|The road between Guayaquil, Machala and the Peruvian border at Huaquillas is flat, straight and in reasonable condition. There are lots of banana palms and green vegetation and a few places to stop off for en route.
Leave Guayaquil via the “international” bridge which crosses the River Guayas to Durán, then take the main road east, following signs for Naranjal and Machala. After 30km (and a $1 toll booth) you come to a roundabout at Vírgen de Fatima. Go through the first roundabout and turn right at the junction, passing the fruit stalls to the next roundabout where you continue straight.
The road is now long and straight, crossing a flat, agricultural landscape. You pass the entrance to the Manglares Churute reserve and a few small hills before another toll booth which marks the entrance to Puerto Inca. This is where the road up to Cuenca starts but the road to Machala is straight and south. After another 10km you enter Naranjal which is just another lowland town without much to commend it apart from a Petrocommercial gas station.
Outside the towns there are many banana plantations and you can also see cacao, sugar and rice being grown. The landscape is very green and verdant – only a few kilometres divide the foothills of the Andes to the east and the ocean to the west. It rains a lot along this narrow stretch. You won’t find any beaches – it’s all mangrove and shrimp farm. Nor are there many opportunities for walking outside of Manglares Churute. There are several large haciendas and some can be visited.
You’re probably in Azuay province by now. The Azuayans control a small part of the lowlands but as their capital is far away in Cuenca and this area is clearly neglected – the main feature (apart from the trees and visible foothills) is the bad condition of the road which is much better before (Guayas) and after (El Oro). It’s a bit offensive to have to pay a toll to use this section.
Once you enter El Oro there is no problem with the surface, although drivers must continue to be vigilant. This is only a two-lane highway and is used by many trucks, so you’ll have to be adept at constantly pulling out to overtake, dodging oncoming vehicles. That’s also why your bus will be careering across the lanes on a regular basis. Add to that the lack of cats-eyes (although there are road markings) and it’s definitely not a fun route to drive at night.
Machala is the banana capital of Ecuador if not the world. You’ll see why as the panorama is one of long rows of banana palms, which are quite attractive and interesting at first, but become monotonous. The land under the palms is brown earth, starved of light. The bananas are tied in plastic bags to protect them from disease.
Before you reach Machala a turn-off to the left leads to some “ecotouristic” waterfalls, although I haven’t visited them yet. You have to follow a bumpy, dirt track.
Soon after you arrive at a roundabout. Take the right fork unless you want to visit El Guabo. The main road doesn’t actually go through Machala so the road network is quite easy to follow, although there are quite a few junctions. Basically if you’re heading for the border just keep going as straight as possible and ask for Huaquillas.