Home > Ecuador > Exploring Ecuador’s unseen coast: Bahia de Caraquez

Exploring Ecuador’s unseen coast: Bahia de Caraquez

Saturday morning…. The public dock teems with people and all sizes and colors of motorized canoes busily move locals and travelers from Bahía de Caraquez to San Vicente and other locations across the Chone River estuary…

Carlos, a young and enthusiastic university professor at the local School of Ecotourism is a native of Bahía and dreams to see his area become one of Ecuador’s most visited tourism destinations.  He will accompany me on this morning’s outing to “Isla Corazon” (“Heart Island”), located some 40 minutes, upriver, right in the center of the Chone River….

Bahia de Caraquez is recognized by most historians as the “cradle of the Ecuadorian nationality”… Thousands of years ago, this was the location chosen to settle by voyagers who arrived on rafts from across the Pacific… Here is where the Cara culture flourished (thus the name “bay of the caras”, Bahía de Caraquez…).  From here they spread along the north central coast of Ecuador and into the Andes to form the legendary Quitu-Cara Empire that would eventually challenge the power of the immense Inca Empire, further south….

We board a canoe, especially chartered for our trip to the island.  Juan is the motorist and he knows the river like the palm of his hands.  Carlos tells me about the many projects which are underway to incorporate the local communities into conservation and ecotourism activities…. Shrimp farming along the river banks and deforestation to use the wood for floors, construction and furniture have deteriorated sections of the coastal forest.  However, the task now is to recover and to invest on nature oriented tourism…

As we move upriver, the skyline of Bahia de Caraquez shines under the morning sun… the city is nestled on a long and narrow peninsula, between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the huge estuary of the Chone river to the east… It is a relatively small city with some early 20th century houses, a waterfront promenade, a small marina, full of foreign visiting yachts, and, towards the tip of the peninsula, its most photogenic skyline of high-rise condos, which made Bahia, about a decade ago, the beach of many well-to-do quiteños, the residents of Ecuador’s capital city of Quito…. The location is superbly picturesque with the Ocean, the River, the estuary, dotted with mangroves and, right across the city, the small and colorful resort town and long beaches of San Vicente, a beautiful sight…

We arrive to the opposite bank of the Chone, across from Bahia, and stop at the tiny village of Portovelo, to pick up our native guide (a mandatory regulation to visit “Isla Corazon”…).  The village has a small Interpretation Center, manned by the local community.  While rustic and simple, it has maps, photos, illustrations and abundant information about the environment and regulations to visit the Island, which is a protected area and Wildlife Refuge.  Francisco will be the guide today.. He is on his late fifties and a proud descendant of the ancient Caras, thus, a coastal “cholo”… dark brown skin, black hair and brown eyes…  Wearing outdoor slacks, a T-shirt and sandals, he will surprise me with his knowledge of such specialized topics as birds and bird watching techniques, mangroves and conservation issues… His enthusiasm and vitality are contagious… After seeing the Interpretation Center, we board our canoe and now head right to the center of the river, to visit the famous “Heart Island”… The island’s name derives from its actual shape…. Predominantly made by a thick intertwined maze of red and black mangroves, especially when seen from the air, and even at sea level, the island is actually shaped like a classic human heart…. But for many, it is nowadays best known as the “Birds Island”….. On the second part of this story I will tell you why and describe the place…..

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