Bahia de Caráquez
Bahia de Caráquez is a small quaint city which boasts an ancient rich cultural history with tourism infrastructure that can satisfy the needs of national and international travelers that look for not too known spectacular getaways. Small hotels, wide avenues and streets lined with palm trees with a promenade that overlooks the Bay and the Pacific Ocean make this a very nice and authentic historical port city to enjoy. Almost 5 Centuries ago, Spanish galleons lined the inner entrance of the bay, now sailboats from sailors around the world reach this area for a pleasant stay.
The bay of Bahia de Caráquez was first named by Francisco Pizarro in 1532 as Bahia de Caraque on his last voyage down the coast to finally reach and capture the last Incan ruler named Atahualpa.
Bahia is known to be the gateway and birthplace of the Ecuadorian nationality. The first Ecuadorian historian, the Jesuit priest, Juan de Velasco writes that to the region of Bahia de Caráquez, arrived a nation aboard rafts that came from the land where the sun sets. This nation was called the “Caras” and their leader was named “Shyri”, which meant in their language “Lord of All”. They founded their capital here in this area and named it “Cara”.
This is supposedly a legend handed down by oral tradition, which was written in the first history book back in 1789, and there are to the moment not known archaeological evidence that this actually happened, but the excavations and modern investigations point this area to have had more than 5000 years of continued occupation. Also the maritime culture named Bahia (500 B.C. to 500 A.D.), and the Manteño Culture (500 A.D. to time of contact-1526-32), were known as the “Phoenicians of the Americas”. They traveled as far south to Chile and as far north towards Mexico, trading a ritually important seashell (Spondylus, the red thorny oyster) for gold, silver and other important trade items. The cultural manifestations with abundant evidence of beautiful pottery are known to have been one of Ecuador’s finest.
Museum of Bahia de Caráquez (2 hours)
One of the best Ecuadorian archaeological museums, the Museum of Bahia de Caráquez was open officially to the public in 2004. This museum is under the direct administration of the Central Bank of Ecuador. The archaeological exposition on the first floor and mezzanine contain more than 469 ancient objects in a sample called the “Origins, Caras, Jamas y Coaques”. This is a beautiful sample of the societies that occupied the region from preceramic times until the time of contact with the Spanish conquistadors. Also on the second floor the exposition details the economic and social components which support the evolution of these pre-Columbian cultures in agriculture, navigation, pottery and trade. There is also a deposit of more than 3100 archaeological pieces in storage.
The proof of the excellent seafarers of Ecuador’s maritime cultures was revealed to the Spaniards 34 years after the discovery of America. In 1526, Bartholomeo Ruiz, one of Francisco Pizarro’s navigators discovered a large balsa-wood sailing vessel traveling towards them in oceanic waters off the Ecuadorian Coast. The description was very detailed and is described like this:
“This ship…seems to hold up to 30 tonnes, and the bottom is made of canes, as thick as posts. All tied up with rope made from something like hemp. And in the high parts, thinner canes, tied with this rope, where the people where in. All the items of trade were also on the higher part, because of it probably getting wet if it went on the bottom. There masts and antennas were made of very fine wood, and Sails as large as the ones we use on our ships. “
Samano Account, 1526 (The first manuscripts of Accounts of the Conquest led by Francisco Pizarro)
Replica of Balsa-wood sailing vessel found in the Museum of Bahia de Caráquez.
Areas and Services inside the Museum
· First floor and Mezzanine- Archaeological Exposition
· Second Floor- Visual Arts Exposition
· Third floor – Center for Archaeological
Investigation (For Archaeologists)
· Fourth Floor- Auditorium (for 200 people)
· Fifth Floor- Documents center
After the Spanish Conquest
Bahia de Caráquez was founded in 1624, this city was important for the Spanish, due to the fact that the city was the closest port to Quito. On roads probably originally native Chasqui trails, the Spaniards would reach Quito in 16 days on horseback.
Bahia de Caráquez since the 1800’s was a port dedicated to the exporting of many items, like the Montecristi Straw hat, Vegetable Ivory Nut, Balsa, Cocoa, coffee, etc. Due to the building of other ports in Ecuador, the activities of exporting winded down to the effect of the citizens of Bahia looking for alternative sources of income. Now the economic dependence of its inhabitants are centered on Shrimp farming, Shrimp exportation, tourism, cattle raising, poultry farming, and commerce.
