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Machalilla – Hidden Treasure of the Pacific Coast
Ecuador has long been known for its biodiversity and has become an important destination for the avid naturalist. However, the lure of exotic locations, such as Mindo and the Amazon Basin, has concealed many of the significant animal sanctuaries of this tiny nation. Machalilla National Park is one of these hidden jewels providing refuge for the extensive variety of flora and fauna of the Pacific Coast.
History of Machalilla National Park
Concern for the decline in natural forest along the Pacific Coast due to agricultural development prompted the Ecuadorian government to pass a decree in July of 1979 to establish Machalilla as a protected area. Approximately 56,000 ha (138,000 ac) of land was classified as part of the Machalilla National Park including several islands such as Isla de la Plata, an expanse of beach and coastline, and various forest regions encompassing dry, cloud and rain forest habitats. The reserve was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1998, providing it recognition as an important wildlife environment and giving it world protective status.In 2005, BirdLife International designated the park as an Important Bird Area due to the vulnerability of over thirty species of birds residing within the region.
Parque National Machalilla is located in the southeastern province of Manabi. The area is easily accessible by air or ground transportation. There is a regional airport in the city of Manta, a few kilometers north of the park. From this point it is a short drive by taxi or bus to the many towns and villages that surround the park. Puerto Lopez is one of the larger and more convenient of these locations, offering numerous hostels and hosterias for visitors.
Ground transportation from Quito or Guayaquil is available at very reasonable prices. There are direct and regularly scheduled busses that visit the major locations surrounding the park. It should be noted that although this is an economical means of travel, it may require many hours to traverse the country.
Although travel to the islands such as Isla de la Plata is restricted, regular excursions are available transporting visitors to these popular destinations. Once on the isle there are guided tours indicating the highlights of the area including the diverse flora and fauna.
Flora and Fauna
Machalilla National Park is an extremely biodiverse area and many species within the region are considered vulnerable. In addition to the jaguar and the ocelot, there are two species of monkeys, the Mantled Howler and the White-headed Capuchin, that inhabit the denser forest areas. Brocket and White-tailed Deer, which were once abundant, have been hunted to near extinction. The reserve is home to the remaining one percent of the previous scrub desert and forest of western Ecuador. Humpbacked Whales regularly visit offshore, drawing researchers and marine biologists to monitor their movements.
There are more than 270 species of birds within the reserve, many of them identified by BirdLife International as vulnerable. The Grey-backed Hawk, Grey-cheeked Parakeet, Esmeraldas Woodstar, Slaty Becard, and Blackish-headed Spinetail are considered endangered. Traveling offshore to Isla de la Plata, commonly called the “Poor Man’s Galapagos”, visitors can observe three species of Boobies as well as Tropicbirds and Frigatebirds. This island is also home to the only nesting group of Waved Albatross outside of the Galapagos Archipelago.
Accommodations and Attractions
The town of Puerto Lopez and several of the surrounding villages offer an abundance of options regarding lodging, food and transportation. There are also a few ex-patriots who have adopted this area as home, setting up restaurants and other business that cater to the whims of tourists. Although there are no five star facilities in this area, most of the hosterias and hostels provide comfortable and inexpensive quarters.
Within the park, swimming, hiking, horseback riding and boat excursions are available. There are many agencies providing tour packages and helping the visitor to experience the park to its fullest.
Although Machalilla is off the beaten path, it is well worth the traveler’s efforts to pay a visit to this magnificent park along the Pacific coast. Whether a serious bird-watcher or a casual vacationer, there are activities that will meet the desires of everyone. A visit to this tropical paradise will delight everyone and provide memories for a lifetime.
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