Travel in Latin America
Located along La Ruta del Sol, Puerto López is about an hour away from Montañita.
Getting to Puerto López
To get there from Montañita, simply walk out to the bus stop in front of the town and catch a green bus heading north along the Pacific Highway. There is always hitch-hiking, of course, which is the most popular method of transportation along La Ruta del Sol, but it is a potentially high risk activity for travelers. The buses are erratic; they may come every 20 minutes or once per hour, which is often the nature of buses in Ecuador. Taxis are another option as well and there are several taxi offices near the bus stop.
Whatever means of transportation you take to get to Puerto López, there is no mistaking the town itself, which is a harbor full of boats between two bluffs. In sharp contrast to Montañita, there are no surfers with dreadlocks or artisans with jewelry. Instead, there are families having picnics and fishermen hauling in their catches for the day.
By far the easiest method of transportation within town or to various places just outside of town, like Los Frailes Beach, is the taxi-motos that will swarm you as soon as you get off the bus or walk anywhere.
Parque Nacional Machalilla
Parque Nacional Machalilla is a nationally protected park of 136,000 acres. It includes two islands (Isla de Plata and Isla Salango), a beach, and a dry tropical rainforest. If you are planning to visit Isla de la Plata and the mainland areas of Parque Nacional Machalilla it is best to buy the combined entrance ticket for the island and the mainland for $20 (or $5 for Ecuadorians or those with a CENSO). Other activities in the park are horseback-riding, kayaking, fishing, snorkeling and diving.
Isla de Plata
Also known as the Poor Man's Galapagos, the Isla de Plata is about 23 miles northwest of Puerto López and part of the Parque Nacional Machalilla. While it lacks the diversity of wildlife on the Galápagos Islands, it does have blue-footed boobies, red-footed boobies, masked boobies, frigate birds, and waved albatrosses. The blue-footed boobies are the most common and usually travelers will pass only feet away from them. The red-footed boobies are the most rare; most people will only catch a glimpse of them from a distance. There are many tour agencies along the town's small boardwalk where travelers can book a tour that will usually include snorkeling near the island along with a guided tour of Isla de Plata.
Los Frailes Beach
Perhaps the most beautiful and pristine beach on Ecuador's coast, Los Frailes is a perfect white crescent against the blue Pacific ocean. Also a part of Parque Nacional Machalilla, Los Frailes is well-maintained and nearly empty, thanks to the $12 fee for admittance (or $20 for the combined entrance ticket if you are planning to visit other parts of Parque Nacional Machalilla). The government has generously provided hammocks in the shade that you will probably share with the plethora of lizards and iguanas that inhabit the beach. To get there, flag a moto-taxi or ask your hotel or hostel.
From June to September it is also possible to do some whale watching off of Puerto López when humpback whales come to the warm coastal waters looking for mates. There are many tour operators along the Malecón that will take you out and about for a tour, usually from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.