Los Frailes Beach is often referred to as Ecuador’s most beautiful beach for good reason. With pristine sand on a gently sloping beach surrounded by cliffs on either end of a crescent shaped bay, Los Frailes Beach provides an environment perfect for relaxation. Located a few minutes north of Puerto Lopez, Los Frailes Beach is inside Machalilla National Park and often free of people.
Rare July blue sky
On an unusual sunny day in July, the beach is as full as I have seen it since February’s Carnaval holiday. Typically, the Ecuador coast has sun during the rainy season (explanation here) and clouds during the dry season. By “clouds,” I mean an overcast layer of clouds with no visible sun. July is in the dry/cloudy season so we take advantage of rare sunshine by heading outdoors.
Entering Los Frailes Beach
Patti, visiting from Phoenix, Arizona, and I drive to Los Frailes for a short morning hike to the lookout point. Arriving at the entrance to Los Frailes, we provide our passport and cedula (national ID card) information, required for all visitors. Admission is free, as is true for most national parks. Arriving at the parking area about 3 kilometers later, we find a parking space in the quickly filling lot. A small store is available to purchase water, snacks, ice cream, and local souvenirs.
As we enter the short beach path, friendly park employees go through our bags to confirm we have no banned items. They politely ask us to bring any trash we may generate back out with us when we leave.
Patti and I turn right upon reaching the beach and meander along the water’s edge, watching birds fish and humans play.
At the edge of the beach, where sand becomes brush and trees, a cluster of trees includes a sign for tourists. Do not touch the trees – perhaps for reasons different than you are thinking.
Poison in paradise
What fun is a walk in paradise without a poisonous apple tree? Machalilla National Park warns visitors not to touch the Manzanillo Tree (also called Manchineel) and you certainly do not want to eat the fruit.
All parts of the Manzanillo tree are toxic, earning it the nickname “tree of death.” Stand under the tree during rain or touch the leaves and watch your skin blister. The small apples appear inviting but do not eat them. Wikipedia notes the following, taken from an account by a medical professional who took a bite of one apple while in the Carribean:
When ingested, the fruit is reportedly “pleasantly sweet” at first, with a subsequent “strange peppery feeling …, gradually progress[ing] to a burning, tearing sensation and tightness of the throat”. Symptoms continue to worsen until the patient can “barely swallow solid food because of the excruciating pain and the feeling of a huge obstructing pharyngeal lump”.
We chose to look but not touch.
Trail to Los Frailes Lookout
Near the north end of the beach, a marked path goes inland that will take us to the lookout. The path takes us along Palo Santo trees, cacti, and other vegetation, much of it looking almost dead due to lack of water. During the next rainy season, these plants will come alive and transform this into a lush, green path. During the dry season, they offer a bit of shade as the plants periodically form a canopy.
When we reach an intersection in the mostly empty path, we turn left toward the lookout. Heading straight goes to Tortuga Beach, a black lava rocky beach with no turtles, despite it’s name. The lookout is a short hike from the intersection, but all uphill. When the path becomes steep, wood planks are inserted to create steps in the dusty path.
Before reaching the lookout, we catch a glimpse of Tortuga Beach to our right and stop to admire nature’s beauty. Tortuga Beach is named for the lava rocks resembling turtles.
Los Frailes Mirador (lookout)
At the lookout, you will find a small wooden platform that rises above most area vegetation. The vistas of Los Frailes Beach and Tortuga Beach in addition to the surrounding national park are spectacular. The warm breeze and ocean smell remind me why so many air freshener scents are called Sea Breeze.
Can you see yourself spending mornings doing yoga on the platform, marveling at the views while completely relaxed? I thought about the logistics of doing just that but driving, then hiking here would take much more time and effort than spending 30 minutes in my living room. I will continue with my lazy living room yoga for now.
Spend any length of time at the lookout and you will be treated to a flock of sea birds. During whale season, you may see them putting on a show in the distance. Fog forming over the ocean prevented us from seeing whales on this day but flocks of birds were out in force.
Beach time with crabs
Returning to the main beach, we sat for a while enjoying the weather and watching crabs race around on the beach. Sit still long enough and the crabs will fear you less and come closer.
Getting to Los Frailes Beach
All buses heading North from the Puerto Lopez bus terminal will pass Los Frailes. Tell the driver’s helper you are going there and they will stop to let you out. Sometimes there are mototaxis at the entrance you can hire to bring you to the beach. You are more likely to find mototaxis waiting on holidays and weekends. The walk from the entrance can seem longer than 3 km on hot, sunny days.
You may opt for a taxi from Puerto Lopez instead so they can drive you all the way to the beach. Arrange with the driver to return at a predetermined time for your trip back to Puerto Lopez.
More about Machalilla National Park
Find more information about Machalilla National Park in these posts. Five of the posts are listed below.