Playa Los Frailes (the Friars Beach) was our final stop on our coastal adventure in Ecuador. And, we're happy to report, we saved the most beautiful beach till last.
Set in the Machililia National Park, amongst a few other beaches and scrubland, it is an excellent cheap and easy day-trip from the ugly town of Puerto Lopez. This is how we did it.
A HIKE THROUGH THE FOREST
Like anything great in life, Los Frailes takes a little effort to reach. Of course, you can take one of the several tuk-tuks at the entrance and be at the beach in a few minutes, but if you're like us, you'll prefer a little hike before you get there!
The hike begins a few hundred metres from the entrance where you take a well-marked trail off the road and into the arid forest. Lizards scatter underfoot and the ground is so dry the smallest of sparks would set it alight.
Take a moment or two to veer off the route for the miradors - from cliffs high above the ocean the views are simply breathtaking. Large expanses of turquoise water wrap around the coast revealing perfect white sand. We saw nobody, sharing the vistas with little else but resting vultures.
This is an easy walk despite the heat along flat, dry scrubland however you should definitely opt for trainers over flip flops.
The first beach you will reach is playa prieta, a small cove home to literally hundreds of crabs. The shore here is marbled with little balls of sand, a mosaic created as the crabs feed and sometimes the only evidence of what lies buried beneath your feet.
Definitely don't swim here unless you fancy a strong undercurrent taking you out to sea.
After rambling a little further through the desert-like terrain you will reach playa la tortuguita. The name may lead you to believe that you will find turtles at this beach, but alas you will have to be satisfied with an isolated white sand beach. We're sure you won't miss them!
It is worth noting that the trail can become a little confusing at this point. Do not head back the way you came, instead follow the coast line, until you reach the sign above. From here take a left back on to the trail.
With the sun beating down on your back, the path finally opens up on to Los Frailes and you'll realise why this is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador.
Take the time to enjoy the day. Take a dip, or several, in the aquamarine ocean, read a book or simply spread yourself upon the beautifully soft sand and relax. You deserve it!
THINGS TO KNOW
- Entrance to the park is completely free.
- Given the heat, we recommend you set off from Puerto Lopez early so that you can complete the walk before it gets too hot.
- Bring plenty of water, suncream and snacks/lunch. In the car park behind Los Frailes, there is a man selling drinks and ice-cream, but not much else.
- There is no shade on Los Frailes beach, Parasols can be rented for $4 a day from the man in the car park.
- There are changing rooms and bathrooms in the car park.
- The park shuts at 4.30 p.m; make sure you find a tuk-tuk or hitch a ride before this.
- We'd recommend trying to visit on a weekday. Ecuadorian families love the beach and, if you visit on Saturday or Sunday, it's possible that Los Frailes would be packed and ruined by crowds.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Puerto Lopez, take a tuk-tuk / moto-taxi for $1 to the bus terminal outside town. Any bus heading in the direction of Manta will pass the park entrance - just make sure to double check with the driver that the bus is going to 'El Parque Nacional Machalilla'.
The journey should take around 10-15 minutes (12 kms), costing $0.5 per person.
Once dropped outside the park entrance, you will need to register your details at the reception. After that, you have two options. You can, like us, walk the 2.5 km trail to Los Frailes (around 1 hour) or you can pay a tuk-tuk to drive you straight to the Los Frailes beach.
Due to the beauty on offer by walking, that's what we would recommend. We did however end up taking a tuk-tuk back from the beach to the park entrance in the afternoon (price of $2 haggled from $3). From there, you can either hitch-hike back to Puerto Lopez or wait for one of the buses which pass by every 20 minutes or so.