QUITO - ECUADOR
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
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
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.
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
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
Tapao, based on sun-dried beef cooked with
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.