Esmeraldas, known also as the Green Province, is located on Ecuador’s northwestern coast. Rain forests, tropical vegetation and mangrove forests, together with rivers and dense foliage, make this province green in color as well as in conservation efforts. Its name comes courtesy of the Spanish explorers, who arrived to this lush province to find the natives bedecked with emeralds. With its favorable year-round climate ranging from an average of 70 ° to 77 ° fahrenheit (21 ° to 25 ° celsius), the beaches are arguably the main attraction of the Esmeraldas, with many visitors using the province as a gateway to coastal resorts.
Esmeraldas is also the name of the capital city of the province. It is one of Ecuador’s main ports and the terminal for the nation’s petroleum pipeline. The city also has a domestic airport with many connecting flights available to Cali and Colombia.
Until a few decades ago, Esmeraldas was accessible only by sea. The only inhabitants for centuries were of the Tumaco/La Tolita culture, which spread over the modern borders of Colombia and northern Ecuador. After slaves were brought to the New World to work the growing sugar plantations and mines, some of them escaped shipwrecks and swam ashore on the Esmeraldas coast. They overcame the local culture, initially by violence, and later by breeding, thus creating the “Republic of Blacks” which became the haven for escaping slaves from other Ecuadorian provinces and South American countries.
Isolated for so many years, the black and native cultures interwove and created a culture that remains vibrant today. With the coming of roads, the development of the port and the establishment of Esmeraldas as the site of Ecuador’s largest oil refinery for the Trans-Ecuadorian pipeline bringing oil from the Amazon, the city of Esmeraldas has become a large commercial and tourism center.
Cruise ships call at Esmeraldas. Some of them offer shore excursions to cities such as Quito, 116 miles (185 km) to the southeast, Cuenca or Chan Chan, but many of the passengers prefer to spend the day sightseeing locally.
According to some, the best time to visit Esmeraldas city is in early August for the independence celebrations, when day and night revelry includes the marimba bands, whose music is based on ancestral African music and dance. During the day, parades featuring cowboys, high school bands and military platoons liven up the streets before a throng of onlookers, while at night dozens of block parties erupt with frenetic revelry.
Atacames is probably the place in Esmeraldas consistently attracting the most visitors. It is a year-round tourist resort located just 30km from the city center. Atacames has a well- developed tourist infrastructure and a wide selection of seaside restaurants and bars, which makes it a great beach destination for relaxing. It is also a great place for an affordable shopping spree; the craft markets sell beautiful and affordable handicrafts, jewelry and coral products.
Another outstanding feature of the Esmeraldas is the Cayapas-Mataje ecological reserve, located in the northern part of the province. It is extensive and spectacular. The main feature of Cayapas-Mataje is the El Majagual Forest, where the world’s tallest mangroves grow. It is impressive to see their huge roots intertwined in marshland and creeks.
Keep in mind that Esmeraldas is generally safe for tourists, so many local people have come to depend on tourism for their income. There is true community concern for visitors’ well-being. If you ask questions, most people will give you correct information and advise you on how to reach your destination. If you are worried about buses and taxis, many Esmeraldas hotels have organizations that can arrange for dependable, inexpensive transportation. Also, most rural communities have reliable local guides that can be hired for excursions.