Any journey to the Ecuadorian coast conjures up images of peaceful seas, a cool breeze, fishermen, beachfront cabins, sand and seafood. But the largest portion of the province of Manabí is a world away from the ocean (although never far in spirit).
In Manabí, landscapes transform into a rainbow of ecosystems (forests dry and wet, rivers, estuaries), where the fertile earth bears abundant crops, where families sit by their windows in elegant stilt houses, looking at the world go by; picturesque churches; colorful murals… Reasons abound to truly explore the rugged hinterland and its recintos (or communities).
If you do decide to visit these parts, make sure it’s on a weekend, when you’ll see the best of small-town life. This is when towns come alive with families heading out to eat, take advantage of local tourism activities, which includes bathing in rivers and weekend football matches.
We began our explorations heading inland from Manta to Rio Chico on a Sunday, only five minutes from the town of Rocafuerte, where, incidentally, you must not miss the sweet biscuits and rum-raisin ice cream at Los Almendros.
Although we missed the height of market bustle (stands were all sold out by 2 pm), it was the perfect time to visit family ‘quintas’ and grab a bit to eat. These are community farms that on weekends welcome visitors for recreation. At La Balsita, where a beautiful river runs through a lush green landscape, we visited Don Tito. You should taste the seco de chivo (goat stew), chicken soup and ‘palizadas’ (the bones, a local delicacy), cooked over a wood fire, as well as the ‘cuajadas’ or ‘suero’ (curds and whey).
The constant trickle of people arriving keeps everything animated. Children run wild, dipping in and out of the river, while servers run in and out of the kitchen, with dishes to serve to the grown-ups at tables. Despite the hustle and bustle, time slows down as people languish for an entire afternoon hanging out Manabí style, amid unique flavors, the river’s flowing current, card games and conversation.
If this is Eden, she must be Eve; road to Río Chico.
We can also head north to Calceta. To get there from Manta, we must take the road from Rocafuerte, past Tosagua. Calceta is known as the “city of two rivers and an estuary”. This was the home of Dumas Mora, who, with his hat, a machete at his side, and neverending conversation, watched life go by from his hammock (he unfortunately passed away in 2018). At El Corozo, the classic ‘montuvio’ landscape is highlighted by the beautiful, tall and colorful homes of the Manabí farmers; you can even dare take a look and venture inside one of them to discover the artisanal stovetops, hammocks, and a way of life that exceeds imagination. The roads are full of cocoa trees, one of the main crops grown in the area.
People from the coast are friendly throughout and enjoy the visits
When heading to Montecristi, if you have some time on your hands, we also recommend the road to Crucita, a beautiful beach that fills up with people on weekends, and La Boca, the Portoviejo river delta… You continue to La Sequita, across an extensive tropical dry forest; you can head over to Higuerón de Rocafuerte and detour into the old and new Correaguas, an small path that traverses a distinctive water-dominated realm, with rice fields, plantations, quaint side-road houses, rivers, reaching Manabí’s oldest parish, Charapotó, with its imposing church, surrounded by the verdant alluvial plains north of Manta (which are quite the landscape when viewed from the hill that overlooks the village).
Many a visitor can then head north to the land of eternal sun, San Clemente, a lazy beach where hotels jokingly offer you your money back if it gets cloudy!
Coast of Crucita.
Only a few years ago, these paths were small dirt roads that not even adventurous souls would seek out; today, interestingly enough, they are stunning scenic routes, many of them paved, and easy to access, so you don’t have to be that adventurous after all to set out to explore life in the heart of Manabí.