The population of Bahia de Caráquez is 19,703 inhabitants (according to last census).
Bahia de Caráquez is located at the mouth of the Estuary of the Chone River. This is the main body of water in the region and that stands out geographically in this area. It has more than 2000 Km², and is the main water shed in this area. The ecosystems that are predominant are mangrove forests, wetlands (like the Segua, which is a great migratory bird observation area), and dry tropical forests which surround the landscape around Bahia.
The city’s main highlights are:
- The Museum of Bahia de Caráquez,
- The lighthouse of La Piedra,
- The panoramic view from “La Cruz” (a large cross which lets you see the whole peninsula of Bahia, the beaches of San Vicente and the mangrove islands inside of the estuary, from one of the highest hills of Bahia de Caráquez).
- The Galapagos Tortoise Miguelito that has over 100 years of age,
- The beaches, small hotels and restaurants that line the promenade (which overlooks on one side the bay and on the other the Pacific Ocean).
- Its cleanliness and safety (Bahia is one of the safest towns in Ecuador).
Local cuisine is based mostly on seafood. In Bahia you can a very hearty Peanut Soup with Seafood (fish and shrimp) called Biche. Or the special citric shrimp cocktail (shrimp is cooked, garnished, with pure lime and orange juice) called Ceviche. The fresh fruit and the hospitality served is also a great plus for this region.
Excursions from Bahia de Caráquez
Around Bahia and only 30 minutes away we find, the Isla Corazon Wildlife Refuge (Heart Island), which is a model of ecotourism for the coastal region of Ecuador, Chirije the archaeological site and we find ecofriendly shrimp farms that can satisfy the travelers need for information and desire for the finest Ecuadorian Pacific white shrimp.
Isla Corazon Wildlife Refuge (3.5 hours)
This wildlife refuge consists of more than 100 hectares of mangrove forest (including 50 that were reforested by the native community) are a great example of conservation. There have been reports that 99 species of birds have been seen on these mangrove islands (Birdlife International 2006). Most important is the Magnificent Frigatebird colony on Isla Corazon. It is larger than the colony on Tower Island in the Galapagos.
There is evidence that this island in the last century was being deforested due to the exporting of the bark because of the presence of Tannic acid used in the curing of leather. Also due to the durable and water resistant wood that was used for pilings, constructions, etc.
The Isla Corazon Refuge has been administered and operated by the fishermen of Portovelo since 1997. This has been one of the most successful models of community tourism projects in Ecuador. One of the most interesting experiences is to ride in three man canoes with the native guides under the mangrove forest to reach the observation points where the frigates are mating (June through September) or when the young are getting ready to leave their nests.
Enjoy native seafood cuisine in banana leafs and learn about the importance of the mangrove forest in the food chain and how they provide key nursery areas for fish and crustaceans that spend their adult lives in deeper oceanic waters.
Travel Guide References to Chirije
Ecuador and Galápagos Islands Guide
Open Road Publishing
Becky Youman & Bryan Estep
Excursions and Day Trips
There are quite a few worthwhile excursions from Bahía de Caráquez. Only Bahía Dolphin Tours has trips to our highly recommended Chirije.
Chirije, one of the most important archaeological sites of coastal Ecuador, is also an eco-lodge. We think it's one of the most entertaining and educational excursions in the area. This trip is worthwhile for the archaeological aspect alone, but has even more value when you consider the clean stretch of solitary beach and kilometers of hiking trails.
Your trip starts by boarding a small open-air chivita bus and heading south to the site. The guide times your departure with low tide, because you're actually driving on the beach. It's a beautiful thirty minutes drive along the water's edge during which you can gaze out at the ocean, watch hundreds of red crabs scurry along the beach or talk to your guide about the history of the area.
Chirije was the site of an ancient seaport from 500 BC - 500 AD. The people from here, skillful fishers and traders, have left behind a physical legacy in ceramics as well as many mysteries. The richness of the site is amazing. You can't walk around Chirije without tripping over some archaeological find.
