Best of Manta
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Approximately 6 hours
Discover Ecuador's self-proclaimed finest port city, Manta. Your tour starts with a panoramic drive along the malecón -- the oceanfront road where the constant breeze makes for very pleasant conditions. Continue past the new town and residential areas, where wealthy Ecuadorian exporters and industrialists make their homes.
Visit the tagua button factory, where the tagua palm nut (often called vegetable ivory), found only in Colombia and Ecuador, is peeled, cut and made into buttons, sculptures and souvenirs. The seed of the tagua palm, in its raw state, is roughly the size of an egg. When first processed, it is soft and workable, but it later becomes as hard as ivory.
A 15-minute drive brings you to a typical ranch where manteños (people from Manta) will show you the steps required to create a fine Panama hat. These hats were the backbone of the Ecuadorian economy in the 1960s, and even today there are still some families who continue to use the age-old technique to authentically produce these well-known sartorial accessories. First, you will see how the fiber is obtained from a plant that grows only in tropical regions. The plant is called Carludovica palmate. Once the leaves have been harvested, the ladies boil the fibers in huge pots in order to soften the material. After drying the fibers in the shade, the hard work begins. The hat is formed row by painstaking row. The finer the hat, the longer the process takes. A super-fino (top quality) hat takes at least three months to weave, and when it is rolled up it will fit through an average wedding ring. Once the weaving is done, the hat needs to be shaped -- a bit of ironing takes care of that -- and finally the traditional black band is fitted and the hat is completed. Finally, you will learn how to roll a Panama hat, so that if you purchase one, you can take it home in its little balsa-wood box. You will have free time to snap a few photos and, if you wish, you can purchase a fine hat directly from the producers.
Continue to Pacoche. Here, at a local restaurant, you will learn to cook one of the traditional appetizers that is typical of coastal Ecuadorean cuisine. Once it is ready, you will enjoy it as a snack before returning to the pier.
Minimum height is 2 feet. Minimum age is 4 years.