Tourism in Manta and Manabí Province
By Mark Bradbury
As the admin for a Coastal Facebook group here in Manta, I have seen so many requests from people wanting to know what the area has to offer as far as tourism attractions go. It makes me crazy when someone from the group says “Oh, there’s nothing to do in Manta.” It sets off the invisible fireworks in my head!
There are so many tourism options available here in the greater Manta area, and so many more all over Manabí Province. I am going to talk about some of the things to do here in Manta, and then I will touch on some of the other sites throughout the province.
The first, and most obvious, attraction is the number of beaches and waterfront everywhere along the Coast. The Canton of Manta has twelve beaches just within its borders, and there are over 350 kilometers of oceanfront in Manabí, starting down south in Ayampe, and stretching north past Pedernales and Jama. Certainly, there is a beach that will suit your needs somewhere along the Pacific coastline if you cannot find one inside the confines of Manta and its suburbs.
Water sports? What would you like to do? You can start with surfing; Manta’s main beach, Playa Murciélago, is a hotspot for surfers from all over South America. There are several major competitions held here every year because of the quality of the waves. If Playa Murciélago is too much for you, you can go south to Playa La Tiñosa, where you will find a smaller beach with a good break, more than suitable for what you need. Ayampe, three hours south of Manta, is also a surfer’s paradise, as is Canoa, an hour and a half north of Manta. You can find great waves to surf in Manta and Manabí, with several great options!
Do you want to try something different? How about kiteboarding? Santa Marianita, on the southern edge of the Canton, is known across the country as the “Kiteboarding Capital of Ecuador!” Last time I checked, there are at least three schools for learning this amazing sport based right along the beach. On a clear, windy day during kiteboarding season, you might see ten to twenty kites spread out along the beach, in full color and speeding across the tops of the waves! It is a blast watching these people flying around even if you don’t want to participate.
Do you like to get underwater for a little sightseeing? There are several options available here for scuba diving, snorkeling, and other adventures! There is one company that has underwater sleds that they tow while you hold on and get a terrific ride.
There are boats on the beaches in various places that will take you out for some sightseeing, including harbor tours, whale watching (in season), and there is even a big inflatable banana that you can ride, with full expectations of getting wet. There is also a boat at Murciélago Beach that will strap you into a parachute and get you airborne over the beach. There are also some local companies that will take you out for some reef fishing close to shore, or out deep for the big boys! Nothing to do? I don’t think so!
Let’s get off the beaches and out of the water. Like the watersports side of things, the land-based opportunities are abundant if you would like to do in-city or quick day trips from Manta. There are many possibilities to explore our great city by car or by bus if you would like to see the area.
South of Manta, on the Ruta del Spondylus, National Highway E15, there are some great tourist spots. One of the most popular for visitors to the region is the Pacoche Rainforest tour. Pacoche is a jewel that holds many wonders, including two species of monkeys, a wide variety of birds, tiny miniature frogs, big hairy tarantulas, and a myriad of jungle plants and palms. It is a special treat to do the hike through the forest but be warned; you will get wet and muddy in there, so dress appropriately!
Just a few miles down the road is San Lorenzo, both the town and the beach. San Lorenzo Beach faces west and sometimes gets some big surf, too. Situated on the small mountain at the north end of the beach is El Faro, the red and white lighthouse that has become a landmark along our coast. El Faro has a trail that is quite challenging, but once at the top it offers you some incredible scenery in every direction. For those that make it to the top, the mountain rewards you with unforgettable views!
You can stay at one of the hotels along the beach in San Lorenzo, and after having a hearty breakfast, you can continue your southern swing with a trip to the village of Liguiqui, home to an ancient Ecuadorian civilization that built fish corrals with the rocks on the beach. At low tide, these corrals still trap all sorts of sea life, functioning today as they have for 1500 years and helping the local people with food and products to sell. Octopus is one of the most common treats found in the tide pools inside the rocks.
