Aside from the beaches and beachfront promenades, and the activities they offer, there are very few attractions in Manta. The two main beaches in Manta are Playa de Tarqui and Playa Murciélago. Of these, Playa Murciélago is much better suited for those looking to do some sunbathing and swimming, or to join a pick-up game of beach volleyball or beach soccer. Most of Playa Murciélago is lined with a beachfront promenade called the Malecón Esenico, and features a concrete walkway lined with a steady string of open-air restaurants and souvenir stands. There's even a climbing wall at the western end of the Malecón Esenico. Playa Murciélago is the place to come if you want to rent a chaise lounge and shade umbrella on the sand. These are available for around $4 to $6 (£2.20-£3.30) per day.
Playa de Tarqui is in many ways a more atmospheric beach, where fishermen and boat builders still ply their trade. Of particular interest is the makeshift, open-air boatyard right on the beach just east of Río Manta; here you can watch as massive wooden commercial-fishing trawlers are built by skilled artisans. Be careful of any valuables in this area, and avoid the Tarqui Malecón at night, as it can be dangerous. If you walk a mile or more farther east along the beach, you can also find some beautiful and deserted patches of sand for sunbathing and swimming.
West from Playa Murciélago is Playa Barbasquillo, which is much less developed, although it's very rocky in places, with uninspiring brown sand in others.
If it's raining or you want a small dose of culture, you can head to the Museo del Banco Central (tel. 05/2612-878), on Avenida Malecón and Calle 7, in front of the bus station. The small museum here features a collection of pre-Columbian indigenous artifacts from the various tribes of the Manabí coast. The museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm. Admission is $1 (55p).
If you want to go sport fishing, inquire at your hotel desk, or head to the Manta Yacht Club (tel. 05/2623-505) and ask there. A full-day outing, with lunch and gear for up to four people fishing, should cost between $400 and $900 (£220-£500), depending upon the size of the boat and the distance traveled to the fishing grounds. A wide range of game fish can be caught, including marlin, sailfish, wahoo, and tuna.
Perhaps the most popular side trip out of Manta is to visit the "Panama hat" weavers and shops in nearby Montecristi. The misnamed Panama hat is actually native to Ecuador. In a calculated move, much of the massive manufacture of these headpieces has shifted to Cuenca. Thirty years ago there were over 2,000 hat weavers in and around Montecristi; today that number has dwindled to less than 50. But hats woven in Montecristi are still widely considered the best and most authentic in the country. Montecristi is located just 16km (10 miles) south of Manta. You can rent a car , or sign on for a guided tour at any of the hotels in town. In Montecristi you'll want to stop at Manufactura de Sombreros de Paja Toquilla, on Avenida 9 de Julio, the town's main street (tel. 09/7016-515). This place has a great selection, and will take you through the entire process of making one of these hats. Another good local hat shop is Manufacturas de Sombreros Finos Bertha Pachay, on Calle Rocafuerte and Avenida 10 de Agosto (tel. 09/3179-642). You'll find these hats for sale all over Manta, but if you want a wider selection, higher quality, and better price, it's worth a trip to Montecristi.
If you want to head farther afield, most hotel tour desks and tour operators in Manta also offer trips to Machalilla National Park, Isla de la Plata, and Puerto López, especially during whale-watching season.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.