This park is one of the first protected areas in the country. Its early declaration, in 1979, reveals that already at the beginning of the National System of Protected Areas of Ecuador the importance of the area and the urgency to protect its ecosystems were recognized: the dry and semi-dry forests, and the marine-coastal environments of the south of Manabí. Its name comes from the Machalilla culture, one of the most important prehispanic cultures of the littoral region, which inhabited this area for 800 years (1800 BC - 1000 BC).
Within the park and in the surrounding areas there are archaeological sites of various cultures, from Valdivia more than 5 thousand years ago, to the Manteño - Huancavilca culture, 500 years ago.
It is a park full of evidence of the ancient inhabitants of Manabí. The protected area includes beaches, several small islands near the coast line such as Salango, Horno de Pan, Sucre, Pedernales and El Sombrerito, and also the famous Isla de la Plata.
How to get to the Machalilla National Park
From Quito. Take the road Quito - Sto. Sunday (151 km). From Sto. Sunday continue to Chone (140 km), southwest in the direction of Manta (91 km). From Manta, we cross the Pacific Trunk to the south, to connect with the Jipijapa - Puerto Cayo - Puerto López (89 km) route and thus reach the central park of Puerto López, where the protected area offices are located.
From Guayaquil. Take the road to Daule until you reach Nobol (41 km). Here you continue on the Nobol - Jipijapa road, until you reach Jipijapa. It is taken to Puerto Cayo (28 km), to the west, to go by the Trunk of the Pacific towards the south and to arrive at Puerto Lopez (33 km).
Geography of the Machalilla National Park
The land area of the park includes the territories of five hydrographic basins: those of the Cantagallo, Jipijapa, Salaite, Buena Vista and Ayampe rivers. The most important basins due to their size are Ayampe and Buena Vista, since together they represent about two thirds of the surface of the protected area. In that area there are several population centers: Puerto Cayo, Machalilla, Puerto López and Salango.
Unlike other areas of the Coast, the topography of the coastal strip of Machalilla dies very irregular and includes several places with high cliffs of erodible walls, rocky beaches where small intertidal pools abound, in which you can see various marine organisms, as well like flat areas, sandy beaches and valleys that have direct communication with the Pacific.
The marine area has bays and inlets, generally of calm waters, and a continental platform from where the islands and islets that characterize this protected area emerge.
Cultural aspects of the Machalilla National Park
The evidences and archaeological sites that have been found in the area indicate that several pre-Hispanic cultures occupied this territory for more than 7 or 8 thousand years.
The valleys near the coastline were occupied by the first farmers and hunters who later populated a good part of the continent. However, the most important cultural reference of this park and the south of the province of Manabí, is related to the Manteño - Huancavilca culture (1500 BC - 500 AD).
Its inhabitants had several villages in the region and from this area they controlled and administered much of the pre-Hispanic trade and exchange that existed between the north and south of the continent.
In addition, they developed the art of sailing, used large rafts and became important merchants of that time.
The chairs or thrones of stone, characteristic of this culture, seem to be an indicator of their power and importance and to date they have found vestiges in what is believed to be their civic - ceremonial centers of the center - south region of Manabí, specifically in the hills of Leaves and Jaboncillo, Agua Blanca and López Viejo ..
Currently there are 12 communes within the park whose inhabitants are mainly engaged in agriculture.
Biodiversity of the Machalilla National Park
The Park protects a large strip that goes from the peaks of the coastal mountain range of Chonchón - Colonche to the marine environments that surround the Isla de la Plata.
In all these landscapes you can enjoy a great diversity of flora and fauna.
In the forest of garúa grow yellow trees, garlic stick, fernan sánchez, white tillo, tagua or cade and straw toquilla, and a large number of orchids and bromeliads. Among the birds, there are mountain guans, toucans, tanagers, woodpeckers and nuthatches.
The largest green macaw is an emblematic bird of the region. Among the mammals there are tigrillo, jaguar, peccaries or collarbirds, white-tailed deer, howler monkeys and capuchin monkeys. In the lower areas of the mountain range there are dry and semi-dry forests. Here the vegetation is adapted to the scarcity of water; a proof of this situation is the presence of cacti, palosantos, muyuyos and guayacanes, as well as the beautiful ceibos. Among the birds that frequent these spaces are the motmot, the parakeet or viviña, the witch bird, the hornero -which builds nests of mud in the branches of trees- and the hawk valdivia or laughing hawk.
