Machala is a small city of about 250,000 people in the south-west of Ecuador. If you´re travelling from Peru via the coast, it may be the first city you visit. It is the self-proclaimed banana capital of the world and the surrounding countryside is filled with green palms. In reality there is not much to see or do but it could be a place to break up a long journey or change direction and head up into the mountains.
The most interesting “sight” is probably outside the city where you can observe miles and miles of plantations filling the narrow but fertile coastal plain. Except you can’t see that much from the road because you’re just passing a wall of palms. Still, it’s a complete contrast to the arid desert of Peru.
If you want to hang out in Machala there are a few parks where you can go:
1. Parque Juan Montalvo – the central square is semi-pedestrianised and features music and fountains. You can visit the La Merced church and wander along the Paseo Nuestra Señora de la Merced next to the park.
2. Parque Buenos Aires – located in the area of the same name, it has some benches and some interesting fountains.
3. There are a few other little public areas dotted around such as Plazoleta Bolívar Madero Vargas – a fountain, flowers, music and a monument to banana producers.
It is clear that some effort has been made to jazz up Machala in recent years, so it’s probably less drab than in the past. I know that’s a backhanded compliment.
After checking out Machala you should go to Puerto Bolívar which is the port where all the bananas are exported from. It is 9km west and has a decent waterfront.
From Puerto Bolívar you can take a canoe to Jambelí where there are beaches. Apparently they were never very clean and in the last few years much of the beach has disappeared after strong waves.
It may be more interesting to go on an excursion to explore the birdlife and possibly the fish and reefs that live in the whole Archipelago de Jambelí.
Boat trips around these islands and mangroves can also be arranged from Puerto Jelí which is a small village with a few restaurants just off the Panamericana about 10km south of Machala.
WHERE TO STAY
Due to its importance as a commercial centre and port Machala does have some good hotels, including the Oro Verde. There are no nice backpacker hostels that I know of.
WHERE TO EAT
In a city that lives from the banana and shrimp farming industries, you should really be looking for a meal that combines the two (eg. arroz con camarón with a side portion of maduros). There are plenty of seafood restaurants to choose from.
Machala has a bit of a bad reputation for crime. I haven’t been out at night but you should probably take advice where you stay as how to best get around and where to go.
It is possible to take a bus from Machala to a lot of the major cities in Ecuador and it might be a better option to change bus here rather than Huaquillas if you are travelling to/from Peru. The most immediate destinations are Guayquil (3 hours north) and Cuenca (4 hours NE, a scenic journey via Pasaje and Girón). You can also take a bus SE into the lowlands of El Oro to visit Piñas and Zaruma or go all the way to Loja. Both routes go via Santa Rosa. If you want to visit Puyango petrified forest take a bus going to Alamor, via Arenillas.
It is possible to take a bus down to Huaquillas and then walk across the border to Peru. Alternatively you can pick up an international bus.
Finally there is a new airport outside Santa Rosa, about 10km south of Machala. SAERO run flights every day of the week to Quito and Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to Guayaquil. TAME also fly here. (see national flights)
Read about the land routes here: 1. Guayaquil – Machala –Huaquillas 2. Cuenca – Machala 3. Santa Rosa – Zaruma 4. Loja – Santa Rosa 5. Arenillas – Alamor
Machala hosts a banana festival every year where Miss Banana Exporting Nations is elected.