Chirije – Eco-Friendly Historical Destination
Located on the Ecuadorian coastline, with miles of pristine beaches and surrounded by 238 hectares of dry tropical forest, Chirije has a history stretching back to pre-Columbian times and is a treasure trove of archeological artifacts from ancient cultures. Discovered by renowned archeologist Emilio Estrada in the 1950s, the site was a strategic seaport for the Bahia culture which existed from around 500 BCE to 500 CE. Named the Chirije Culture by Estrada, the Bahia people settled here were seafaring merchants who traveled as far north as Mexico, and ventured as far south as Chile, trading ornaments and unusual shells, such as the spectacular and rare red thorny oyster, for gold, copper, turquoise and lapis lazuli – an intensely blue semi-precious stone, mottled with brassy pyrite.
The ships used by these historical merchants were generally flat raft-style craft, made of Ecuadorian Balsa wood strapped together with hemp, with a platform and shelter made of cane tied with rope. The fabric sail could be raised and lowered as needed. This description, along with a sketch of the ship was recorded by explorer Francisco Pizarros in 1526, and an example is displayed at the museum in nearby Bahia de Caraquez.
Following the initial discovery of the site by Emilio Estrada, a number of eminent archeologists and scientists have excavated the area, compiling a record of the people who lived here in the past. Visitors to Chirije will be able to view a host of archeological artifacts including stones, shells, bones and ceramics from the Chirije, Jama, Coaque, Bahia and Manteno cultures, which existed between 500 BCE and 1534 CE. The onsite museum includes part of an actual excavation site, where visitors can view artifacts that have been uncovered, as well as the processes used in a controlled archeological project. The museum also has on display a range of items retrieved by visitors as they explored the beaches. This collection continues to grow as items are still being discovered by visitors to the site.
Visitors to Chirije can enjoy an eco-friendly stay at the beachfront lodge with its individual solar-powered bamboo cabins; go beach-combing on the secluded beaches; and explore the forests. Or they can just relax at the restaurant, savoring the food, enjoying the atmosphere and reflecting on the people who once occupied this spectacular stretch of the Ecuadorian coastline.