The Most Complete Guide of Ecuador

Machalilla National Park: culture and adventure along the coast

Located in the province of Manabí, its name comes from the Machalilla pre-hispanic culture. Machalilla was declared a National Park in 1979, becoming one of the first protected areas in Ecuador!

41,754 hectares of land include varying ecosystems such as the dry and semi-dry forests, along with the beaches at the coast. Aside from that, 14430 marine hectares are protected as part of the National Park.

Besides encompassing beautiful landscapes and adventure destinations, this park has an important cultural value. The Machalilla culture lived in the area for 800 years (until 1000 AD), the Valdivia culture inhabited the coast more than 5,000 years ago and the Manteño-Huancavilca settled here 500 years ago. Archaeological sites and comunes managed by descendants of the coastal cultures are spread throughout the park.


Los Frailes

It is said that Los Frailes is one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador.  You can take a walk through the extensive beach (approx 3 km), bathe in the refreshing water or enjoy the view from the viewpoint. Cliffs, white sand, red sunsets and big waves make Los Frailes a must. You can also find a trail that takes you on an excursion through the arid forest environment! Visiting Los Frailes is a day trip, since everyone has to be out of the beach by 4h30 pm. You can find basic facilities such as bathrooms.

Isla de la Plata

La Isla de la Plata or Silver Island is sometimes referred to as the Galapagos of the region. This uninhabited island has five trails (Punta Machete, Acantilados, Fragatas, Punta Escalera and Patas Rojas) where you can enjoy birdwatching. You can see frigates and blue footed boobies! Some say that sir Francis Drake buried his treasures somewhere in the island. But the most fascinating thing about the island, is the marine life that surrounds it. This is one of the top destinations for scuba diving in the country, due to the presence of turtles, and giant manta rays during the months of july to september. On your way to Isla de la Plata (that departs from Puerto Lopez) you can often see dolphins travelling in large groups and even humpback whales when in season! Underwater you will be surrounded by coral reefs, schools of colorful fish and interesting wildlife.

Comunidad Agua Blanca

This community based tourism site is home to an archeological museum with vestiges from ancient cultures of the coast!

Interesting fact: The Manteño – Huancavilca culture that lived in this area is well known for having created large rafts, developing the art of sailing and becoming prominent merchants (they traded spondylus!). The Manteño-Huancavilcas occupied an extensive territory in the region, and Agua Blanca seems to have been a place for ceremonial rituals.

Besides the archeological museum, in Agua Blanca you can also walk a trail that takes you through archaeological ruins and a lagoon with high concentrations of sulphur (with curative properties!). You will also find rooms for lodging, handcrafts for sale, a restaurant and spa! The community that runs it, believes in sharing their traditions with the visitor.

Activities permitted within the park:

Trekking: El Sombrerito, Los Frailes and Agua Blanca. Also there is a trail in San Mateo, called the Monkey Trail that takes you 2h into the Pacoche forest (hear and see monkeys as they swing from the tree tops!)

Mountain biking: there are several trails throughout the park that are great for biking!

Scuba diving: In la Isla de la Plata and Salango, during season (july to september) you can encounter giant manta rays. Throughout the year you can see turtles, small mantas, spotted eagle rays, octopuses, sea horses, eels,  and colorful schools of fish.

Snorkelling: Several tours to Isla de la Plata include snorkelling as part of the itinerary. The water is very clear and you can see amazing wildlife.

Photography: don’t forget to bring  a good camera to capture the beautiful scenery, wildlife and beaches. If you have a waterproof camera, bring it along for activities such as whale watching tours or scuba diving/snorkelling excursions.

Flora: in the more humid environments there are tagua, orchids, bromeliads. In the arid zone there are cacti, palosanto, guayacanes.  

Fauna: toucans, woodpeckers, green macaw, jaguars, howler and capuchin monkeys, falcons,  blue footed boobies, frigate birds, hawks, armadillos, anteaters. Marine fauna: many species of sharks, giant manta rays (can reach up to 8 meters!), sea turtles, parrotfish.

How to get there:

From Quito: Take Santo Domingo route (2h 57 min). From Santo Domingo direct yourself to Chone (2h 35 min) southwest. From there make your way to Manta (1h 22 min) where you will take Troncal del Pacifico to the south, connecting with Jipijapa, Puerto Cayo and Puerto Lopez, reaching the main office for the park.

From Guayaquil: Take a road to Daule (56 min) until you get to Nobol (16 min). From here continue down the Nobol-Jipijapa road (33 min). From Jipijapa you go west to Puerto Cayo (30 min) and take Troncal del Pacífico Road south until Puerto Lopez.

Visiting Hours: 8h30 am to 4h30 pm.

We recommend that you book a hotel in the area, either in Puerto Lopez or Puerto Cayo, where you will be close to the main attractions.  Here you can also enjoy the beach and gastronomy of the coast. There are hundreds of options for lodging depending on what you are looking for!

What to take:

Comfortable shoes: for the trails make sure you have comfortable walking shoes besides your flip flops.

Bathing suits: beaches, beaches and more beaches.

Light sweater: during the colder season it can get very windy and chilly at night!

Windbreaker: whale watching tours and tours to Isla de la Plata are probably going to be windy and you might get a little wet in the boat.

Light pants: bring along light pants for colder nights.

Sunscreen: even when it seems cloudy and grey, the Ecuadorian sun is very intense.

(For Isla de la Plata and Los Frailes) Water and snacks: Most tours to the island include a snack but make sure to bring along your own water bottle to remain hydrated. You can also buy snacks in Puerto Lopez prior to your departure.

*bring along extra outfits (you are probably going to get wet throughout the day)

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