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There's little of interest to tourists right in Machala. If you end up spending any time here, you should probably contact the local branch of Delgado Travel (tel. 07/2931-850), on Calle 9 de Mayo between avenidas Rocafuerte and Bolívar. These folks can arrange day trips to a nearby banana plantation, to the colonial city of Zaruma, or to the Petrified Forest of Puyango.

The most popular excursion from Machala is to the beach of Jambelí, on the tip of a mangrove archipelago that lies just off the coast. On weekends and holidays, locals flock here. The beach is a long, narrow expanse of hard-packed gray sand; it's lined with palm trees and makeshift huts built to provide shade. Though very crowded on weekends and holidays, Jambelí is usually almost empty at other times. Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and mosquito repellent. There are some simple restaurants and ceviche shacks along the beach. Many visitors prefer to take a boat tour through the mangroves, where the bird-watching is excellent. Boat taxis leave throughout the day from the pier in Puerto Bolívar for Jambelí. Boats leave roughly every half-hour, or when they fill up, between 7am and 6:30pm. The ride takes around 20 minutes, and the fare is $1.50 (£1) each way. Alternatively, you can hire an entire boat for up to 10 people for around $12 to $18 (£8-£12) per hour.

Down south of Machala, right near the Peruvian border, sits the Bosque Petrificado de Puyango (Petrified Forest of Puyango) (tel. 07/2960-055; www.bosquepuyango.ec), a unique dry-forest reserve with a vast collection of fossilized tree trunks, plants, leaves, flowers, fruits, and mollusks. Most of the fossils are approximately 100 million years old. The most common and impressive specimens here are the Araucarioxylon trunks, which are strewn across the landscape; the largest of these is some 15m (49 ft.) long, with a diameter of 2m (6 1/2 ft.). Puyango is 111km (69 miles) south of Machala. The reserve is open daily from 8am to 4:30pm. Admission is $1 (65p). The best way to visit here is on a guided tour out of Machala.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.