Machala is a commercial center for the surrounding agriculture industries. There is a large trade in bananas, coffee and cocoa. The banana industry is especially oriented for exportation, and plays a huge role in the city's economy. Bananas are shipped out from nearby Puerto Bolívar mainly to North America. Machala's geographical position near Guayaquil also makes it an important transportation center. Many travelers heading south to Peru or north to Guayaquil funnel through the city. It is not known as a tourist destination among Ecuadorians or international tourists though its proximity to the Pacific Ocean positions it close to beaches. Machala has a growing economy that was marked in 2007 by the inauguration of its first mall, with a movie theater, on the outskirts of the city.
The center of Machala is dominated by a large Catholic church and a central plaza. The plaza was built in the early 2000s to include a large fountain. There are many hotels situated in the center of the city. Las Brisas, located nearly a mile from the central plaza, is another popular place in Machala. It is a wealthier neighborhood which used to serve as a popular hang out for local teenagers. But the remodeling of La Zona Rosa, as well as the decreased safety of the area have led to it becoming less popular.
Machala has two universities, the Universidad Técnica de Machala and the "UTSAM,", Universidad Tecnologica San Antonio de Machala. There are many private schools in Machala and one public high school- Colegio 9 De Octubre. The city serves as a stopping-off point on the way to nearby Puerto Bolívar and the Jambelí Islands, which can only be reached by ferry.