is located 10 minutes by car heading north from Puerto López
, on the right side of the highway to Machalilla
Lying next to the Buena Vista River is a complex of temples, plazas and dwellings left by the Manteño Culture, a civilization which reached the peak of its development more than 1,500 years ago in this area.
For the interested tourist
, this site has to offer an archaeological museum
, funerary urns
and the local customs practiced in the town of Agua Blanca
, as well as nearby natural ecotourism
attractions, such as sulfur springs
and secondary forests
The Agua Blanca archaeological site is located in the heart of Machalilla National Park, and the culture’s most important center was the Salangome chiefdom. At its peak period, the site contained nearly 600 structures.
The archaeological ruins at the Agua Blanca site are sparsely dispersed just the south of equator line (O1°30"S, 80°45”E) in the Buena Vista River Costal Valley. They represent the nucleus of the Manteño Culture’s intensive occupation of this valley, as well as being one of the largest and best preserved archaeological sites in the north. The ruins probably served as the capital of Salangome, which was one of the most powerful chiefdoms on the Ecuadorian coast. Manteño chiefdoms such as Jocay, Picoazá and Salangome exerted political and economic rule over a large territory in Ecuador’s Central Coast, but to date very little is known about their political, economic and ideological institutions. During the Manteño Culture period (A.D. 800 – A.D. 1532), stone was used in building construction at larger settlements. The current archeological sites that remain well preserved present an opportunity to identify architectural patterns with a precision that will open new doors for analyzing the underlying social institutions of the populations that inhabited them.
MANTEÑO CULTURE STONE SEATS
Visible at surface level at the Agua Blanca site are traces of the various Manteño architectural complexes built using stone foundations. Furthermore, adding to the site’s significance is the fact that it still contains many fragments of the Manteño Culture’s stone seats. These seats – once the primary symbol of status in Manteño society – are built around certain architectural structures. The aforementioned stone seats of the Machalilla Culture have been studied by various researchers over the years, leading to both serious and speculative interpretations. In addition, some seats were removed from their original locations by local landowners, who then shipped many of the artifacts abroad. These shipments mostly took place during the 19th century and were done without keeping a precise record of the artifacts’ place of origin.
PREHISTORIC SETTLEMENT OF BUENA VISTA RIVER VALLEY
In 1979, a land survey was carried out on the lower Buena Vista River, starting from its mouth in Puerto López Bay and ending at Vueltas Largas, some 12km inland. The surface collections included materials covering all of the cultural periods found on the coast. Early formative settlement began in Valdivia and expanded progressively from there. The archaeological visibility of early sites is gravely impeded due to erosion and alluvial sediment deposits. As a result, the settlement patterns delineated in the area are a weak representation of the valley’s full occupation. At the end of the pre-Columbian cultural period, Manteño occupation of the valley was structured through a hierarchy of well-organized settlements. The following criteria are suggested as a provisional method of classifying the settlement systems: 1. Public centers – architectural compounds that include stone structures of more than 40 meters in length, as well as the corresponding stone seats; 2. Primary residential compound - grouping of stone structures 10-40 meters in length, as well the corresponding stone seats; 3. Secondary residential compound – grouping of stone structures less than 10 meters in length; 4. Grouping of domestic units – where the density and distribution of material culture suggest an aggregation of houses; 5. Short-term occupation – where the scarce distribution of material suggests a single house or short-term activity. The Manteño settlement pattern revolves around public and residential architectural compounds that are associated with stone seats. Apart from Agua Blanca, no such seats are found at any archaeological sites within or nearby the territory of the Salangome chiefdom. Therefore, Agua Blanca would appear to have played an important administrative role throughout the chiefdom.
MODERN AGUA BLANCA
The modern era is seen as beginning around 1905. At this point, five families already inhabited Agua Blanca, moving there from an area nearby what are now the outer limits of Machalilla National Park. According to accounts by the first settlers, the landscape was notable for its abundant vegetation. Around this time, one Joaquín González, hoping to seize most of the land in the area, managed to relocate the inhabitants of his estates and force the departure of the Museo, Fausto, Ramírez and Serafín families. Once achieving this, González sold his holdings to Prudencio Vallejo, owner of the local inn. Vallejo registered his purchased land under the name Hacienda Agua Blanca and began several projects to exploit its natural resources, such as palm ivory and lumber, as well as herding cattle and raising horses. During this period, the palm ivory was exported to Europe, especially Germany, shipping from Puerto Machalilla, which was an old parish. As time went on, Vallejo became a large landholder, thanks to his acquisition of several nearby haciendas. After 1930, people living in the area organized and formed a committee to create a commune (a form of local government) that would allow them to protect their rights, as well as the little land that remained free from private ownership. The fight to achieve this goal went on for more than 30 years until February 15, 1965, when the Agua Blanca Commune became a legally recognized entity through Inter-Ministerial Resolution No. 33-34. The first representatives of the newly created commune were: Humberto Martínez Muños, president; Carlos Pilozo Peñafiel, vice president; Elisa Alban Ventura, treasurer; Pedro Alban Ventura, trustee; and José Claudio Pilozo Mera, secretary. This organization's achievements include projects focused on education and religion in the commune. It also established the communal house, which today houses the archaeology museum, overseen by the local community.
The area’s cultural and natural wealth, as well as its scenic beauty, gave rise to rumors during 1976-1978 of an ambitious project to create a protected zone for the purpose of scientific research. In 1979, Machalilla National Park was created, with the Agua Blanca Commune at its heart. Over more than a decade's worth of fieldwork, the Agua Blanca archaeology project has developed a strong relationship with the local community - one that is based on researching, protecting and preserving the cultural resources in Machalilla National Park. The site is now considered one of the major pre-Columbian centers in the northern Andes and is visited by thousands of people every year. The project’s greatest achievement is involving the local community, whose inhabitants now oversee the management and projection of these cultural resources. A critical and catalyzing factor for this constructive change has been the community's recovery of its cultural identity. Agua Blanca is a model of how a community can subsist using its natural and cultural resources by means of ecotourism, without resorting to the indiscriminate exploitation of these resources.
HOW TO GET THERE
The main office is located 5km north of Puerto López, next to the Buena Vista River bridge. Here, information is available for visiting sites of interest within the park.