Your day will include a tour of the current digging site and much information about Chirije's history. You will also get to visit the museum, where you'll see many of the works discovered here. The small exhibit displays wonderful treasures, including the bowl with the small bird that has become Chirije's official symbol. You can get so close to the pieces it's like having a backstage pass.
Surrounded by 250 acres of dry tropical forest and kilometers of unspoiled beaches, the site is set unobtrusively back from the beach. In fact, you're almost on top of the huts before you see them. Bougainvillea and other colorful plants and flowers cover the grounds between the thatched cabanas.
The main dining area, with its large hammock covered patio, looks out over the ocean. Meals are served outside during the day, and indoors at night when cool breezes blow off the sea. If you want to stay the night, there are five thatched A-frame cabins on the grounds. Each cabin has a master bedroom, bath, kitchen and little sitting area downstairs and up to six twin beds in the upstairs area. At the time of the writing of this book there was no generator, so there are no lights. (Now there is solar energy). All meals are prepared in Bahía and brought in by the staff. It's romantically rustic.
The trips to Chirije are organized by Bahía Dolphin Tours.
Shrimp Farm (3.5 hours)
This shrimp farm is located close to the picturesque Ecocity of Bahía de Caráquez, in the estuary of the Chone River. It was one of the first and only certified organic shrimp farms in the world. Methods used on the farm are based on principles of sustainable aquaculture. The owner Flor Maria Dueñas was the first woman in Latin America to operate a shrimp farm back in the early 70’s, also was the first woman to receive the organic shrimp farm certification. The shrimp farm now has been adapted to have mangroves inside the ponds, which make it the first of its kind in the world.
The tour begins with a scenic drive along the estuary and through the tropical dry forest to the farm which is visually very different to the other farms seen en route, most farms are deserts, this one is brimming with vegetation, wildflowers, wildlife and a combination of attractive production areas in harmony with regeneration zones. Shrimp is not the only crop here, the dikes are used for planting the mangrove trees.
The lower parts of the dikes are reserved for mangroves, the most important plant in the system, acting not only as a biofilter but as a food source. We visit the hatcheries, ponds and packing plants. The region where the ponds are located you will see the wildlife areas which are great for bird watchers. You`ll see the shrimp growing and understand the whole process from the seed to the harvest. And lastly you can taste the shrimp and other surprise morsels from the ponds in a delicious farm lunch with roasted shrimp on the grill, and learn how to make the famous Ecuadorian Shrimp Ceviche ! Enjoy Mangrove Friendly Shrimp
Access to Bahia de Caráquez
Travelers are transferred normally from the airport and from the port of Manta to Bahia de Caráquez, via the Pacific Coast Highway E15. The distance is exactly 120 Km or about 1 hour 15 minutes, give or take 15-20 minutes more if utilizing bus with capacity of 40 pax.There is also a possibility of an air safari from Manta to Bahia, in which the total flight time is 15 minutes.
Arriving in San Vicente Los Perales airport and there your ground operator will receive pax and transfer across the bay in 5 minutes time on 15 passenger skiffs that have 21 feet (7 m) hull length and 6-9 (2-3 m) foot beam(wide). Many of these skiffs are readily available at any given time. Also these are the ones that transfer tourists from Bahia de Caráquez to the Isla Corazon Wildlife Refuge.
There will be a bridge built and finished in 36 months that will extend from Bahia crossing the bay to San Vicente. This bridge will be one of the longest bridges of Ecuador and will measure 1742.5 meters in length (5716.9 feet). This also means that access to the bridge from Manta means a better highway system from Manta to Bahia, improving the Coastal Highway (Via del Pacifico E15) status. This will facilitate tours that will take only 10-15 minutes from Bahia de Caráquez to Canoa, a very nice fishing village with nice beaches.
The Airport of Los Perales at San Vicente (across the bay from Bahia de Caráquez) has the capacity to land a 727 on its landing strip.
Mobil / Mobile: 011 593 9 9 9 171935 (Marcando desde Estados Unidos y Canadá / Dialing from the United States and Canada)
00 593 99 9 171935 (Marcando desde Europa y América Latina / Dialing from Europe or Latin America)
09 99 171935 (Marcando desde Ecuador / Dialing from Ecuador)
Oficina / Officce: 05 2 690 257 (Marcando desde Ecuador / Dialing from Ecuador)
Páginas Web / Web pages: