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Machalilla National Park

Machalilla National Park is one of only three national parks and ecological reserves in Ecuador that is located along the coastline. This park comprises about 60,000 hectares, of which 20,000 is a marine preserve. In all, Ecuador has more than 40 parks and reserves which together account for approximately 10% of Ecuador’s land mass.

The densely forested hills of Machalilla provide a magnificent backdrop to some of Ecuador’s most beautiful beaches. The park is one of the few remaining preserves of  tropical dry forest that used to stretch along the northern Ecuadorean coastline. Only about 40,000 hectares of forest remain – a mere 1% of the original amount. The most common trees are Opuntia cactus, Palo Santo, Kapok, and Algaroba.

Machalilla park features wonderful hiking trails, hundreds of exotic birds and animals including armadillos and wild bore. There are rivers and streams, lakes and tiny villages. Since the park is on the coast, it also includes several of Ecuador’s prettiest beaches as well as two islands Isla de Salango and Isla de la Plata which are both excellent dive spots.

Isla de la Plata – About 20 miles off the coast, the island is a sanctuary for tropical and marine birds including thousands of pelicans, frigates and blue and red footed boobies. Albatrosses can also be seen seasonally from May thru October.  There are two main attractions, bird watching hikes over the island, typically lasting 3-4 hours, and aquatic adventures, either diving or snorkeling along the coral reefs around the island. Although its not the Galapagos, there is plenty of amazing marine life to be seen, including dolphins, sea turtles and massive manta rays as well as hundreds of fish species.

Isla de Salango - Only about 30 minutes boat ride from Puerto Lopez, is Salango Island, which also has a diverse bird population and wonderful reefs for diving and snorkeling. It boasts about 5 miles of beach around its perimeter. Nitive guides will show you around the island, and tell you about their efforts to preserve the marine life.

Agua Blanca - Just 3 miles from the park entrance, a small number of native Manteña people (50-100 families) live in harmony with nature, in the village of Agua Blanca. Except for the intrusion of tourism, the villagers live a simple lifestyle, preserving many of the traditions of their pre-Colombian ancestors. The villagers have almost no material posessions and do not have land divisions among them. Instead, they maintain communal lands. In addition to fishing and organic agriculture they also harvest honey from natural bee hives. The community of Agua Blanca is the last remaining group of indigenous people in the region. The village is the site of several archeological digs including burial sites, and there are therapeutic sulphur lagoon and skin detoxifying mud baths.

San Sebastian - Deeper into the forest and at higher elevation, is another native village named San Sebastian. This is in the cloud forest. This village is 20 km inland so you really need to plan for a full day excursion, typically on horses. The wildlife is more abundant and includes monkeys, anteaters and many varieties of orchid.

Playa de los Frailes – With its crystal clear waters and white sand it is the perfect spot for snorkeling, and is just a short distance from Puerto Lopez. The cliffs behind the beach are a striking red color. Many regard this beach as the most beautiful of all the beaches along the Ruta del Sol, on the Ecuadorian mainland. Of course, the Galapagos Islands has some pretty spectacular beaches and scenery of its own.

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Mark Cowtan
After nearly 30 years working in technology marketing in the UK and California, I emigrated to Ecuador, for a more balanced lifestyle and the luxury of living and working by the beach. Now, I help startups and small businesses with their Internet marketing.
Mark Cowtan

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Dry forestManteño culture