7 things to do in Manta and its surroundings, in Ecuador

On Ecuador’s central coast, the capital of Manabí can help you discover some of the country’s most iconic traditions

Mariana Campos Getty Images

Published November 2019

1. First of all, have some fresh shellfish

“The freshest fish and shellfish in Ecuador” is a statement you’ll hear a lot in Manta. And it’s right. To try the ingredients recently caught from the ocean, head to Playa de Tarqui, specifically the Playita Mía sector.

There you’ll find Parque de los mariscos, an area with several restaurants that offer: tuna, shrimp (caught from their natural habitat, not from artificial farms), and great dishes, like pinchagua ceviche with peanut.

Another can’t-miss dish in Manta is biche (or viche), a soup made with fresh fish, peanut, potatoes, and carrots, among other vegetables. Roasted albacore fish, crab rice, and corviche (a dumpling made with peanut, fish, and vegetables) are among the delicacies you can try in the city.


2. Sand and sun on the beaches in Manta

A total of 13 beaches are part of this coastal city, one of the favorite summer destinations of Ecuadorians. White sands and clear waters attract thousands of locals and foreigners. Almost all of them are in Manta or close by, and the most popular is Playa Murciélago, almost 1.9 miles [3 km] long. It’s nearby many hotels and inns.

Its Malecón Escénico is the ideal place to buy handicrafts and try typical dishes. In addition, it has a wooden walkway so that people with disabilities can get closer to the ocean.

Another good option for anyone who doesn’t mind leaving the city is Playa de San Lorenzo. Located 17.5 miles [28 km] from downtown Manta, it’s very popular among water sports lovers. Take the trail to the lighthouse for a gorgeous view, the perfect scenery for pictures that will make your Instagram account even more beautiful.


3. Visit the Museo Cancebí

If you have anthropological curiosity, you need to visit this museum. There you’ll find dozens of pieces that will help you understand how Cancebí countrymen and fishermen lived, a native people that inhabited the region before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors. With seven exhibition halls, the highlight is the reproduction of a typical Manabí country house, made of cane and palm leaves. Among the artifacts on display are kitchen utensils, like clay pots, mates (squashes cut in half), and also items for agriculture.

The museum is installed in a manor, formerly home to Hotel Aragonés, built in 1908 and one of the first hotels in the city.

4. Excursion to Machalilla National Park

A one-day activity to explore many of the natural wonders in Ecuador. Some 62 miles [100 km] south of Manta, Machalilla is one of the largest protected areas on the country’s coast.

Expect to see unique coral reefs in the Pacific and have contact with animals that visit the area, as the waters are located on transit routes of several migrating species. On Isla de la Plata (known as such because Francis Drake supposedly hid his treasures there), humpback whales mate and have their calves, while blue-footed boobies put on a show, diving into the ocean every once in a while. This always takes place between June and October.

The terrestrial portion of the park is inhabited by jaguars, ocelots, deer, armadillos, and howler monkeys. In total, the diversity within the National Park is translated into 81 species of mammals, 270 species of birds, and 143 types of fish.


5. Visit Pile, the village where the famous Panama hats are made

Some 31 miles [50 km] from Manta is a village with dirt roads where there’s no cell phone reception. In the surroundings of this village of 1,000 inhabitants grows toquilla straw, the raw material used to produce the world’s most valuable straw hat.

It was Theodore Roosevelt, a former president of the United States, who popularized the accessory when he was photographed wearing it in Panama, during a visit to the construction site of the Canal, in 1906. That’s why the sombrero became known as “Panama hat,” even though it’s entirely made on the Ecuadorian coast.

Currently in Pile, many families specialize in making the product, which can cost up to US$25,000 each, depending on the straw.

When you visit the village, talk to the weavers to learn how this craft and product have survived throughout the years, winning over new fans across the world.


6. Go kitesurfing at Santa Marianita

If you love adventure and water sports, don’t miss the opportunity to go kitesurfing on the best beach in Latin America for the sport. Thirty minutes south of Manta, Santa Marianita has 5 miles [8 km] of sands and an open sea horizon. Recently, it has become the perfect spot for anyone who wants to escape the city’s hustle, and it has different services to welcome visitors.

There are schools at Santa Marianita for all types of athletes, where you can find the necessary gear to start sliding on the water.

7. Nature in the Pacoche Reserve

Over 5,000 hectares of coastal vegetation comprise this haven, famous among bird watchers. Founded in 2008, the Pacoche Reserve on Cabo de San Lorenzo is a great place to have contact with nature and, accompanied by a guide, see howler monkeys, the region’s typical inhabitants.

There are four beaches within the reserve. Between September and December, Playa de San Lorenzo becomes a spawning spot for sea turtles.


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