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419km (260 miles) W of Quito; 196km (122 miles) NW of Guayaquil

Manta is a city of many faces, but at its core it's an industrial port -- the second largest port in Ecuador, after Guayaquil. Inhabited for centuries, Manta was a major trading port for the pre-Columbian ManteƱa people who gave the town its name. The conquering Incas also used Manta as a port. Today the city has a population of some 200,000 and is home to a large university, as well as a controversial U.S. airbase. It also makes a respectable stab at being a beach town, with a couple of good beaches located right near the center of the city. But Manta's appeal as a beach getaway is much more geared toward Ecuadoreans looking for a quick, easy weekend or holiday spot than to foreign tourists in search of holiday bliss. The latter group generally uses the city's airport as a convenient gateway to beaches north and south of Manta.