First up in the Exploring Ecuador series, we will take a look at a city that is not on most people’s radar when it comes to a place to settle in Ecuador. But Rita and I visited the city of Machala in the El Oro Province, and although it is not for me, there are some interesting features that this city of just over 200,000 has to offer. I recently wrote about it for International Living Magazine, but here is some additional information and pictures.
First, let’s locate it on a map.
As you see, it is about a two hour drive due south of Guayaquil, on pretty decent roads. It sits on the Guayas River where it joins the Pacific Ocean, and is one of Ecuador’s important ports. Machala is known as “The Banana Capital of the World”, and if you drive there through the almost endless acres of plantain trees, you will understand why. It is the major port for shipping bananas, cocoa, and even shrimp out of Ecuador. It’s position near the border of Peru also makes it an important hub for shipping by truck to and from Guayaquil, Peru, and the southern Andes.
This gives the city a pretty sound economic base, and that is evident as you drive through the newer east end of town. There are modern condos, malls, medical centers, a major university, and more along a well-lit 4 lane highway.
Downtown features several very attractive squares and parks, with a good selection of banks and shops around the government buildings. For the most part, the downtown area is very clean, although there is a commercial area similar to the market in La Libertad, with hand-made kiosks spilling into each other and the streets, and the accompanying trash such conditions usually bring.
Down by the port, there is a mix of industrial areas, hotels and shops, and an occasional new condo complex. The most attractive feature is the Malecon, which is more of a river walk. Direct access to the beach is blocked by the Isla Jambeli. There is a beautiful beach on the island, but it is on the western side, and to access it you must take a ferry boat that winds through a river on the island to a dock near the beach. You can pick up that ferry, and of course beach supplies, in the many shops along the pier.
This area also has a beautiful blue church, and a string of seafood restaurants serving some truly incredible fresh shrimp dishes.
The climate is very similar to Guayaquil, perhaps a tad cooler. Tends to be in the upper 80’s during the day, and the 70’s in the evenings.
Here are some of the important points to consider if you are interested in Machala as a home.
- Safety – it is a good sized city, with a port. This pretty much guarantees that there are some sections of town where you probably should not be hanging out, especially after dark. We stayed two nights in the downtown area, and did not feel uncomfortable walking to and from dinner. The streets were well lit with good sidewalks, and a lot of people were out.
- Shopping – lots of good shopping. El Paseo Mall, SuperMaxi, Mega Kywi, a three story Boyaca to name but a few. Big mercados and of course fish markets. Several auto dealerships and service centers.
- Infrastructure – bus system, plentiful cabs, good internet options. The city is mostly clean, but there are some areas where trash is not collected as often or as thoroughly.
- Places to live – single family homes from $50,000 and up, 2/3 bedroom condos starting around $100k. Mix of some very attractive areas, and some very sketchy ones, as you would expect in a city
- Health Care – two hospitals in town, one private, one IESS, a lot of doctor/dentist/women’s health clinics, especially in the newer district
- Culture – not much in the way of museums or art galleries, but many attractive parks with temporary displays/festivals. Many restaurants that looked very good, and a variety of ethnic foods.
- Expats – none to speak of. This is not a place to consider if you are not comfortable being a trailblazer. We found the people we talked to to be very friendly, and happy to work with our bad Spanish, but we did not see a single gringo, and English speakers were rare.
To sum up, I would say that if you are interested in city life, want the warm climate, and have a decent command of the Spanish language, Machala may appeal to you. It has city conveniences without being too large, you can live there pretty cheaply, and plenty of new things to see and do. If you get tired of the city there is the ferry to the beach, or a drive or bus trip of just a few hours will take you into some very interesting mountain villages – and Loja is about 4 hours away. Keep in mind there will not be an expat community if that is something you are looking for.
Hope you enjoyed this glimpse of Machala. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Next stop, Playas!