and Irish ones which can go on for hours (or days!!). It is always warm in the city of Esmeraldas often with a cooler breeze at night. By the way, although the city of Esmeraldas is not very pretty, the province of Esmeraldas is beautiful, very green and lush with some nice uncrowded, natural beaches and coastline to explore (try and get a group together to do hikes as safety in numbers and some areas rather isolated). If you are coming to Esmeraldas or Ecuador to live, bring good quality clothes, underwear, electrical goods, cameras, laptops etc with you as these things are expensive here and the government in Ecuador are introducing a charge on parcels received from online companies such as Amazon, so it will be expensive to import goods after you arrive. Anyway hope this information helps and good luck to all the adventurous souls out there :-)
replied on October 20, 2014 with:
Good questions, LnDobbs. 1st, weather; there are about 14 micro climates along the length of the coast; a' la carte; pick one. You are exactly correct in asking intelligent questions of resident expats.
The further from the equator, the more seasonal the weather. I cannot understand nor begin to explain the differences in rainfall. I live 00' 87' 44' N and I can hardly notice what is referred to as the rainy season. I usually have a very light shower quite often, and between 2-4 AM, so I do not see those showers. However, in certain months, it sprinkles rain during the daytime hours; but most often, it is almost too light to be called rain. In 3 years, I have only seen 1 very hard rain, in Atacames; it lasted 3-4 hours, then the sun came out. There are a lot of overcast days, but where I live, it is overcast mornings and afternoons, sunny during mid-days. All of the above can change in a very few miles and a very slight rise in elevation.
The soil, being mostly volcanic ash, does not compact as it does in most areas of the US,, due to a lack of clay content in the soil. The above explains erosion and landslides, which make mountain travel interesting at best.
Mosquitoes, you ask? Living directly on the beach, I have a 10 mph breeze during the days,,so no mosquitoes. However at night, there is no breeze, and mosquitoes do come out at night; same repellents as in the US.
Now, with all of that said, I fully expect to hear 50,000 different opinions; but these are my personal experiences of my 3 years here, in my exact location, and special micro-climate.
Oh, temps; 83 degrees daytime highs, with a cool ocean breeze. Night times, temps mostly 72-73 with no breeze. Although I have 3 a/c, I have never turned them on, and have never closed my windows or sliding glass doors.
You must visit for longer periods, to find what you like best', and you may find somewhere different that you may like to experience next.,