Photo: Ron Mader, Museum (some rights reserved)
Updating our coverage of Bahia de Caráquez, Ecuador. Many thanks to Patricio Tamariz for providing much of the text on our wiki.
The bay of Bahia de Caráquez was first named by Francisco Pizarro in 1532 as Bahia de Caraque on his last voyage down the coast to finally reach and capture the last Incan ruler named Atahualpa.
Bahia is known to be the gateway and birthplace of the Ecuadorian nationality. The first Ecuadorian historian, the Jesuit priest, Juan de Velasco writes that to the region of Bahia de Caráquez, arrived a nation aboard rafts that came from the land where the sun sets. This nation was called the “Caras” and their leader was named “Shyri”, which meant in their language “Lord of All.” They founded their capital here in this area and named it “Cara.”
This is supposedly a legend handed down by oral tradition, which was written in the first history book back in 1789, and there are to the moment not known archaeological evidence that this actually happened, but the excavations and modern investigations point this area to have had more than 5,000 years of continued occupation. Also the maritime culture named Bahia (500 B.C. to 500 A.D.), and the Manteño Culture (500 A.D. to time of contact-1526-32), were known as the “Phoenicians of the Americas.” They traveled as far south to Chile and as far north towards Mexico, trading a ritually important seashell (Spondylus, the red thorny oyster) for gold, silver and other important trade items. The cultural manifestations with abundant evidence of beautiful pottery are known to have been one of Ecuador’s finest.
Isla Corazon Wildlife Refuge – Near Bahia and just south of San Vicente is the Isla Corazon Wildlife Refuge (Heart Island), which is a model of ecotourism for the coastal region of Ecuador. Budget 3-4 hours for a visit.
This wildlife refuge consists of more than 100 hectares of mangrove forest (including 50 that were reforested by the native community) are a great example of conservation. There have been reports that 99 species of birds have been seen on these mangrove islands (Birdlife International 2006). Most important is the Magnificent Frigatebird colony on Isla Corazon which is larger than the colony on Tower Island in the Galapagos.
There is evidence that this island in the last century was being deforested due to the exporting of the bark because of the presence of Tannic acid used in the curing of leather. Also due to the durable and water resistant wood that was used for pilings, constructions, etc.
The Isla Corazon Refuge has been administered and operated by the fishermen of Portovelo since 1997. This has been one of the most successful models of community tourism projects in Ecuador. One of the most interesting experiences is to ride in three man canoes with the native guides under the mangrove forest to reach the observation points where the frigates are mating (June through September) or when the young are getting ready to leave their nests.
Enjoy native seafood cuisine in banana leafs and learn about the importance of the mangrove forest in the food chain and how they provide key nursery areas for fish and crustaceans that spend their adult lives in deeper oceanic waters.
Mangroves planted in 1997
Artisanal fishing (pesca artesanal)
Celebrate International Mangrove Day on July 26
Chirije the archaeological site www.chirije.com
Ecofriendly shrimp farms with fine Ecuadorian Pacific white shrimp.
The Spondylus Trail is part of one of the most important tourism projects in Ecuador and could be the key to tourism development of the country’s Pacific Coast.
The Red Thorny Oyster (Spondylus princeps) was one of the most sacred items of the pre-Incan cultures of the eastern equatorial Pacific.
Museo de Bahia de Caraquez – More than 600 pieces are featured in the old Central Bank building.
One of the best Ecuadorian archaeological museums, the Museum of Bahia de Caráquez was open officially to the public in 2004. This museum is under the direct administration of the Central Bank of Ecuador. The archaeological exposition on the first floor and mezzanine contain more than 469 ancient objects in a sample called the “Origins, Caras, Jamas y Coaques.” This is a beautiful sample of the societies that occupied the region from preceramic times until the time of contact with the Spanish conquistadors. Also on the second floor the exposition details the economic and social components which support the evolution of these pre-Columbian cultures in agriculture, navigation, pottery and trade. There is also a deposit of more than 3100 archaeological pieces in storage.
