Most visitors to Machalilla National Park stay in the fishing village of Puerto Lopez. In recent years, the town has turned part-resort, renovating the oceanfront boardwalk to attract tourists and provide a community focal point for locals. But as long as fisherman launch boats from the beach and return with the catch to sell at the waterfront market, the town will retain its local color and feel.
Hotel Pacifico lies near the waterfront. They have rooms with private bath, hammocks on the patio, and a communal kitchen. The hotel is clean and comfortable, with an accommodating staff.
Hotel La Terraza is located up on the hillside with views of the surrounding coastline. The grounds are beautifully landscaped, the pool and hot-tub are well-integrated into the overall design of the grounds, and the restaurant serves an excellent breakfast.
Parque Nacional Machalilla has three main attractions. Each is separated geographically. While it is possible to visit all three destinations in a single day, a minimum of two days is recommended to enjoy the park.
This gorgeous stretch of beach, with its deep blue water, golden sandstone cliffs and fine-grained sand, is popular with Ecuadorians. During the holiday season, the main beach will be packed with sunbathers. A second, well-protected beach is reserved for nesting sea turtles.
Planning a day trip is complicated by rules that prevent visitors from carrying in food items that create litter, like bags of potato chips, or accessories like surf boards and boogie boards, especially on crowded days.
Isla de la Plata is often called the Poor Man’s Galapagos. It is the nesting ground for Blue-footed, Red-footed, and Nazca Boobies as well as the Magnificent Frigate Bird. It is possible to hike several different trails on this very dry and often hot island. The longest trail, and the only one that reaches the nesting grounds of the Red-footed Booby, requires a day time visit of at least five hours.
Snorkeling and diving are popular activities near Isla de la Plata. Divers love to visit between June and September when giant manta rays migrate between the island and the mainland. This same season is an excellent chance to spot whales. While snorkeling can be complicated by turbid water, a good day in the water means swimming beside giant sea turtles.
Tours to Isla de la Plata leave daily from Puerto Lopez.
The small community of Agua Blanca has a long history in the region and retained rights to promote community tourism within the Machalilla National Park. When cars enter the park grounds via the entrance gate to Agua Blanca, each person is required to pay a small entrance fee. That fee includes entrance to the archaeology museum and a guided tour of the grounds, including an archaeology site, the native forest and local farmland.
Near the museum are a couple of locally run restaurants where visitors can eat lunch. The specialty on offer is Seco de Chivo, a goat stew that is a favorite dish of coastal Ecuadorians.
Tours can also be pre-arranged in Puerto Lopez.
Ancient ruins at Agua Blanca include objects found from six different cultures: Valdivia, Machalilla, Chorrera, Bahía, Guangala, and Manteña. Many of the finds – such as obsidian-knapped arrowheads, stone seats of power and figurines in animal shapes – are displayed in the small museum; the archaeology dig is a few steps away.
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The dry tropical forest is home to over 270 species of birds. A favorite is the Whooping Motmot with its gorgeous turquoise blue face and black eye-mask and a long, two-pronged tail that twitches like a pendulum on a clock. Other highlight species include the Peruvian Screech Owl, the Streak-headed Woodcreeper, the striking Vermillion Flycatcher, the Golden-Olive Woodpecker and the Pale-legged Hornero.
The pre-paid guided tour will include seeing some birds, but the interest of the group partially determines how much bird watching actually takes place. If you are a birdwatcher wanting to see as many species as possible, reserve a guide before your visit.
While hiking, keep your eyes open for lizards, iguanas, armadillos and monkeys.
Many locals who visit Agua Blanca come only for the lagoon of cool, sulfury water. Visitors can plaster themselves with mud before diving into this deep highly reflective pool. This is a popular activity after a day at the beach as the soothing mud and brisk water help take away the sting of sunburn.
There are showers and changing rooms on site. Bring a pair of shower shoes or sandals as the ground is gravel covered and uncomfortable for bare feet. The ladders and access points are very slippery.