Los Frailes Beach is located just outside of Puerto López on Ecuador’s southern coast and is often considered to be the most beautiful beach in the country. Turquoise waters rise and ebb on the crescent-shaped stretch of sand that sits in the tranquil Machalilla National Park. This slice of paradise can be reached by car, but it is well worth it to hike to the beach. The scenic route provides the opportunity to overlook the coast from stunning miradors, walk along a few pristine beaches, and see a bit more of the park.
Getting to the Park Entrance
Los Frailes Beach can be reached easily by public transport from Montañita, Puerto López, and the town of Machalilla. There are many companies that offer tours to the beach, but we think this is unnecessary and that it is better enjoyed on your own. Catch a bus from one of the stops in town and tell them that you are going to Playa Los Frailes. You can also wave down any bus you see passing through town and ask if they go there.
We caught the bus from Montañita in the early morning, costing $3 (USD) to reach the entrance. It is best to arrive early because it gets pretty hot as the day goes on. At the park entrance, you will need to register at the small building. For this, you will just need to know your passport number. We have heard some people say that they were asked to present their actual passport, but a copy should suffice if you don’t want to risk bringing it. Entrance to the park is free, and it is open from 7:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.
The Hike to Los Frailes Beach
It was already warm when we set out on the hike. We had all of our stuff since we checked out of our hotel in Montañita and our hotel in Puerto Lopez didn’t open until later. Oh well. The hike begins along the road to the beach then cuts to the right through the dry forest that covers the coast.
Along the trail there is a mirador that offers a great overlook of the town of Machalilla and the cliffs below. It was a little cloudy and hazy, but the views were still beautiful. Little did we know, the hike would get more stunning as we went. The trail began to descend, and we eventually reached the first beach.
Playa Prieta is a small beach tucked away in a rocky cove. The beach is not good for swimming due to the strong undercurrent that may sweep you away. But, it sure is a beautiful place to relax and take in the views for a bit. Tiny, peculiar balls of dark sand cover the beach, created by the many crabs that make their homes there. The rocks and cliffs on either side of the enclave are covered in these little sea creatures.
After you have your fill of Playa Prieta, head back the way you came and follow the trail to the next beach.
The trail dumps you out onto Playa Tortuguita, a pristine white-sand beach with impressive rock formations. It is also prohibited to swim here because of the sharp rocks and strong undertow. Despite the name of the beach, we did not see any turtles here, but it was nevertheless impressive.
You can head back the way you came to go to Los Frailes, but we recommend following the coastline until you reach the end of Tortuguita to tie back into the trail. Some cairns mark the way, and it was pretty self-explanatory with some footprints to guide us.
Playa Los Frailes
Between Playa Tortuguita and Los Frailes Beach, there is a mirador that you should absolutely climb up to. The 20-minute detour to Mirador Las Fragatas climbs steeply up the hillside. There is a small shelter at the top, offering stunning views of both Los Frailes and Tortuguita.
At this point, the sun was out and we were roasting in the humid heat. We headed down to Los Frailes, which was essentially empty. It was a Saturday, but we were there in low season, so there weren’t many people. We found the perfect spot to relax for the afternoon. The water felt that much more refreshing after the long hike.
There is no shade on the beach, so be sure to bring sunscreen and your own form of shelter. You can rent parasols at the entrance to the beach for a few bucks. There are also changing rooms, souvenir shops, and ice cream vendors here as well.
After you’ve had enough sun and are ready to head back to town, simply walk out to the parking lot and find a tuk tuk. These will shuttle you back to the park entrance for $1 per person. Here, we just waited on the main road and hitched a ride with a man and his son. We paid them a couple bucks and hopped off in Puerto López. There are also buses that pass by every 20 minutes or so.
Los Frailes Beach Hike Overview
Cost: Free entrance to Machalilla National Park + $1-$6 per person round trip transport on bus (depending on the town you go to)
Hike Distance: 4.7 kilometers/2.9 miles hitting all miradors and beaches
Hike Duration: 1 hour to 1 hour and 45 minutes, depending on the amount of time you spend taking photos
What to Bring: Sunglasses, sunscreen, hat/shade, cash, passport copy, comfortable walking shoes, water, snacks/sack lunch, camera, towel, swimsuit
Spending time in the area? Check out these five things to do in the neighboring town of Montañita!