Hike along Playa de Los Frailes, Machalilla NP

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Prized by locals as Ecuador's most majestic beaches, the Playa de Los Frailes area is a stunning stretch of coastline protected by Machalilla National Park. Playa de Los Frailes itself can be accessed via automobile or tuk-tuk and is only a few minutes' drive from the entrance. 

The 4km loop trail winds along steep bluffs and descends into several other "hidden" beaches before reaching Playa de Los Frailes -- a no brainer for this crowd.

Truly a gem of Ecuador's Pacific coastline, a hike through Playa de Los Frailes offers a rare glimpse of a series of pristine beaches situated within Machalilla National Park. The entrance to this portion of the Park is visible from the main coastal highway, the Ruta del Sol, and entrance is free. Following the sandy road past the small ranger shack, the trailhead begins on the right after a few minutes' walk. 

Having just arrived from the lush cloud forests of the Andes, we were struck by the stark contrast of the desert-esque coastal scrub forest in front of us. The trail ambles uphill toward the steep bluffs lining the coastline. Lizards are likely scurrying across the sand-worn path as you approach the first mirador, or overlook, which is well worth the brief detour, offering stunning views of the turquoise waters and rocky shores. To the north, the small fishing parish of Machalilla sits quietly in the distance; its harbor dotted with anchored fishing boats bobbing in the surf. 

The first beach, Playita Negra, is relatively small compared to the others, but boasts an incredible vista of small rocky islets dotting the coastline. Do heed the park ranger's warning and avoid swimming at this beach, as its undercurrents are quite powerful. The second beach, Playa la Tortuguita, appears soon after and was my personal favorite; since it's the hardest to get to, we had it all to ourselves for hours. The trail becomes vague from here-- make sure to follow the coastline to the left around Playa la Tortuguita for several hundred meters, and eventually you'll see signs indicating the resuming trail. Moments after hopping back on the trail, you'll see signs for an overlook which climbs up a steep rocky peninsula; another mirador you won't want to miss. 

Aside from the commanding views, the scent of Palo Santo trees wafting through the ocean breeze lends an almost magical sense to the experience. Heading back down, the trail terminates at the main beach at Playa de Los Frailes. Like anywhere else, the size of the crowds here will be dependent upon the time of your visit. Nonetheless, a wonderful beach to end a hike on. Since vehicles can access this area, crowds tend to swell on weekends and holidays. Bathrooms and a small food vendor are located near the parking lot, and tuk-tuks are generally waiting to cart weary beach-goers back to the entrance for a small fee. Enjoy! 

Pack List

  • Passport (entrance is free, but registration is required)
  • Water
  • Sun protection: hat, sunglasses, sunscreen
  • Hiking boots/trail-runners, or water sandals
  • Snacks/lunch
  • Daypack
  • Camera
  • Binoculars (for the birders)
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How to Get There

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Added by Matthew Reed

I'm an aquatic biologist and writer from Nashville, and recently completed a Master’s degree from the University of Tennessee. For the remainder of 2016 and much of 2017, I’ll be traveling and working in Iceland, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile with my wife, Taylor.


Photography, Swimming, Hiking

Skill Level:



Year Round

Trail Type:



2.5 Miles


Family Friendly
Picnic Area
Swimming Hole

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