The proof of the excellent seafarers of Ecuador’s maritime cultures was revealed to the Spaniards 34 years after the discovery of America. In 1526, Bartholomeo Ruiz, one of Francisco Pizarro’s navigators discovered a large balsa-wood sailing vessel traveling towards them in oceanic waters off the Ecuadorian Coast. The description was very detailed and is described like this:
“This ship…seems to hold up to 30 tonnes, and the bottom is made of canes, as thick as posts. All tied up with rope made from something like hemp. And in the high parts, thinner canes, tied with this rope, where the people where in. All the items of trade were also on the higher part, because of it probably getting wet if it went on the bottom. There masts and antennas were made of very fine wood, and Sails as large as the ones we use on our ships.”
Samano Account, 1526 (The first manuscripts of Accounts of the Conquest led by Francisco Pizarro)
Replica of Balsa-wood sailing vessel found in the Museum of Bahia de Caráquez.
Areas and Services inside the Museum
- First floor and Mezzanine- Archaeological Exposition
- Second Floor- Visual Arts Exposition
- Third floor – Center for Archaeological Investigation (For Archaeologists)
- Fourth Floor- Auditorium (for 200 people)
- Fifth Floor- Documents center
Evidence of the “Las Vegas” culture (8,800-4,600BC), oldest society in South America (pre-ceramic).
Valdivia culture (3,500-1,500 BC) – When discovered in the mid 1950s, it was the earliest culture in all of the Americas to have worked with pottery. In the last years, they have found evidence of a few other cultures, that had evolved similarily at about the same time. But the oldest female clay figurine of the Americas, is known to be the Venus of Valdivia.
Late Valdivia has been found north of the city of Bahia de Caraquez in a town called San Isidro and mid Valdivia (which is earlier) has been found at the archaeological site of Chirije.
After the Spanish Conquest
“There were two official foundings. The first one with Francisco de Ribas in 1562 was a failure due to the reasons explained above. The second was by the merchant Martin de Fiuca and the priest Diego de Velasco in 1619. They called it San Antonio de Caráquez in honor of Antonio de Morga, the President of the Real Audiencia of Quito, which was the direct governing body of the territories under royal control with Viceroyalties overseeing them. The Real Audiencia of Quito belonged to the Viceroyalty of Peru, and it had rule over what is now southern Colombia, all of Ecuador, northern Peru and parts of the Amazon basin (1563-1822).” From the book “The Secret of Paradise: The Mysteries of the Pacific Coast of Ecuador” by Patricio Tamariz and Bo Rinaldi (2012)
This city was important for the Spanish, due to the fact that the city was the closest port to Quito. On roads probably originally native Chasqui trails, the Spaniards would reach Quito in 16 days on horseback.
Bahia de Caráquez since the 1800s was a port dedicated to the exporting of many items, like the Montecristi Straw hat, Vegetable Ivory Nut, Balsa, Cocoa, coffee, etc. Due to the building of other ports in Ecuador, the activities of exporting winded down to the effect of the citizens of Bahia looking for alternative sources of income. Now the economic dependence of its inhabitants are centered on Shrimp farming, Shrimp exportation, tourism, cattle raising, poultry farming, and commerce.
The population of Bahia de Caráquez is 19,703 inhabitants (according to last census).
Bahia de Caráquez is located at the mouth of the Estuary of the Chone River. This is the main body of water in the region and that stands out geographically in this area. It has more than 2000 Km², and is the main water shed in this area. The ecosystems that are predominant are mangrove forests, wetlands (like the Segua, which is a great migratory bird observation area), and dry tropical forests which surround the landscape around Bahia.
The city’s main highlights are:
· The Museum of Bahia de Caráquez,
· The lighthouse of La Piedra,
· The panoramic view from “La Cruz” (a large cross which lets you see the whole peninsula of Bahia, the beaches of San Vicente and the mangrove islands inside of the estuary, from one of the highest hills of Bahia de Caráquez).
· The Galapagos Tortoise Miguelito that has over 100 years of age,
· The beaches, small hotels and restaurants that line the promenade (which overlooks on one side the bay and on the other the Pacific Ocean).
· Its cleanliness and safety (Bahia is one of the safest towns in Ecuador).
- Outside of town, visit Isla Corazon Wildlife Refuge and the archaeological site of Chirije.