Among the mammals that live in these forests are deer, armadillos, anteaters and fruit bats. Near the beaches there are bushes with salty and realito mountain or breakwater. The four species of sea turtles recorded in Ecuador nest on the beaches of the park: hawksbill, green, olive ridley and leatherback.
In underwater environments, rocky reefs and coral communities stand out, especially around Isla de la Plata. There are lobsters, sea cucumbers, snails like the two pututos and the spondylus or spiny oyster. 143 species of fish have been reported including saw, grouper, white huayaipe, feather duster, several species of shark (including the whale) and the striking butterfly fish and parrotfish.
A characteristic species of these waters is the giant blanket, a relative fish of sharks that can reach a size of eight meters. Because of the richness of the marine area, the park was declared a "wetland of global importance" by the Ramsar International Convention.
The Isla de la Plata, one of the most visited sites in the Park, offers refuge and a nesting site for several seabirds. Among the most frequent and easy to observe are masked boobies, blue-footed boobies, frigates, tropical birds, small petrels and terns, which usually flit near beaches and rocks.
On the island there is also a small population of the Galapagos albatross, which makes this island and the Spanish island the only places where they nest.
Main tourist attractions of the Machalilla National Park
It is considered one of the few beaches that still maintains its natural characteristics. It is located between the towns of Machalilla and Puerto López. In this sector there is a path that runs through the dry forest and crosses the beaches of La Tortuguita and La Playita until you reach Los Frailes.
It is located 40 kilometers from Puerto López. There are five trails to cross it, observe several species of birds and contemplate the cliffs of the island. In the surroundings you can observe the marine biodiversity through surface diving, mainly in the Palo Santo and El Faro reefs. The visit requires the company of a naturalist guide authorized by the park administration.
Agua Blanca is located 5 kilometers north of Puerto López; the commune maintains an archaeological museum with pieces of the Manteño - Huancavilca culture. In this area, the famous stone chairs or power chairs have been found, which is why archaeologists consider that one of their civic ceremonial centers functioned here. Its inhabitants, as can be seen during the tours, are proud of their past and their cultural heritage. In the community there is a large pool of sulphurous waters where you can take a refreshing bath. The mud at the bottom of the pond also offers magnificent relaxing properties and is a comforting experience.
Another attraction is the sighting of the humpback whales, present between July and September. These mammals travel from the cold Antarctic waters to reach our warm waters, in search of suitable conditions to reproduce and have their young. Tour operators offering boat services to observe whales, as well as visitors and tourists must follow the established rules.
Permitted activities in the Machalilla National Park
- Bike ride
- Canoe ride
- Surface diving
- Deep diving
Facilities in the Machalilla National Park
The Interpretation Center is next to the offices of the park, in Puerto López. In the community of Agua Blanca there is an archaeological museum and shelter in community cabins. On the beach of Salango there is an interpretation center dedicated to sea turtles. The trails in the park are:
Bosque del Sol. It is located in the area of Los Frailes beach and the entrance is 200m to the right of the entrance house. It goes parallel to the beach of Los Frailes, passing through Playa Prieta, Tortuguita and Los Frailes viewpoint. You need a guide for your 3.8 km route.
Playita de Salango. It is located near the town of Salango; It is 1.4 km long and the entrance is through the interpretation center. The company of a guide is required for your trip.
Archeological ruins. In the community of Agua Blanca you can find this route of 2 km. Start in the community museum and go through the funeral urns, the archaeological ruins and the sulphurous water lagoon.
Isla de la Plata. Tours are contracted with authorized tour operators in Puerto López. The trip by boat is 22 miles and lasts approximately 1h30; you can observe whales and other species of marine fauna. The island has five trails for its route: Punta Machete, Punta Escalera, Cliffs, Frigates and Patas Rojas.
Recommendations when visiting the Machalilla National Park
Clothing. Light clothes and comfortable shoes to walk on the trails of the area. The whale watching season usually coincides with the cold months so it is recommended to bring warm clothes and windbreakers.
Whale watching. This activity is carried out during the months of June to September. Operators authorized by the National Park should be contacted.