National Parks in the Ecuadorian Coastal Area
Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco
Cerro Blanco is administered by the Fundacion Pro-Bosque (Pro-Forest Foundation), and protects 5,000 hectares of dry tropical forest outside of Guayaquil. Cerro Blanco includes a mosaic of vegetation from abandoned pasturelands to primary forest, amidst rolling hills and narrow ravines. The Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco is rich with bio-diversity and one of the few remaining areas of protected coastal forest in Ecuador. An estimated 600 plant species are found in the reserve along with 33 recorded mammal species, including monkeys, white-tailed deer, jaguar, and puma.
Due to its incredible bird diversity, Cerro Blanco has been designated Ecuador’s second Important Bird Area by Birdlife International. With 211 bird species registered to date in Cerro Blanco’s forest, including 30 endemic of the Tumbesian Region of Southwestern Ecuador-Northwestern Peru, bird watching is excellent. Among these varied species, a total of eight globally threatened bird species live in the forest and these species are the focus of the foundation’s conservation program.
Pelican in the Galapagos.
The forest provides comprehensive visitor facilities allowing tourists to make the most of their trip to Cerro Blanco. There are over 20 knowledgeable guides eager to take visitors on any of the three nature trails or you can choose to follow the self-guided trail. A conservation center was recently opened and has a series of exhibits on dry tropical forests as well as an herbarium. The Fundacion Pro-Bosque also offers special tours of its integrated organic farm and visits to the wildlife rehabilitation center to see the forests resident animals. For a nominal fee, there is a camping and picnic area, which includes tent pads, running water, and showers.
The reserve is located on the coastal highway heading north from Guayaquil to Salinas (Kilometer 16.5 Via a La Costa).
The Puerto Hondo Mangrove Ecotourism project, located one kilometer north along the Via a La Costa, works with the Fundacion Pro-Bosque and its community members to offer guided canoe trips through the mangroves. More than 40 bird species have been identified here, including white ibis, yellow-crowned night heron, and rufous-necked wood rail. For more information contact Eric Horstman, Fundacion Pro-Bosque, Casilla 09-01-04243, Km. 16 Via a la Costa, Guayaquil, Ecuador, telephone 04-2872236, 2871900 extension 32280.
Created in 1979, Machalilla is the only coastal National Park in Ecuador. It was constructed to protect two offshore islands, the only coral formation on the Ecuadorian mainland coast, tropical dry forest, and also cloud forest. The weather in the park is hot and dry throughout the year. The Park contains Pre-Colombian archeological ruins and artifacts, beaches, and tropical dry forest. In addition, over 200 animal species have been identified including coastal parrots, seabirds, deer, iguanas, snakes, and anteaters.
A fascinating excursion in the park is a visit to the “Isla de la Plata“, an island situated just 40-km northwest of Puerto López. This small island is inhabited by a number of animals commonly found in the Galapagos Islands including blue footed boobies, pelicans, and gulls. Dolphins and whales are often sighted between June and October. Visitors can purchase passes to the park in Puerto López.
Located in the province of Esmeraldas, the Cayapas Mataje Reserve was founded in 1996 to protect three types of vegetation: tropical rainforest, tropical dry forest, and mangrove forest. Mangroves have the ability to grow in salt water and are a life support for various types of fish, mollusks, and crustaceans. In addition to controlling coastal erosion the mangroves expand into the ocean to form their own islands. During the 1980s, many of the mangroves were destroyed in order to build artificial shrimp producing basins, making the creation of a Reserve imperative.
Mostly inhabited by Afro-Ecuadorian communities, the town of San Lorenzo is a great place to tour the mangroves and also get a sample of the local culture. The main access to the Reserve is via the Esmeraldas-Borbón road and to go further inland, fluvial transportation is necessary. You can also enter via the Ibarra-San Lorenzo road.
This Reserve protects one of the few remaining coastal mangrove forests. It was created in 1979 due to the increasing pressure on the forest by shrimp farms. The mangrove swamps boast rich and diverse marine fauna and the trees are essential for the breeding and protection of hundreds of fish, mollusk, and crustacean species. In the Reserve you can find tropical dry forest and a 3.25m deep lagoon that covers over 1000 hectares and contains astonishing vegetation and fauna.
Due to human activity fauna species have been considerably reduced, yet in spite of that, dolphins are still frequently reported. This lesser known region is rarely visited, resulting in an inefficient tourism infrastructure. Nevertheless, park rangers can assist in arranging boat trips to the mangroves for interested visitors. The entrance is located on the Guayaquil-Machala highway, approximately 56 km south of Guayaquil and there is an entrance fee.
These world-famous islands make up Ecuador’s first and largest national park. Established in 1959, the park includes 13 major islands, 6 small islands, and 42 islets (some barely big enough to set foot upon). It is not the volcanic islands that attract most visitors, but rather the renowned wildlife endemic to the islands, located 600 miles from the nearest continent. Giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, waved albatrosses, and marine iguanas roam around in what Darwin described as a “living laboratory” of evolution.
The islands that make up this cornucopia of unique species have not always been protected. The park has a history of human colonization that has taken a negative toll on the environment. For this reason, tours of the islands and their surrounding waters are only possible with a guide and visitors must always walk on designated paths. These organized tours manage to turn visitors into amateur naturalists as they marvel at “vampire” finches, warm-water penguins, hammerhead sharks, and friendly sea lions. Entrance to the park is approximately US$100, which helps fund the preservation of this incredible habitat. While tours and lodging are not cheap, many visitors on a limited budget are still able to make the journey to this wonder of the world.