| ATACAMES |
A short bus ride from Esmeraldas, Atacames is a decent place to spend your first night or two after a long day's travel from Quito.
This moderately-sized town is a Mecca for vacationing Ecuadorian families, in all their neon splendour. Bars line the beach front, all battling for the loudest sound system and you needn't have to look further than a shop or two to find your own 'Yo ♥ Atacames' tassled t-shirt. It certainly has a run-down gritty charm to it but is unlikely to hold your attention for long.
Should you arrive during the week, the long stretch of beach is clean and sparsely populated, with more deckchairs that sun-seekers. However, come the weekend those from the highlands descend upon the coast turning what can be a somewhat calm seaside-town into a frenetic hub of activity and despite the loud bars and 2-4-1 cocktail deals, Atacames appears to be geared much more towards local families on holiday or a weekend break rather than foreign travellers.
There are all sorts of options here. Guesthouses, a handful of hostels and some resorts which look like they belong in the 1980s.
If you arrive during the day, you'll have no trouble finding somewhere. We reserved ahead at Casa Chill Inn - the only backpacker-oriented hostel in town. Run by a very helpful and friendly Swiss lady, we chose their cheapest room ($18 with private bathroom) and cooked in their well-stocked kitchen. A great little hostel, and definitely somewhere we'd recommend! Click here to make a reservation.
During the day, take advantage of the excellent $3 lunch deals in most restaurants, with some cheaper eateries the further into town you go. At night along or just off the main strip, there is no shortage of options, including a cool little side-street with lots of women doing barbecue, but it's all very much variations on a theme (seafood, grilled meats, rice, lentils etc). In the evening, the cheapest plate you'll find in a restaurant will be $5, with most other establishments averaging out at $8.
If cooking in your hostel, you'll find a large Tia supermarket in the centre with a number of greengrocers around it.
Despite the build-up of bars and unpretty streets behind it, the beach in Atacames is actually a pretty nice stretch. As mentioned above, it's more set-up for large groups of Ecuadorians to come and enjoy it, but you will easily find a nice sandy bit to lay down and catch the sun. The sea is quite rough and there can be a dangerous rip current, so pay attention.
The bars along the beach charge outrageous prices for their cocktails ($8 for a piña colada anyone?), however we found a couple of places with a happy hour offer of 3 STRONG caipirinhas for $6! Our heads regretted it the next day, but it would have been rude to refuse such a good deal. Also, after night, do not cross the bridges on your own - take a tuk-tuk.
Outside of the Tia supermarket is the main pick-up point for buses heading south along the coast to Same & Sua (10-20 mins), Mompiche (2 hours), Canoa (6-7 hours) and beyond. You're not likely to wait more than 20 minutes on a weekday for the one you want and you simply have to pay on board. A number of them don't have signs on the front, so just check with the ayudante if it goes to your destination.
Atacames is also an ideal place to make your way to Quito (7 hours, $8-10), Guayaquil (9 hours, $10) or Cuenca, with several buses leaving during the day and also overnight.
| SAME AND SUA |
Same and Sua, whilst not hot beds of activity either, make a pleasant day trip from Atacames. The beaches are cleaner, quieter and less cluttered and, judging by the level of accommodations available, they appear to cater for a wealthier clientele.
At Same, there are a handful of beach restaurants and it had the feeling like it would be a popular hang-out on the weekend for locals.
Most buses passing the Tia supermarket will go in the direction of Sua and Same. Sua is however so close that we walked it in 30 minutes - just make sure you set off before the sun gets too hot.
You do however certainly need the bus to reach Same. It takes 20 minutes and cost $0.5 per person.