There are larger national parks in the world, but Machalilla National Park manages to fit an extraordinary amount of ecological diversity into its 550 square kilometers (212 square miles). The park includes two types of forest: a rain forest and a tropical dry forest, unique to South America at lower elevations. There are also two islands, pre-Columbian ruins and some of Ecuador‘s most beautiful, and unspoiled, beaches. An estimated 270 different animal species live in the park, including jaguars. Though a sighting of one of these elusive, nocturnal animals is rare, you will know they are there, if unseen, as you explore.

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