Esmeraldas Travel Guide

Discover the culturally rich and naturally beautiful coastal city of Esmeraldas in Ecuador with our comprehensive travel guide. Learn about attractions, activities, food, accommodation, local customs, safety, and transportation options for Esmeraldas.

A Comprehensive Travel Guide to Esmeraldas, Ecuador

Esmeraldas is a coastal city situated in the northwest of Ecuador, South America. It is known for its pristine beaches, lush forests, rich Afro-Ecuadorian culture, and friendly locals. This comprehensive travel guide will help you plan your trip to Esmeraldas with ease and discover the best places to visit, activities to do, food to eat, and accommodation options.

Introduction to Esmeraldas

Esmeraldas is a province located in the Coastal Lowlands of Ecuador. It shares its borders with Carchi, Imbabura, and Pichincha provinces in the east and with Manabí province in the south. The city of Esmeraldas is the capital of the province and offers a perfect blend of modernity and tradition.

Esmeraldas province is mostly inhabited by Afro-Ecuadorian communities, who have their own unique culture and traditions. The people of Esmeraldas are warm and welcoming, and you will experience their hospitality during your stay here.

List of Places to Visit in Esmeraldas

Culturally Important Attractions: Museums and Historical Places

  1. Museo Casa de Cultura: The museum showcases the traditional life of the Afro-Ecuadorian people and the history of the province. It also has an art gallery showcasing the works of local artists.
  2. La Concordia Archaeological Site: This ancient site dates back to the pre-Colombian era and features the remnants of a hilltop complex.
  3. Malecón Eloy Alfaro: This waterfront promenade offers a great view of the sea and is a perfect spot to enjoy the sunrise or sunset.

Natural Attractions of Esmeraldas: Outdoor Adventures and Scenic Views

  1. Mache Chindul Ecological Reserve: This reserve offers trails for hiking and bird-watching. It is home to several species of birds, monkeys, and reptiles.
  2. Playa de Atacames: This is one of the most popular beaches in Esmeraldas and is known for its white sand, clear waters, and seafood restaurants.
  3. Cascada de San Rafael: This waterfall is one of the tallest in Ecuador and is located in the heart of the Chocó Andean forest.

Hiking/Biking Routes of Esmeraldas

  1. Alto Tambo: This trail offers a scenic view of the coastline and is perfect for hiking and mountain biking.
  2. Cerro Verde Trail: This trail offers a challenging hike through lush forests and steep terrain.
  3. Mompiche to Portete Trail: This trail offers a stunning view of the sea and the forest and is perfect for experienced hikers and bikers.

Best Things to Do in Esmeraldas: Activities and Tours

  1. Surfing: Esmeraldas is known for its surfing spots, including Atacames and Mompiche, where you can take surfing lessons or rent a board and hit the waves.
  2. Whale watching: From June to September, you can take a boat tour to spot humpback whales.
  3. Chocolate Tour: Visit a local chocolate factory and learn about the process of making chocolate from cacao beans.

Week-Long Itinerary for Esmeraldas

Day Activity
1 Arrival in Esmeraldas, Check-in at hotel, visit Museo Casa de Cultura
2 Day trip to Mompiche, surfing, lunch at a local eatery
3 Hike to Alto Tambo, Picnic lunch, visit Cascada de San Rafael
4 Chocolate Factory Tour, Afternoon walk on Malecón Eloy Alfaro
5 Day trip to Playa de Atacames, surfing, seafood lunch, beach relaxation
6 Whale Watching Boat Tour, Dinner at a local restaurant
7 Exploration of the La Concordia Archaeological Site, Departure from Esmeraldas

Food and Drink Scene of Esmeraldas

Must-Try Dishes

  1. Encocados: This seafood dish is cooked in coconut milk, and it typically includes shrimp or fish and served with rice or plantains.
  2. Churrasco: This is a traditional Ecuadorian dish that includes grilled steak, rice, beans, and plantains.
  3. Arroz con Menestra y Carne Asada: This is a rice dish with a side of black bean soup and grilled steak.

