One of the largest banana exporters in the world, El Oro, is in southern Ecuador. The province is divided in 14 cantons and features a wide range of attractions, such as the colonial town of Zaruma, petrified forest of the Puyango River, and the island of Santa Clara, to name a few.
Famous for its abundant production of high-quality bananas, El Oro is a primarily agriculture, commercial province and is home to one of the nations major ports, Puerto Bolívar. With calm-water, mangrove-backed beaches, the island of Jambelí is one of the Province’s most popular tourist attraction. In general, the area’s semi-humid tropical climate (average temperature of 23 degrees centigrade) makes El Oro a great destination for sun-seekers.
The capital of El Oro province, every September 24th, Machala celebrates the World Banana Fair with a variety of events, such as the selection of the Banana Queen. Commerce has turned it into a lively town, with first-class accommodations and restaurants offering delicious local delicacies. The main square, Abdón Calderón, with its Cathedral, and the residential sectors are worth a visit. Trying some of the coast's best seafood in Puerto Bolívar is also a must. Most hotels are situated in the centre of the city.
Also worth seeing in Machala is the Isla del Amor which has an amazing abundance of birdlife. You can rent a canoe and paddle around the mangrove swamps on your own or take a motorized boat tour of the harbour – or both if you prefer.
Other excursions can be made to nearby beaches, such as Playas Bravita (35 minutes), or to Costa Rica (2 hours). Take always your passport because a military base is crossed by on the way. The beaches are long and quite deserted, yet very beautiful.
There are also the the bathing complex of Las Casitas an estuary located in the channel formed by Pongal Island.
South America’s oldest forest lies 110km South from Machala, covering an area of 2,659 hectares. In this small valley, we find an incredible variety of tree, vegetable, and animal fossils that date back to prehistoric times and constitute one of the planet’s most important ecosystems. The fossilized tree trunks meassure up to 1.6m in diameter dating back 300 million years. It is also an important spot for birdwatching with over 130 species of birds and perhaps more.
Beyond the scientific interest, the trees that have turned into stone are quite an amazing site. The natural scenery of the area is one of the planets only tropical dry forests and is the home of a variety of native plantlife like the Guayacan, Petrino, Buganvilla and animal life like deer, armadillo, squirells, Pecare wild pigs, hawks, doves, woodpeckers, tanagers and other species.
Puerto Bolivar, the city's outport and one of Ecuador's leading banana-exporting points, is to the southwest.
The port itself is protected by mangroves and during the day makes a pleasant waterfront detour with motorized boat services available for crossing to the Jambeli beaches which are the locals favorite vacation spot from Machala bustling town center.
El Oro’s main attraction is the Jambelí archipelago, a group of small islands surrounded by mangroves, with clean beaches, calm water, and abundant vegetation. The islands can be reached by motorboat from Puerto Bolívar on a 1/2 hour ride. Small hotels and restaurants offer basic facilities for visitors. Jambeli is visited by many people from the mountain region especially in February when it is hot and humid. Small hotels and restaurants offer basic facilities for visitors.
Santa Rosa is a small agricultural town lying a few kilometers south of the border with Peru, famous for its August shrimp festival and the best ceviche contest, they name the Shrimp king from the most important shrimp farmers and there is a beauty pageant where they elect the international shrimp queen. Just five minutes away is Puerto Jelí, a small fishing town located at the delta of Buenavista river famous for its exquisite preparation of sea food, there are many great places to eat. Tours to the Mangroves and the beach of Las Casitas can be organized opposite the dock.
Natural attractions for ecotourist are La Tembladera lake and the Rio Chico cascades a sweetwater swimming area.There are som archaeological sites and possibilities to visit shrimp farms.
Zaruma a small gold mining town located on a hilltop. A quiet village whose beautiful colonial homes made of wood with overhanging balcones and unique architecture have made it a national heritage site. While in town, be sure to try a cup of the town's delicious coffee, produced locally in a climate which is also warm and sunny.
Next to the beautifully laid out plaza is a gold museum that gives the entire history of the various gold operations up to the current day and visitors can often see these operations going on today from rock-crushing facilities to other types of operations. The churches are very interesting and the architecture is formed through very well made wooden construction while the town is built on a high mountain top which sports great scenic views as well as a swimming pool with great panoramic views of the valleys below.
Visitors to Zaruma can also visit the gold mines and an archaeological museum with an ethnographic display of the Cultural groups from El Oro, Loja and Azuay. There is a orchid farm that has a fine collection with several hundred species. Finally there is a lake called Chiva Turco which is a natural sanctuary and is used in Shamanic and natural medicine rituals.
Seven km outside of Zaruma and 80 km from Machala is Portovelo, a city famous for having the country's oldest gold mines. Portovelo is also home to beautiful colonial houses dating back to the beginning of the last century. An interesting place to visit while around are the main heated thermal springs known as Aguas Calientes (Hot springs), located just 6 km from Portovelo.
A quiet very pleasant wooden colonial town. Piñas (which translates to “pineapples,” was founded 1815, the town is known throughout Ecuador as the “Orchid of the Andes” due to the many wild orchids found in this cloud-forested region of southern Ecuador. Offers a wealth of features for the eco-traveler!
The Orchid gardens can be visited any day of the week and are easy to get to since they are downtown on Ave. Sucre and Jose J. Olmedo. This 1.0 hectare orchid garden contains all of the major orchid varieties found in the region. The Orquideario is managed by Fundación Piñas Oasis Ecologico, a private, non-profit foundation. The orquideario also contains a variety of bromeliads and heleconias. This is one of the countries only orchid collections that is well classified with a complete inventory.
There is also a walking tour of the most common native trees found in Ecuador, known as native tree walk and is located on the local hillside known as Patagrande or Cerro de Cristo which serves as a great lookout. It is also a catholic adoration center and is adorned by the colorful holy week parade with the stages of the cross.
A few minutes outside of Piñas on the coastal highway you can visit the Buenaventura cloudforest which is managed by Jocotoco foundation. This is a major destination for bird watchers largely due to the Oro Parakeet which was discovered in the area in the late 1980’s and is endemic to this habitat along with other rare birds. there are 30 different species of Hummingbirds, hawks, and other bird species are common in the Reserve. Buenaventura has several trails and interpretation stations and a refuge for visitors.
The area has over 320 bird species found in the 1,500 hectares of forest in this region.
Pasaje is a small town in El Oro province. In the parrish of El Progreso it is possible to practice agritourism, there are farms open to tourism so people can learn about the ecological production of Cacao and Bananas. Nearby is the town of Uzhcurrumi ; 45 minutes by road on the old highway to Cuenca this colorful village has old traditions and the main form of commerce is barter, here you can observe people from the Coast and the Andes trading products.