Manta, Ecuador

Exploring the many rich histories of Manta, Ecuador

The port city of Manta (north of Guayaquil) is one of Ecuador’s largest cities. While it is primarily a seaport – home to the country’s major tuna fishing fleet – Manta is also a center for the chemical industry. The nearby town of Montecristi is known for its colonial architecture and being the home of the “sombreros de paja toquilla”, known around the world as “Panama hats”, an Ecuadorian original hat that had its origins in Montecristi. The Spanish name, “sombreros de paja toquilla”, comes from the weaving of the toquilla straw to create each hat.

The Manabi region of Ecuador is world famous for being the home of the “sombreros de paja toquilla” (known around the world as “Panama hats”)

Our first stop on a hillside just outside of the town of Montecristi was a visit to a cabuya plant-weaving factory in Chorrillo, a once-in-a-lifetime experience as the art of weaving cabuya fiber is rapidly dying. Once a vibrant local industry producing 4,000 cabuya bags per day, today this last-remaining factory produces only 200 bags per week.

Downtown Chorrillo, a hillside town outside of Manta, Ecuador, where we visited the last local artisans who weave cabuya plants into coffee bags and very strong natural fiber ropes that are better for the environment than plastic
Cabuya plant fibers in the town of Chorrillo, outside of Manta, Ecuador
A coffee bag woven from cabuya fibers in the town of Chorrillo. The fiber bags (selling for US$10) are much preferred over woven plastic bags as they allow easy ventilation for the beans in the bag.
Pulling multiple cabuya fiber strands together and twisting them to create very strong natural fiber ropes at the factory in the town of Chorrillo

The hillside town of Montecristi is located inland from the port of Manta, Ecuador. The town was formed during the first years of the Spanish conquest (between 1536 and 1537) with settlers from Manta who left their village fleeing pirate attacks. The town is renowned for the production of “sombreros de paja toquilla” (known around the world as “Panama hats”), the best quality of which is named montecristi superfine, after the town.

The main church, a landmark visible for miles in downtown Montecristi, in the hills above Manta
A bowl of the local tagua nuts that are often called “vegetable ivory” since it can be cut and carved like elephant tusk ivory, Montecristi

Often called “vegetable ivory,” the tagua nut is used to produce various products including the ubiquitous shirt button. On the outskirts of the town of Montecristi, we had the opportunity to watch a tagua nut carver demonstrate his skills and purchase some of the carved nut animals and other artistic creations.

A local artisan sculptor demonstrated “carving” a small elephant from a tagua nut on this grinding wheel in Montecristi
Carved tagua nut “ivory” carved animals for sale in Montecristi

After driving back to Manta, our last stop on our tour was a visit to the Cancebi Museum in the heart of downtown, in a building dating back to 1918. On display are cultural artifacts related to the daily routines of cholo (fishermen), montubios (countryside workers), and farmers in a beautifully restored 1918 building.

Posted by Rich E.
avril 13, 2022