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ESMERALDAS


Esmeraldas (Emeralds) is an Ecuadorian province in the northeast of the country. This is a hot, tropical area due to the influence of the cold Humboldt current from the south that reaches up to Ecuador's north coast. Esmeraldas is called "the green province", due to its exuberant vegetation whose deep green hues remind one of the gemstone by the same name (the emerald). This province is one of the five that form the Coastal Region, It borders on the north with Colombia, on the south with the provinces of Manabi and Pichincha, on the east with Carchi and Imbabura, and on the west with the Pacific Ocean. It forms part of the coastal plains and Andean slopes, and is drained by a number of rivers that carry a large amount of rainwater, and are swelled by melt-water from the Andean snow. The name of the province was taken from that of the extinct native tribe of the "Esmeralda", a people that inhabited this coast.

The northern coastline of the province is flanked by an archipelago that is mainly formed from river-borne silt (Tola and Tolita Islands). Among the rivers, the most important one is the Guayllabamba, navigable in its lower section, and having at its mouth the port and oil-refining city of Esmeraldas; rainfall is around 800 mm on the northern coast, diminishing toward the southwest and going up to 3,000 mm on the mountain slopes. This weather pattern is accompanied by dense evergreen vegetation - the tropical rainforest. Esmeraldas' climate varies according to the different areas in the province, going from non-humid subtropical through humid tropical to wet tropical. The average temperature is 23°Celsius.

Economic resources are varied. In the more arid areas of the southwestern coast, the natives live on fishing and the nearby salt mines. Cocoa, coffee, banana, tobacco and rice are the main crops. In the jungle, forestry exploitation, a traditional resource in Esmeraldas, is the major activity, with the lumber traveling down to the coast along the different rivers.

The city of Esmeraldas, capital of the province by the same name, and a Pacific port, is a main trade center for the agricultural, livestock and forestry produce of the region, trading in bananas, rubber, cocoa, wood and cattle. The dry tropical climate varies little throughout the year, making its small white-sand beaches a great tourist attraction. It possesses a technical university, and its population is 125,380 (year 2001).

The Esmeraldas River, located in northwest Ecuador and 80 km in length, is the main water collector of the region; it is a watercourse whose source is the confluence of innumerable small mountain streams, and two important Andean rivers, the Guayllabamba and the Blanco. Thus it has tributaries from the snowcapped peaks area as well as those that drain the tropical rainfall from the coastal region. The forest, that blankets a large part of its upriver valley, supplies the logs that float downriver, and the tropical plantations of the lower areas also define this fertile basin. The river empties into the Pacific Ocean after a long navigable stretch that goes through the port and capital city of Esmeraldas province. Formerly, the whole river received the name of Guayllabamba (along its 320 km), and the lowest section was known as the Esmeraldas.

Touristically speaking the Esmeraldas flows through the province contributing to its Eden-like tropical beauty, vegetation and wildlife. The town's main tourist attraction stems from its many beaches and the hospitality of its people, including the jolly Afro-Ecuadorian community. Legend has it that "a slave ship on its way to Cartagena (Colombia), foundered off the coast of Esmeraldas. The African survivors found their freedom and a good living in Esmeraldas, settling there". This community is a very active one, producing extraordinary musical creations. Their favorite musical instrument is the MARIMBA, made from an extremely hard and tough wood called Chonta and bamboo. They sing and dance to the rhythm of the marimba, while the Payadores (poets who improvise impromptu verse during the musical sessions) talk about their lives, the bounties of land and sea, dangers and social and racial differences, etc. Tourist facilities range from economical and conventional-type hotels through cabins, up to major deluxe hotels that are somewhat more expensive; currently there are also hostelries and cabins available on Atacames, Same, Punta Galeras, Muisne and Mompiche beaches, among others.

The Casablanca Club on Same beach is one of the best hotels and is that preferred by people from the capital city, because it has complete facilities including restaurants, a golf course, tennis courts, etc.

TOURISM AREAS

The Esmeralda Beaches
It has been said, and rightly so, that Esmeraldas can be best described by the magical beauty of its beaches, its soft sand and the warm seas that bathe its shore. The beaches, that form its major tourist attraction, are strung along its shoreline. The best known of these are: Atacames, Sua, Tonsupa, Playa Ancha, Tonchigüe, Camarones and Same. The closest beach to Esmeraldas city is "Las Palmas" which has become smaller due to the encroachment of the city. The Atacames and Sua beaches have the greatest number of hotel services, ranging from family cabins by the seaside to modern hotels, complete with pools and other services, such as the Pacific club-hotel, the Castelnuovo and the Casablanca. The temperature in this beach area ranges from 20 to 25°Celsius in summer.

Archaeology: La Tolita
Known by the names of "La Tolita" or "Tumaco-Tolita" is a unitary cluster of pre-Columbian remains discovered in the area going from the mouth of the Saija river in Colombia up to the Bay of San Mateo in Esmeraldas. The most important site is located on the island of La Tolita at the mouth of the Santiago river. Archaeologists have found that this area gave rise to a process of change and cultural development that reached its peak around the beginning of the Christian era. The island has fallen prey to human greed, and many huaqueros (archaeological site raiders and traffickers) have plundered this national cultural heritage.

Folklore
Esmeraldeño folklore is specially made manifest in its music, dance and verse. The music and dance come together in the marimba, a term not only designating the musical instrument, but also the most typical festival of Esmeralda. The marimba is accompanied by other instruments, such as the cununo and the guaza. The "currulao" or marimba dance is a frenziedly passionate dance. For it, the women wear voluminous skirts, wear huge earrings, and wave colored handkerchiefs. The men wear a white shirt, knotted at the waist, white trousers, a bandanna and occasionally a hat. Both men and women dance barefoot. The songs include a great number of anonymous compositions. Popular literary expression adopted a poetic form in Esmeraldas called the decima that originated over the colonial period. This was a compendium of popular wisdom: these poems instruct, moralize, criticize and entertain, while pointing out home truths and ways of overcoming dangers.

The Chachi people
The Chachi tribe known as the Cayapas is one of the few aboriginal groups surviving on the Ecuadorian coast with its own culture. It is located in the jungle area in the northwest of the province. It predates colonial times, and its oral traditions hold that it came from the Ibarra area, fleeing from the conquest first by Incas and then by Spaniards. The Chachi people are currently unprotected and do not receive any assistance in meeting their basic needs, because their nature-based lifestyle has been eroded by the advance of colonization and exploitation.

Craftwork in black coral
This is an important craft style that has developed over recent years in the areas around the beaches, particularly Atacames, the black coral beach. Skilled craftsmen work this material that is brought from the sea, where it is found in abundance. The wide range of bracelets and necklaces made in different designs from black coral are in great demand by tourists and visitors.

Typical food and drink
Pusandao, prepared with pork, plantain and yucca.
Tapao, based on sun-dried beef cooked with plantain.
Encocados: Boiled and stewed fish, beef or pork, basted with coconut juice.
Cazuela: this dish is prepared with grated plantain, fish or shellfish.
Cocadas, grated sweet coconut, boiled in milk with other ingredients.
As a beverage a favorite is mazato, based on ripe crushed plantain and water, and chucula, a mixture of cooked guineo in a milkshake.
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