MACHALA, Ecuador – The Puyango River Valley in southwestern Ecuador is home to a petrified forest with a large number of trunks that were turned by a cataclysm more than 100 million years ago from trees into granite.
The petrified forest, located on the border of El Oro and Loja provinces, provides visitors with a chance to observe the tree trunks lying on the ground, learn about wildlife and plants, and enjoy the great variety of foods served in the area.
The forest, one hour by bus from Santa Rosa Airport in El Oro, is among the new destinations being promoted by the Tourism Ministry as part of its Viaje Primero Ecuador program to spread the word about Ecuador’s attractions.
Puyango Petrified Forest, which is on Ecuador’s Natural and Cultural Heritage List, covers 2,659 hectares (6,000 acres) of subtropical dry jungle between 300 meters and 500 meters (985 feet and 1,640 feet) above sea level, with an average temperature of 22 C (71 F).
The petrified forest was discovered in 1971 and researchers have found fossils in the area dating to the Cretaceous period (between 65 million and 120 million years ago), Miriam Cordoba, a guide who was born in the area, said.
Although the area is considered rich in fossil deposits, studies have only scratched the surface in an attempt to protect the region, where inviting waterfalls beckon to visitors in the heat of the day.
Many tourists do take a plunge and residents say that a swim in the pristine waters of the streams winding through the region is good for one’s health.
Trails lead to the petrified tree trunks, which are of different lengths and thicknesses, and many of them have shapes that seem to have been cut with precision tools.
Only by touching them can a visitor be convinced that these are stone trunks and no longer living plants.
The Araucaria coniferous trees lived some 300 million years ago in the area and were buried by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
Tidal waves added high levels of pressure to the organic matter, preventing it from rotting in the absence of oxygen.
Some 10,000 visitors travel to the protected area around Puyango Petrified Forest each year, and park managers are working to expand the infrastructure needed to welcome more tourists, who are mainly from nearby Peru.