My favorite thing to do in Bahía is walk around the quiet town and along the seafront Malecón. Be sure to stop in at the small Catholic church, inaugurated in 1906; it's made of zinc brought in from France. Several interesting tour and activity options are also available.
The Museo Arqueológico del Banco Central (Central Bank Archaeological Museum) (tel. 05/2690-817) is definitely worth a visit. Spread over three floors, the museum focuses on the history and archaeology of the coastal people of pre-Columbian Ecuador, although one large room is dedicated to modern art. Still, the heart and soul of the collection are relics and artifacts of the Las Vegas, Machalilla, Valdivia, Tolita, Bahía, and Jama peoples who inhabited this coast for centuries before the arrival of the Spanish. At the entrance lobby, you'll find a massive balsa raft, with a mast and mannequins, a replica of the way it's believed ancient rafts looked. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm, and on Sunday and holidays from 11am to 3pm. Admission is $1 (65p).
You should also take a trip to Mirador La Cruz, a lookout located on a high hill directly behind the city. You can make the brisk hike up here in about 15 minutes, or you can grab a cab. You can see the giant cross that is the lookout's namesake from just about anywhere in town. The view is wonderful and really allows you to get a feel for the lay of the land and the bay.
The beaches right in and around Bahía are passable but unspectacular. Both to the north and south, however, you will find excellent beaches. Heading south, you'll come to the beaches of Chirije, San Clemente, and San Jacinto, which are really part of one very long stretch of almost deserted beach, broken up by the occasional rocky outcropping and small house or settlement. Heading north, you'll find a similar situation with the beaches of San Vicente, Briceño, and Canoa. Canoa can be easily reached by boat taxi and bus from Bahía. If you want to visit any other of these beaches, you'll have to hire a car or taxi. Be sure to bring some food and plenty of water and sunscreen, as there are very few restaurants or services.
If you want to get out on the water, check in with the folks at Marina 69 (tel. 05/2691-057), who rent out small boats, sailboats, and jet skis ($40-$60/£27-£40 per hour). They will also take you waterskiing or parasailing ($30/£20), or, if you've got a group, they will tow you all behind a speedboat on a large, inflatable banana ($2/£1.35 per person, minimum six people). Marina 69 is located on the Malecón, next to the Repsol gas station.
Land-based tours center on bird- and wildlife-watching. Bird-watchers will want to take a trip to Isla del Corazón, located in the Río Chone estuary upstream from Bahía. Isla del Corazón is a large mangrove island with a raised wooden walkway and trail through the mangroves. A range of water birds can be spotted here, including a particularly healthy colony of frigate birds. The best way to visit Isla del Corazón is on a guided tour. Alternatively, boats can be hired near the docks in Bahía to tour these islands for around $12 (£8) per hour, though your captain and guide will most likely not speak English.
South of Bahía lies the archaeological site of Chirije. Although barely excavated, early indications are that Chirije was once a major indigenous settlement, and probably an important port and trading center. You can even stay at some simple beachfront cabins here. To visit Chirije, you should sign up for a tour in town, or contact the hotel listed below.
Local tour agencies, Bahía Dolphin Tours (tel. 09/9171-935; www.chirije.com) and Guacamayo Tours (tel. 05/2691-107; www.guacamayotours.com), are both reputable and well run. Both offer a range of nature, adventure, and wildlife-viewing tours, as well as city tours.
Guacamayo Tours also offers multiday participatory stays on their Río Muchacho organic farm, located up the coast from Bahía 10km (6 1/4 miles) north of Canoa. Bahía Dolphin Tours is the place to go if you want to take some surf lessons.
Bahía is not a shopper's paradise. Along the Malecón you'll find a line of souvenir stands and kiosks that sell all sorts of trinkets, T-shirts, and arts and crafts. But the general selection and quality are rather lacking.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.