Ayampe may go down as the smallest place we’ve stayed in South America. It may even be the sleepiest. Actually, let’s just say it goes down as being both.
But you know what? We weren’t exactly complaining.
The tiny hamlet of Ayampe lays between the main highway of Ruta del Spondylus and an expanse of beach that calls for long, leisurely walks, surfing and even some snorkelling. Here you can enjoy a micro-climate unlike any other along Ecuador’s southern beach coast. It’s very warm, humid and you’d be lucky to catch a breeze anywhere other than the beach.
Steamy, rainforest covered hills sit on its peripheries, and tucked in amongst the lush foliage is a village of bungalows, residents houses and private suites. For such a small place, Ayampe actually has many places to stay.
Home for us was at Spondylus Lodge, a great little property that offers private rooms with either a fan or air-con, or shared dorm. It’s peaceful location is close enough to the highway for local bus access, it’s five minutes from the beach, and my favourite part – it’s set in a stunning tropical garden.
Laying in a hammock on our private garden balcony was absolute bliss, and the friendly resident pooches made it all the more homely.
Spondylus Lodge, Km.86 Ruta del Spondylus
It doesn’t take long before you realise how little there actually is in Ayampe. The centre of town consists of a grocery store and neighbouring church, and any eateries are scattered about the dusty streets. Not that there are many of those.
Down on the beachfront is a chilled set-up that’s beyond fitting for the hamlet. Little more than a beach hut, it’s decked in dream catchers, evil eyes, om symbols, buddha prints and prayer flags. I wonder if they’re trying to tell us something?
Sink into a sofa or sidle up to the bar and sip on filter coffee, smoothies, fresh juices, beer, cocktails and vino. The prices are reasonable, as well.
Cafe Cultura, see map for location
One of our favourites in the village is just down from the grocery store and right next to the local cemetery. This small bakery has a limited, but very tempting variety of homemade cakes, pies and tarts – be it sweet or savoury.
There’s tea, filter coffee, fresh juices and even some clothing and jewellery for the ladies. Any visitors are bound to meet the flirtatious resident moggy, so if you like your cats, be prepared for some adorable attention.
Don’t miss the carrot, pineapple & coconut cake or the chocolate wet cake, if they’re on. Absolute magic.
The Barn, see map for location
Unless you have breakfast included in your room rate, or choose to pick up supplies from the grocer, breakfast options in Ayampe are very lean. In fact, we found just one.
Wild Eats & Drinks is a breezy breakfast and brunch spot located a block from the beach. Drop by for smoothies, filter coffee and coffee tonics – spiked with the likes of coconut oil, panela (unrefined sugar), maca root or cacao.
There’s a handful of food choices like the caprese melt or shakshuka. We dove into the California bowl (7); a healthy jumble of greens, fried egg, quinoa, hummus, avo and tomato. Great way to kick off the day. Or there’s the breakfast burrito (5) of hash browns, scrambled eggs, avo, cheese, salsa and spicy mayo.
Wild Eats & Drinks, see map for location
For afternoon drinks, head to the Robinson Crusoe-style Azucar Morena Restobar, grab a table upstairs on the front deck or sink into cushions on the indoor plinths. Here you can catch the waning rays of sunshine over the beach and beyond to the two rocky islands of La Tortuga and La Iguana.
They offer juices, sangria, beer, coffee, hot chocolate or tea, and food-wise, a few spaghetti dishes, grilled fish, bolón, patacónes and a bunch of burgers. We sampled the wahoo fish burger with mushrooms (8.50), but I must say, the star of the show was the delicious scalloped potatoes pan-cooked with oregano. Incredible stuff.
Azucar Morena Restobar, see map for location
Visitors to Ayampe may not even think to head over the bridge north of town to check out the few local eateries on the other side of Río Ayampe. They may be 10 minutes walk from the main hamlet, but if you want to save your dollars and chow with the locals, this is the place to come at lunchtime.
Directly across the bridge on the left are two almuerzo joints, but I had my sights set on one particular place over the road a little further down.
La Cabaña del Corviche doesn’t have the wow factor in the looks department, not that you’d expect it to, as local eateries like this don’t strive to impress with interior or exterior design.
This glorified shack makes one of the simplest snacks on Ecuador’s coast, and this family business has been going at it for more than 15 years.
The main attraction is corviche, a croquette-like ball of fried plantain dough stuffed with either shrimp (1.75) or tuna (1.5) mixed with onion, peanut paste and achiote. It’s unique to the area and damn delicious, especially doused with some of the provided spicy onion & carrot salsa and spritz of fresh lime.
Alternatively, you could go for the patacónes con queso ($3; served with cubes of cheese similar to feta and bocconcini combined), or one of the local plates from the lunch menu.
La Cabaña del Corviche, see map for location
For anyone that’s after some decent Italian food, there is one place in the hamlet that does it well, even by Ecuadorian standards. I guess it is Italian run.
The restaurant at Los Orishas Hostal is one of the finer places in town, and you can expect to see a selection of antipasto, pasta, 16 types of pizza, two desserts and some tempting cocktails. Oh, and the house vino is definitely worth visiting.
We jumped straight into pasta mode, twirling spaghetti carbonara (7.9) around our forks and sopping up a bowl of very good gnocchi ragù (8.9). So light and fluffy!
Dessert couldn’t be ignored, so some salame di cioccolato (chocolate salami; 3) and a very nice parfait-style blackberry cheesecake (3) completed the nights meal.
Los Orishas Pizzeria, see map for location
The local green Manglar Alto bus services the highway between Montañita, Ayampe and beyond. It’s fairly regular, so simply flag it down at the main stop in Montañita and it’ll cost $1.50 per person. Travel time to Ayampe is half an hour.