Colorful bamboo inns, stalls selling coconut milk shakes and fruit smoothies where before you only saw a few ramshackle huts. There were empty beaches where today bronzed surfers idle by with their battered boards. And on the beach, motorboats have been relegated to the southern end of the beach, when the seafront was once lined with fishing canoes.
Mompiche is known for being a quiet village, a humble paradise for surfers from all corners of the world in search of the “longest wave”; backpackers, tourists and Mompiche natives walk freely down dirt streets, greeting each other. Curiously, you may notice that everyone’s seems to holding a smoothie. This is truly a country of tropical fruits!
“Mompiche was very different way back when,” says Ramón Cotera, recalling the town he emigrated to from neighboring Bolívar, 23 years ago. If not by sea, on a boat, the journey between these towns could only be completed by foot, through dense forests. From Bolívar, he tells us, Juvenal Torral, the area’s postman for more than 30 years, would walk long distances to deliver love letters and other messages between residents of the area in Portete, Mompiche, Chamanga… even Esmeraldas.
After having held several important posts in town, and recently having formed an environmental committee, Ramón is a full-fledged Mompichero, and walks the streets with all confidence.
His vision of the wild and jungle-laden Mompiche of the past is vivid and as we walk beside him, we can only imagine the virgin beach.
At the village park, on the main street, he draws an imaginary line on the ground parallel to the shore, and extends his arms out wide… “This is where Mompiche would split in two as the tide rose,” he explains. Today the town is one, and where the waters divided it, there are now streets, houses, businesses, beach hotels.
In fact, this phenomenon still occurs at the northern end of the village, where you have to wait for the tide to ebb to cross over to where a series of new hostels are quickly taking over the last lonely stretches of landscape.
Mangrove rours and Jupiter Island. Photo: Jorge Vinueza.
Fishermen are ready to launch at 5 am. They are by far the earliest risers. Daily life usually begins at around ten in the morning, when most businesses open and people leave their homes to walk the streets and get to the sea. At noon, the Mompiche lemon-vendor announces “the best and juiciest lemons.” Of course, there are always informal craftsmen who travel the world with their backpacks full of creations.
For breakfast you can try the delicious pancakes of Oasis Colibrí on Fosforera street, and for lunch, do not forget to look for the freshly caught garlic prawns from El Económico restaurant, at the end of the main street. From 4 in the afternoon, and find a cart on the street with empanadas and freshly prepared corviches. And if you are looking for something different than the coastal cuisine, you can actually go to Bam-bú where, on certain nights, you can also enjoy live music.
This is a destination for every budget. Backpackers and young adventurers find their nooks, cheap and picturesque hostels fill with guests seeking the adventure of everyday life; families find calm where both children and parents enjoy the paradisiacal beach, and all can make the most of the activities that range from surf lessons, hiking to see howler monkeys, a fabulous viewpoint of the whole village from the cemetery, the fabulous black beach of Playa Negra, to horseback riding on the beach (which you can arrange with Doña Fabiola Tours, in a wood house located to the south of the beach). And then you have visits to the mangroves and the islands of Portete and Júpiter.
Portete, Bolívar and Júpiter
In the main street of Mompiche you should find motor-taxis that take you for $2 to the entrance of Portete. To reach the island you need to cross a short stretch of a river by boat (50 cents) or you can swim it if you feel up to it.
Portete is a unique island, surrounded by palm trees and trunks laying in the sand.
It is known for being the place where the first group of escaped African slaves created a free colony in the country, and in the town’s main square you’ll see a monument honoring of one of its main leaders, Alonso de Illescas, with a plaque that tells the story of their arrival. Additionally, on November 10, the historic event is celebrated by visitors and locals alike.
You can take a boat tour of the mangroves, where numerous birds flit and fly, and continue to Júpiter. The islet is actually quite large and desolate, a place almost uninhabited except for a few dilapidated homes. From the long stretch of beach, you can see Cojimíes and its Isla del Amor.
Sunset over the south coast of Mompiche. Photo: Jorge Vinueza.
The boat also passes by Bolívar, where you can witness the daily life of the town (the village park is quite unique and you can find food at one of the family homes along the river). Ramón’s description of his hometown has not changed much with the times. The old wooden homes still stand. And for those who wish to leave the small town, a boat is still the only means of transport.
It’s been two decades since Ramón bought his property in Mompiche, where he lives, (and where he offers lodging to those who require it in “La Cotona”). A few years after purchasing it, the town began to build hostals for the increasing numbers of visitors to this once-hidden beach. The fabulous contrast between the humid forests and the pristine shore soon attracted surfers, and in a short time, everyone else…
Hundreds of surfers don’t think twice when seeking out a great surfing destination in the country. Not only does Mompiche have the reputation of great waves (it is known for “the longest wave in Ecuador”). It is also considered a great place to learn the sport. Eddie Moreira makes his own boards and is a qualified surf instructor in the area.