518km (322 miles) S of Quito; 191km (119 miles) S of Guayaquil; 73km (45 miles) N of Huaquillas

The capital of El Oro province, Machala is an agricultural city at the heart of Ecuador's banana belt. In fact, the city bills itself as "The Banana Capital of the World," and banana plantations extend for kilometers in every direction. Most of this massive banana production is shipped out of Puerto Bolívar, about 6.5km (4 miles) west of Machala's downtown. Puerto Bolívar is a major port and shipping center. In addition to bananas, this region produces and ships large quantities of cacao, pineapples, and farm-raised shrimp. In many ways, Puerto Bolívar, its seafront Malecón packed with shops, restaurants, and bars, is more attractive to tourists than Machala.

Indeed, for most tourists Machala is simply a necessary transit stop from both Guayaquil and Cuenca on the way to Peru. While here, you can tour nearby mangroves, visit the beach at Jambelí, or take a tour of a unique petrified forest down near the Peruvian border.