Are you into history? There are several great museums with some terrific artifacts from the different civilizations that have made the Province their home for the past few thousand years. There are two in the City of Manta, the National Bank Museum and the Cancebi Museum. The Bank Museum is across the street from Playa Murciélago and offers some of the best artifacts that you will see in the province. They have a collection of several distinct cultures, with ceramic and stone relics abundant. They also have a few metal pieces, as well.
The Cancebi Museum is in the El Centro area, a block in from the Central Park along Malecón Avenue, along the water. Central Park is easy to find, and you just need to ask someone where the Cancebi is. If you go east along the water, there is a pedestrian footbridge that goes over the Malecón; get off there and the park will be right in front of you. The Cancebi has just been remodeled and is currently hosting the photography of a well-known local artist. It is quite different from the Bank Museum; both are worth visiting.
There is another museum that I have heard good things about, but it is not always open. It is in the village of Pacoche, close to the Rainforest. I have not been able to catch them when they have been open, but some of the local guides may be able to help you if you want to visit. Please let us know if you get to visit and tell us how!
Portoviejo is the capital city of the province and it, plus the surrounding area, has a few cool spots to check out. These can be done in a day trip from Manta, or you could stay in the city for a couple of days. Portoviejo has some nice municipal parks; my favorite (and many others) is Parque Las Vegas. Las Vegas is a big, sprawling park with lots to offer, but one of my favorites was the mural wall, featuring quite a few local artists, many of whom painted scenes from the April 2016 Earthquake, a 7.8 monster that did an awful lot of damage in Portoviejo and Manta. Both cities have done an excellent job of rebuilding and reactivation. La Rotunda is another very nice park in Portoviejo.
I took part in a bus tour three years ago that went to an incredibly interesting archaeological site and museum about 15 minutes from downtown Portoviejo. It is Cerro Hojas – Jaboncillo, and it is said that this is a lost city that may be the largest ancient settlement in South America, larger even than Machu Picchu in Peru. They have a first-class museum, with some great displays, and you can go to the top of the mountain to visit the actual location of the city itself. Archaeologists have since discovered that this city is spread out over several small mountains that formed the nucleus of the Mantegña Culture, which was the dominant civilization in this region for about 1500-2000 years. If you are into discovery, this is a place you will want to visit.
Speaking of small mountains, there is one that has some pretty cool elements! It is also about 15-20 minutes outside of Portoviejo. It is called El Tigre, and it has some adventurous attractions like a swing that goes out over the edge of the mountain, similar to the famous one in Baños de Agua Santa, in the Sierra. There is a deck that is suspended over the edge, and lots of photo ops in every direction. It is a very scenic area, especially in the rainier months, when everything is green.
Manabí is a large province. It has a wide variety of sights to see, from coastal beaches and rock formations to the scenic coastal mountains that run throughout the region. There are farms of every kind, some of which can be visited for the day, with tours and activities to enjoy. There are longboat canoe rides on Poza Honda, Manta’s biggest reservoir, and scenic tours of another large lake, Esperanza. Birdwatching tours and kayak trips, where you will feel that you just stepped out of the real world into a world of yesteryear, are also available.
Birdwatching is a great pastime here in Manabí. Birds of every shape, size, and color live here or migrate through here on their way to somewhere else. Shorebirds are everywhere along the Coast, even the famous blue-footed boobies of Galápagos legend. Just recently, Chilean flamingos have been spotted by several people right here in Manta, in the La Poza marsh area, along the waterfront. I have hummingbird feeders, and we see several species of hummers right on my balcony. The amount of bird species right here in my neighborhood in Manta always amazes me. Bring your binoculars and logbooks! You are going to need them!
So please don’t listen to those who would have you think there is nothing to do here! Manta and the Manabí Province have enough to keep you busy for weeks! And don’t get me started on how great the food options are here. Manabí Province is famous all over the country for having the best food, and I can tell you that the rumor is true. You can spend 30 days and nights here and get something delicious to eat for every meal! Just the icing on our cake, I would say!
So, if you haven’t started packing your bags yet, what are you waiting for? Manta is getting better every day, and we are waiting for you!