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The Spondylus Route


The area’s geography runs the gamut from an uninspiring and lifeless mix of dry scrub and cactus to lush mountain-covered cloud forests and offshore islands teeming with unique flora and fauna

Formerly known as the Ruta Del Sol, this coastline has much more to offer than sun and sand.

The Spondylus Route is giving a cultural and economic makeover to Ecuador’s six coastal provinces: El Oro, Guayas, Los Ríos, Santa Elena, Manabí and Esmeraldas, where nature lovers would have the opportunity to explore unique dry forest.

Getting Around

The Spondylus Route shows more than 11,000 years of history, present in museums, archaeological sites and excavations. Traveling on the Spondylus Route shows the history and archeology of pre-Columbian cultures of Ecuador and all the beaches that are passed on the route have sublime scenery, mountains mixing with sand and sea in a stunning. At the north of the route is the Mangrove Ecological Reserve Cayapas Mataje, which has the highest mangrove trees in the world. To the south you can find the Machalilla National Park and the wonderful Isla de la Plata, home of blue-footed boobies and other species.

History & Culture

Early History

The Spondylus shell (Mullu in Quechua), was used thousands of years ago to predict droughts, times of abundance, and was traded all the way up to middle America ( the modern territories of Mexico and Central America) by the navigators of the Manteña balsawood sailing vessels; and was known as the Red Gold of the Incas. Spondylus is a genus of bivalve mollusks, the only genus in the family Spondylidae. As well as being the systematic name, Spondylus is the most often used common name for these animals, though they are also known as thorny oysters or spiny oysters.


Puerto López

There’s little to distinguish this ramshackle town, apart from a number of hotels and tour agencies catering to foreigners. However, what it lacks in physical charm it more than makes up for with its long, wide beach and proximity to the wonders of the Parque Nacional Machalilla. During whale-watching season especially, tourists wander themalecón and the dusty streets, transforming this otherwise quiet fishing village into a bustling and amiable base camp. In the wee morning hours – before tour groups escape for the day and the handful of sunbathers take up positions on the sand – fishermen gut their catch on the beach, and the air teems with frigate birds and vultures diving for scraps.



A laid-back atmosphere and good year-round surf draw a steady stream of backpackers to the beachfront village of Montañita. The cheap digs and Rasta vibe mean some travelers put down temporary roots and take up hair braiding and jewelry making or the staffing of their guesthouse’s front desk. It’s an easygoing surfing community willing to share its waves.


The beach break is rideable most of the year (though it’s best from December to May) Real surfers ride the wave at the northern end of the beach at la Punta (the point), a right that can reach 2m to 3m on good swells. An international surf competition is usually held around Carnival.


Machalilla National Park

The park, created in 1979, preserves a small part of the country’s rapidly vanishing coastal habitats, protecting about 50km of beach, some 40,000 hectares of tropical dry forest and cloud forest, and about 20,000 hectares of ocean (including offshore islands, of which Isla de la Plata is the most important).

The tropical dry forest found in much of the inland sectors of the park forms a strange and wonderful landscape of characteristically bottle-shaped trees with small crowns and heavy spines (a protection against herbivores). In the upper reaches of the park, humid cloud forest is encountered.



A few kilometers in the north side of Montañita is the coastal village of Olón. It has a long beach with waves that are good for beginner surfers. This lush cloud forest is part of the Cordillera Chongón-Colonche, climbing over a low coastal mountain range. It’s one of the few places in the world with a cloud forest and a beach in such close proximity; jaguars, howler monkeys and the endangered great green macaw all reside here.