Altitude: 15 meters (49 ft)
Phone Code: 06
Despite its rather alluring name, there is nothing much to attract even the most daring adventurer to Esmeraldas. The city is a dirty, depressing industrial port. Part of the blame must reside with a series of mudslides in 1997-1998, which destroyed much of the town and area. Whatever the reason, the city of Esmeraldas is no one's idea of a tourist destination. Oppressive heat and humidity, paired with a reputation for being unsafe, mean the city is more suitable for brief stopovers than longer stays. Dusty streets packed with a mechanical menagerie of buses, cars and taxis crisscross through town, passing street vendors, mom-and-pop stores, fruit and vegetable stalls and a variety of look-alike local restaurants along the way.
The region, however, is culturally rich and home to one of Ecuadorâs earliest communities: La Tolita. The island by the same name, located to the north, is an important archaeological site - the artifacts of which you can view at the town museum. In addition, Afro-Ecuadorean culture is very much alive and well in Esmeraldas, and is best sampled through its marimba music and dance, or local cuisine, which relies heavily on coconut and plantain.
The road from Quito to more appealing beach towns such as Same, SĂșa, and Atacames passes through Esmeraldas, so some travelers will inevitably wind up there. That's actually the best way to see Esmeraldas: through the window of a moving bus. Change buses if you must, but otherwise don't plan on spending too much time there.