Local Beverages

  1. Chicha: This is a fermented drink made from corn and typically served during celebrations and festivals.
  2. Pilsener: This is a popular Ecuadorian beer and is available in most local bars and restaurants.

Where to Stay in Esmeraldas: Hotels, Hostels, and Guesthouses

  1. Hotel Puerto Ballesta: This hotel is located in the heart of Esmeraldas and offers spacious rooms with a view of the sea.
  2. Hostal K-Ribe: This is a budget-friendly hostel located near the Malecón Eloy Alfaro and offers dormitory-style rooms.
  3. Casa Hotel Las Palmas: This hotel is located in the Atacames beach area and offers rooms with a private balcony and pool access.

What to Buy in Esmeraldas: Souvenirs and Local Products to Bring Home

  1. Tagua Jewelry: This unique jewelry is made from the tagua nut, also known as vegetable ivory.
  2. Handicrafts: You can find beautiful handmade souvenirs, including woven baskets, clay pottery, and wood carvings.
  3. Coffee and chocolate: Esmeraldas is known for its coffee and chocolate, so you can bring some home as a tasty souvenir.

Local Culture and Customs of Esmeraldas

The Afro-Ecuadorian culture is prevalent in Esmeraldas, and you can observe it in the music, dance, and religious practices. The people of Esmeraldas are hospitable and welcoming, and it is essential to respect their cultural traditions.

Best Time to Visit Esmeraldas

The best time to visit Esmeraldas is from December to May when the weather is dry and sunny. However, this is also the peak season, and the hotels and resorts can be crowded and expensive. If you want to avoid the crowds, you can visit during the low season from June to November, when the prices are lower, and the beaches and attractions are less crowded.

Do’s and Don’ts of Esmeraldas


  1. Try the local seafood and traditional dishes.
  2. Respect the local culture and customs.
  3. Learn a few words of Spanish to communicate with locals.


  1. Wear revealing clothing when visiting religious sites.
  2. Take pictures of people without their permission.
  3. Drink tap water without boiling it first.

Safety and Health

Safety in Esmeraldas

Esmeraldas is a safe city for tourists, but it is important to exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings, especially at night. Don’t carry valuables with you and keep your belongings safe in your hotel room. Avoid walking alone at night and use taxis for transportation.

Health in Esmeraldas

The healthcare system in Esmeraldas is adequate, but it is recommended to have travel insurance that covers medical emergencies. It is also essential to have up-to-date vaccinations before traveling to Ecuador.

Getting to Esmeraldas: Transportation Options and Logistics

Airports Near Esmeraldas

The nearest airport to Esmeraldas is Aeropuerto Internacional General Rivadeneira, and it is located eight miles from the city center. You can hire a taxi or rental car from the airport to reach Esmeraldas.

Bus Stations Near Esmeraldas

The bus station in Esmeraldas offers bus services to several cities in Ecuador, including Quito, Guayaquil, and Manta.

Other Options

You can also reach Esmeraldas by private car or taxi, or by taking a boat from neighboring towns along the coast.

How to Get Around in Esmeraldas

You can use taxis and buses to get around Esmeraldas and neighboring towns. However, it is important to negotiate the taxi fare before getting in and to confirm the bus route before boarding.

Where to go next from Esmeraldas: Nearby Destinations and Excursions

  1. Manta: This is a port city located to the south of Esmeraldas and offers beautiful beaches and seafood restaurants.
  2. Mindo: This town is located in the Andean cloud forest and offers hiking trails, bird-watching, and chocolate tours.
  3. Otavalo: This town is located to the east of Esmeraldas and is known for its indigenous market and traditional handicrafts.


Esmeraldas offers a unique blend of Afro-Ecuadorian culture, natural beauty, and adventure. From surfing to hiking to exploring ancient archaeological sites, there is something for every traveler in Esmeraldas. Use this comprehensive travel guide to plan your trip to Esmeraldas, and have a memorable vacation.