Formed by a complex of canals and virtually untouched emerald-green islands, humid and dry forests and mist-covered hills, the Manglares-Churute Ecological Reserve is truly impressive.
The Reserve was named a wetland of global importance (RAMSAR) in 1990, and contains three important highlights: El Canclón Lake, the Churute hills and the mangrove forests. The abundant plant life varies greatly from zone to zone, with 50 foot (15m) high mangroves in the coastal areas, vivid orchids in the forests and floating plants in the wetlands. The dry forest is also home to various medicinal plants, traditionally employed by local people to cleanse and cure.
Located in an area of relatively low humidity in the interior of the Gulf of Guayaquil and the lower River Guayas basin, the tidal waters that periodically submerge this part of the coast are a mixture of salt and freshwater, allowing the five varieties of mangrove found here – and the creatures that depend on them – to thrive.
To really get to know the area, a boat trip out to the mangroves with the local crab pickers is well worthwhile. The journey provides a real insight into the lives of local communities that depend on the mangrove for their livelihood. Each crab must be pulled by (thickly gloved) by hand from the muddy swamps surrounding the mangrove roots and tied in bunches to a wooden plank, known as a ‘plancha’, before being sent to various parts of the country and turned into delicious meals.
But the Churute Reserve is not only mangroves. Evidence been found here of a number of Pre Hispanic cultures: Valdivia Chorrera, Guangala, Jambelí and particularly Guayaquil, one of the oldest of the country whose archaeological remains correspond to a period between the years 2, 400 and 1, 800 B.C. This area is thought to have been their power centre and the most outstanding remains liked to this ancient culture are the ‘Tolas’ (small mounds) and ‘Conchales’ that can be seen dispersed within the Reserve, although some have been threatened by agriculture and the construction of shrimp pools.
The ‘Tolas’ are distributed throughout the region. At Km 21 of Durán-Boliche road there are 64 ‘Tolas’, the biggest being 120 m long and 12 m high.
Another of the Reserve’s attractions is the opportiunity to see, and above all hear the audibly impressive howler monkeys that live here. Howler monkeys are endangered as a result of hunting and loss of their natural habitat, but enough of these impressive creatures are concentrated in the area to make glimpsing them in the forest canopy likely, and hearing their deep growls fill the forest is a memorable experience. Among the many mammals living within the Reserve’s borders are, white faced monkeys, and two-toed sloths.
The Reserve is also home to many wading and migratory birds from the North that rest here in March, April, November and December, especially on English Island, and El Canclón Lake. The latter is named after its most famous inhabitant – the endangered horned screamer (Canclón), with its long crest and piercing call.
Along the marshy coastline the visitor can also find tree frogs and iguanas. These species are amongst the most threatened in the Reserve, due to their sensitivity to environmental fluctuations.
The El Canclón Lagoon is a rain fed lake of about 800 Ha., spectacularly nestled amongst low green hills. Besides the Horned Screamer there are many other types of water birds to be seen in the Lagoon, as well as the turtles which nest on its shores in the dry months of November and December
The sound of the howler monkeys can travel up to a distance of 5km, and with a little luck the traveler will be able to see groups of them feeding high in the forest canopy.
The ‘Tolas’ (small mounds, and other archeological remains to be found in and around the Reserve.
Ecuador´s coast is warm and humid, even at night. The average annual temperature of the Reserve is 28 degrees C. The rainy season is from January-April, while November and December are the driest months.
What to bring:
Insect repellent (minimum 30% DEET).
Light, protective clothing (long sleeved shirt and long trousers).
Rain poncho or light, waterproof jacket during the rainy season.
Plenty of drinking water.
Binoculars for bird-watching.
How to get here:
The main access to the Reserve is situated on the road between the coastal cities of Guayaquil and Machala in the Province of El Oro. From Guayaquil take route 70 and then route 25 heading towards Naranjal.
Local traditions and folklore:
When the Spanish arrived in the region, they found Chono settlements, which formed part of the Milagro culture (700 B.C.) that came here from the Amazon region. In the XVII century, the Guayas basin began to be populated by the Creoles and Mestizos.
The area by numbers:
• 55,212: The area, in hectares, of the Reserve.
• 300: The number of bird species, including 27 endemic species.
• 95: The length, in centimeters, of the horned screamer.
• 45: Species of mammals identified here.
• 5: Types of mangrove found here.