Ecuador’s Secret Beaches

Have you ever been to a place so breathtakingly beautiful you never wanted to leave? And once you did, you couldn’t stop thinking about it? Los Frailes is that place for my husband and me. Better yet, it’s one of Ecuador’s best kept secrets…one I am going to share with you…

The first time we visited this unspoiled piece of paradise I let out an audible gasp when I caught a glimpse of the beach’s turquoise-blue waters and its white sand. I turned to my husband, Mark, and whispered, “You have to promise me you’ll never tell anyone about this place.” It reminded me of Horseshoe Bay in Bermuda where we spent our 25th wedding anniversary.

You’ll find this stretch of unspoiled paradise with its crescent-shaped beach and crystal, blue waters in the Machalilla National Park, about eight-and-a-half miles north of Puerto Lopez—a sleepy fishing village—along the picturesque Ruta del Sol (“Sun Route”), which hugs the Ecuadorian coastline.

With its gentle surf, warm temperatures, cliffs to climb, and exotic birds, Los Frailes is a beach lover’s dream.

So how has it managed to stay secret?

Mostly because there’s no easy way to get there. From Guayaquil (which is home to an international airport), it takes approximately four hours by bus to Olon (at a cost of $5.75 per person) and another 40 minutes by taxi to Puerto Lopez (cost: $20).

Once in Puerto Lopez, it’s another 20 minutes north before you reach the entrance to the park and two miles more before arriving at Los Frailes. You can catch a bus in Puerto Lopez bound for Jipijapa (pronounced: “Hippee-Hoppa”) for 40 cents and tell the bus driver to drop you off at the park entrance. If you’d rather, you can also grab a taxi and arrange for a pick-up time for about $15 roundtrip. It’s not the quickest or easiest excursion—but it’s for that reason that Los Frailes will probably always remain pristine, just like the day we found it.

If you enjoy hiking, you’ll want to take the 20-minute trail (it’s only moderately difficult) to the lookout tower—”El Mirador”—where you’ll be rewarded with an unparalleled view of the Ecuadorian coastline (north and south).

Here’s another secret: Halfway up the climb to “El Mirador,” there’s a sign that says “Las Fragatas.” Once you see it, look immediately to your right, and you’ll notice a narrow dirt path leading downward. Take it!

It took us two years to find this shortcut. The 10-minute walk will lead you to another equally amazing beach called “La Tortuguita” (Little Turtle), which is lined with white coral and black sand. It normally takes two hours to reach this pretty beach if you venture out on the longer route by the ranger station.

Unlike Los Frailes, the surf is rough, but at low tide you can reach the huge rock jutting out of the water and explore its tide pools.

The first time we visited this slice of heaven, we had the entire beach to ourselves. That’s when I turned to Mark—once again—and said, “You have to promise me…you’ll never tell anyone about this place!” (And he hasn’t, so don’t tell him I told you…)

We now call this paradise “Playa de Pombo” after the “explorers” who first discovered it.

Beyond “La Tortuguita,” there’s a path to another crescent-shaped beach and island, but I’ll let you discover that paradise for yourself. That one is really a secret, so shh—don’t tell anybody!

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