Ecuador

Puerto Lopez: Tropical birds and humpback whales

With a population of 16,000 the relatively small of fishing village in the south of the Ecuadorian province of Manabi might not seem like it has much to offer. However as the first place that I visited after months of Guayaquil’s heat and crowds, the tranquility and green landscape was a much needed change of pace.

Puerto Lopez might be a fishing town but it offer much more than just its morning  fish markets stocked with all sorts of recently caught fish from marlin to tuna; in fact in recent years the town has become a hub for whale tours due to the breeding season from June to October.  Every year, massive humpback whales travel from their feeding areas in the arctic and antarctic to breed in tropical waters. Many of them end up arriving to the waters off the coast of Ecuador, including Puerto Lopez.

With two of my Peace Corps friends, we booked an all day trip that included whale watching, snorkeling and a hike for bird watching. Considering the length of time the price of about $40 was a great deal. The prices in Puerto Lopez and the variety of animal species leads many to call it “the poor man’s Galapagos”.

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Humpback whale surfacing

After 45 minutes of riding a boat on pretty choppy seas, we began to see the first signs of whales. Towering plumes of sea water would shoot up into the sky as air was blown out from the blowholes of the large humpbacks. This would occasionally be followed by the spectacle of whales jumping out of the water, only to crash back down and send water in all directions. While we did not get to see whole pods of whales or males fighting for breeding rights, it was still a worthwhile boat ride; despite feeling very light headed due to the back and forth rocking of the vessel. As we arrived on the island we began to see green sea turtles in the shallows close to shore who were also getting ready for their mating season.

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Green sea turtles up-close
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Isla de la Plata

Upon arriving on the small Isla de La Plata (island of silver) , named for the erroneous belief that it’s white bird guano streaks shining in the moonlight were silver, we were guided on a tour to witness the large amount of bird species that breed on the island. Most notably of these was the blue-footed booby which is more synonymous with Galapagos but interestingly they are more common and easier to see here than on the islands that they are famous on. Males perform a waddle and offer small twigs or branches to females in order to build their nests; often this can take several tries but if two birds are together then it is most likely that they have found their mates for the year. Throughout our hike we saw numerous bird species including the frigate bird and it’s crimson colored heart-shaped chest that is inflated to attract mates.

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Blue-footed boobies
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Red-chested frigate birds

The culmination of the day was a chance to snorkel alongside tropical fish and coral reefs that lined the ocean floor. Large clumps of brain coral and huge schools of silver fish were only some of the sights that could be seen in the turquoise blue waters off the island’s coast; even the occasional turtle or moray eel would pop up as I swam. After another long, choppy boat ride we were back on dry land and yet despite the very brief visit to Puerto Lopez the natural wonder of the area continues to captivate me through this experience.

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Tropical fish and underwater photography

 

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