Los Frailes Beach: Hiking to the Most Beautiful Beach in Ecuador

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.

One of the few pretty beaches near Los Frailes Beach
One of the few pretty beaches near Los Frailes Beach

 

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.

Smoking is prohibited in the park due to the high danger in the dry vegetation
Smoking is prohibited in the park due to the high danger in the dry vegetation

 

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

Enjoying Playa Prieta with Machalilla visible in the distance
Enjoying Playa Prieta with Machalilla visible in the distance

 

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.

Shy crabs hang out on the rocks above and below the water
Shy crabs hang out on the rocks above and below the water

 

After you have your fill of Playa Prieta, head back the way you came and follow the trail to the next beach.

Playa Tortuguita

Our first view of the beautiful Playa Tortuguita
Our first view of the beautiful Playa Tortuguita

 

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.

Hiking with our big packs definitely wasn’t easy in the heat!
Hiking with our big packs definitely wasn’t easy in the heat!

 

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.

A cairn that marks the way on Playa Tortuguita
A cairn that marks the way on Playa Tortuguita

 

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.

Looking down on Los Frailes from Mirador Las Fragatas
Looking down on Los Frailes from Mirador Las Fragatas

 

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.

Enjoying the sun on the most beautiful beach in Ecuador
Enjoying the sun on the most beautiful beach in Ecuador

 

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.




Getting Away

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

Difficulty: Easy

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!

 

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Los Frailes Beach: Hiking to the Most Beautiful Beach in Ecuador

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