Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 4.10.59 PMPuerto Cayo is a small fishing village strung along Ecuador’s southwestern coast in the canton of Jipijapa in Manabi province. The quaint town sits on the northern border of Machalilla National Park, which stretches south along the Pacific Ocean. Puerto Cayo has slightly more than 5,000 residents, though it feels much less populated. Puerto Cayo has very basic tourism infrastructure, and is largely undeveloped–there’s an office with public phones, and some basic banking services. The quiet, pleasant town is slowly being discovered by travelers for its warm climate, friendly inhabitants, and surfing and whale watching opportunities.

Puerto Cayo is also on the southern end of La Ruta del Sol (The Sun’s Route), a twisting coastal highway that connects many beach towns. Puerto Cayo has extensive white beaches and blue waters where a number of watersports can be practiced and whales can be observed. There are also a scattering of budget and mid-range hotels and hostels, and restaurants that serve fresh seafood. Common dishes include ceviche, shrimp in a coconut sauce, and el camotillo, typical fish found in Manabi. Puerto Cayo is considered a great place for families on vacation. The numerous beaches near town provide a relaxing atmosphere in lush surroundings. There are also many waterfalls, walking trails, dry and wet tropical forests, mountains, and an incredible diversity of flora and fauna in the area.

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 4.11.28 PMPuerto Cayo is a well-known destination for surfing in Ecuador. The surfing is appopriate for surfers of all levels of experience. Beginners are able to take surf lessons, which can be organized by hostels in the village. The waves at Puerto Cayo beach are best early in the morning when there is no wind, and there are good tubes when the tide is low. For the most part, waves are consistent year-round, breaking left and right, and no matter the time of year, the beach is never crowded with surfers. Other popular watersports in Puerto Cayo include kitesurfing, bodyboarding and fishing. Lessons, flights and trips can be organized in Puerto Cayo or in nearby towns such as Puerto Lopez and Manta.

Puerto Cayo is one of the best places on Ecuador’s coast to experience whale watching. Every year, from June to September, humpback whales migrate north from the Antarctic to their breeding grounds off Ecuador’s coast. You can organize a whale watching boat trip in Puerto Cayo; whale watching boats leave from nearby Machalilla, Salango and Puerto Lopez.

Parque Nacional Machalilla, Ecuador’s only coastal national park, is south of Puerto Cayo. The national park was created in 1979 and is one of the world’s most threatened tropical forests. It consists of 50 kilometers of beach, 40,000 hectares of tropcial dry forest and cloud forest, and 20,000 hectares of sea, including islands lying offshore, which includes Isla de la Plata (“The Poor Man’s Galapagos”). Machalilla National Park has a unique landscape, and features bottle-shaped trees, and ithe leguminous algarobo, a green barked tree that photosynthesizes even when leafless. There are also fig and ceiba trees, and prickly pear cacti. The park is also home to over 200 species of birds, and it is possible to see animals such as lizards and anteaters. Parque Nacional Machalilla also has several archeological sites.

Parque Nacional Machalilla is best-known for being the home of Isla de la Plata, 24 kilometers west of Puerto Cayo, where blue-footed boobies can be seen and there are opportunities for swimming and snorkeling. Tours to the island and the park can be organized in Puerto Cayo.

Los Frailes, one of Ecuador’s most famous beaches, lies between Puerto Cayo and Puerto Lopez, also within Parque Nacional Machalilla. The protected beach is famed for its stark beauty. It can only be reached on foot, and in order to access the beach, you must register and pay an entrance fee with the national park office in Puerto Lopez. There is a natural footpath that reaches the beach, which features great views. It is recommended that you bring food and water, as there are no dining facilities at Los Frailes.

There are inexpensive flights and buses from Quito to the coast. Flights from Quito to Manta on Tame or Icaro Airlines are less than an hour and cost around $80. You can also fly to Guayaquil or to Portoviejo, and then bus to the village. Puerto Cayo is 286 kilometers from Quito and several bus companies have bus service from Quito’s Quitumbe bus terminal to Manta. One-way trips cost $8-10 and last 8-9 hours. From Manta, buses travel south to Puerto Cayo, which is only 70 kilometers away. The paved highway offers excellent coastal views and the trip lasts 45 minutes. Puerto Cayo is 583 kilometers from Guayaquil and can also be reached by buses which stop en route to Manta. The trip takes 2.5 hours.

Puerto Cayo is sunny year-round and the average temperature high is 24-29. From December to May, the weather is warm and humid with brief evening rainstorms. Puerto Cayo and its surroundings also experience more intense winds during this time of year. June to November is typically a few degrees cooler and frequently overcast. From January to April, Puerto Cayo receives visitors in search of sunshine, sand and nightlife; there are frequent parties throughout January, and the town is a good place to spend Carnival and Semana Santa. Ecuadorian and international tourists descend upon Puerto Cayo from June to September for whalewatching. Puerto Cayo is very quiet outside of July and August, the peak of whale watching season.

One visit to Puerto Cayo is all it takes to fall in love. She is truly a pearl along the Pacific Ocean. And with the kindness of her people and the warmth of her beauty you may just find that Cayo is a more than a place to visit.