Only 15 Km south of Bahia, Chirije is an attractive Ecocultural site for the Spondylus Trail and the Ecuadorian Coast. It was completed in 1996, with beautiful bamboo cabins, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by 238 hectares of Dry Tropical Forest. The interesting aspect of this valley is that it was home to many consecutive pre-Columbian settlements. Chirije was discovered by Emilio Estrada in the 1950s, he discovered a new culture called Chirije. He stated this inside his book “Archaeology of Central Manabí” published in 1962. In the introduction, when he names all the archaeological sites of central Manabí, he capitalizes and puts in bold just one site, this was Chirije. Chirije is believed to be an ancient seaport for the famous balsawood sailing vessels that traded Spondylus up and down the coast of western South America and of Central America. Estrada presents the chronological sequence for this archaeological site as Bahia/Chirije/Manteño cultures in Chirije, 500 B.C. to 1532 A.D.
Other scientists that have investigated in Chirije have been, the archaeologist, Dr. Jean Francois Bouchard from the Centre National de la Recherché Scientifique of France, also the only pre-Columbian art professor of the Musee de Louvre of Paris, who later investigated the site in 2003. Another famous scientist has been the Physical Anthropologist- Dr. Douglas Ubelaker, who is one of the foremost experts in the world on skeletal remains, Douglas Ubelaker, curator of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and former president of the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. He has also is one of the prime consultants of the FBI.
Also other Archaeologists, MSc. Cesar Veintimilla, Lic. Fernando Mejia, Lic. Angelo Constantine, Javier Veliz A. as the Ecuadorian Team in 1995. Other experts like Julio Viteri Gamboa, José Chancay, Felipe Cruz, in a list of many, have contributed to the investigations in Chirije and that helped locate the missing pieces of the puzzle of the ancient past of the coast of Ecuador. Visit the Chirije On-site Museum. You will find a large collection of all the discoveries made by the archaeologists and also travelers who explored the oceanfront area of Chirije. The museum is housed in native bamboo architectural style covering an excavation made in the side of one of Chirije’s many hills. It is located only a few steps away from the lodging and restaurant area. Come and enjoy a beautiful Eco and Archaeological Site and experience staying in a beautiful setting by the ocean. Learn how ancestors lived in Chirije continuously for more than 2500 years and the magnificence of these of pre-Columbian cultures. www.chirije.com
Local cuisine is based mostly on seafood. In Bahia you can a very hearty Peanut Soup with Seafood (fish and shrimp) called Biche. Or the special citric shrimp cocktail (shrimp is cooked, garnished, with pure lime and orange juice) called Ceviche. The fresh fruit and the hospitality served is also a great plus for this region.
Universidad Laica Eloy Alfaro de Manabi
Universidad Técnica de Manabí
Tricycletaxis run until 7pm (called the ecotaxis or ecotriciclos)
New Bus Terminal is out of Leonidas Plaza (just 4 Km east of Bahia).
New highways and bridge across the bay, has made connectivity an incredible feature for this destination.
Miguelito reciclon-Bahia is the first city on the coast that has its own waste separation plant. Recycling is done in the main city and spreading outwards to the parrishes.
Paper recycling- Ecopapel led by Nicola Mears with groups of local women export due to its fine quality.
Reforestation- The Planet Drum Foundation led by Peter Berg (+), has been working since the declaration of the Ecocity in 1999, here in Bahia. Many volunteers come to enjoy the nature and culture around the city and put their shoulder and arms to work helping to create Bahia into a Model of Urban Sustainability. Many other groups also work like Cerro Seco, the Cordillera de Balsamo network of private reserves and Moncho’s group.
Japanese funds for mangroves- ACTMANG was a main actor in the putting in contact of the locals with Peter Berg (the pioneer of Bioregions). Please download free chapter excerpt (Bahia the Ecocity: A tribute to Peter Berg) in www.facebook.com/secretofparadise
Future projects for Bahia include creating the Environmental Management and Promotion Fund to work with the Strategic Ecocity Plan.
Places to Stay
Casa Grande Boutique Oceanfront Hotel
Stephen: I spent 2 weeks looking around by walking the town. The rebuilding is coming along very nicely. I think everything will be rebuilt by the time the new airport in Manta opens next year around May. People should really come back to this town. The people are friendly and the town will capture your heart. It did mine.