One of the most common questions or requests that we receive from our clients is about souvenirs. What would make a great one and where can we get them? Ecuador is an amazing country full of biodiversity, amazing landscapes and rich history. It also has a strong artisanal tradition responsible for crafting excellent products and items. The culture values their artisans so much that they get special tax breaks, training, certifications and government support. The incentives to hire and train apprentices is a big part of ensuring these traditions are passed down the generations. So here is our list of the top 10 things to buy in Manta Ecuador.
As many of you already know Ecuador is world-famous for the best Cacao beans. They have a variety of strains with distinct flavours. The best known is “Aroma Fino”, which translates to fine aroma. When you grind one of the beans you see why. They have a rich buttery strong chocolate aroma, before adding in any milk or sugar. For me the best souvenir is the experience of seeing the artisanal process from tree to pod, to bean, to chocolate. Take a look at our Cacao and Coffee tour while in Manta, and you can make your own batch. I love mixing ginger and peppermint into my batch.
Only 5 % of the world’s Cacao beans are Aroma Fino, and Ecuador produces 63% of them. As such Ecuadorian chocolatiers get to pick from the cream of the crop. One brand, Pacari has won dozens of international awards and has some great flavoured chocolates.
My favourite however is from a little known 5th generation, single source family run plantation. Hacienda San Jose. This is the best chocolate I have ever tasted. They have been cultivating and exporting some of the best beans for decades, and it didn’t take long for them to realize they could pick the best beans and make their own bars. I like a dark heavy chocolate and their 80% bar with nibs (crushed up cacao bean chips) inside is my dream come true. A small 50g bar in Ecuador will cost around $ 3 to $5. Well worth packing a few into your suitcase.
People that know me are familiar with the how much I love authentic Ecuadorian Panama hats. Our list of the top 10 things to buy in manta would not be complete without them. With today’s globalized world of mass production and cheap Chinese labour, we just don’t see master craftsmanship in many goods any more. I have always been fascinated by a practised hand at just about any task, but when I saw the authentic Panama hats being hand made in Montecristi I was amazed. The dexterity and skill involved will blow your mind. Some hats can take up to 8 months to finish. The art dates back to well before the arrival of Pizarro and his conquistadores in 1531. Although the classic shape and style known today evolved during the 19th century. To really get the most of the experience and take home the story and feel of this iconic product, you must take a tour. We offer 2 tours that stop in at the workshop of a master hat maker for a full demonstration and plenty of bargains to be had. Check out our Montecristi Hat Tour or our Pacoche Rainforest Tour
We will take a full dive into all the details of how they make them in another post, but as you can see, there are a lot of steps:
- The native Toquilla palm tree is cultivated in the coastal forests.
- The Farmers Harvest stems at the right age and size.
- The outer skin is separated from the fibrous core.
- The fibres are boiled to remove the chlorophyll.
- Fibres are sun-dried and then bleached with sulphur over a wood fire
- The weavers then select the best fibres of the batch according to the grade they are producing.
- The weaving of the crown begins with 8 strands of straw
- The Weaving must be done only during the cooler hours of the day to prevent deformation
- The untrimmed hat is then washed, Bleached, Moulded, Ironed and Pressed into shape.
- The brim is trimmed and the finishing details are applied.
- The hat is ready to be sold.
The prices is mostly based on the grade of the weave. The finer the weave, the higher the thread count, and the more expensive. You can get the cheap Chinese knock offs on the street from as little as $10 or $20. These will not last very long, falling to bits after a couple of months. The real Hats start from around $ 40. They should come with an authentic made in Montecristi tag. Most tourists decide on a mid-range hat from around 1 o 2 hundred dollars. I have a $60 hat for work… that I can throw around and not worry. And a much finer weave model I save for social events. For more info, have a read of our blog on how to buy an authentic Panama hat and not get ripped off.
This interesting white nut-like fruit grows on a spiky palm tree found on the coasts of Ecuador. They remind me of games of conkers with horse chestnuts from England. The fruit is sun-dried, to a rock hard white ivory-like material. Hence the scientific name of the plant genus being Phytelephas, literally “elephant plant”. The vegetable Ivory is then used for any number of products. It was used for over 20% of all buttons in the United States before plastics became the norm. Nowadays it is used for souvenirs and sculptures as well as dice, chess pieces and knife handles. Small trinkets can be as cheap as a dollar or two and some of the more intricate statues and ornaments may cost over $40. We can see plenty of these on our Montecristi Hat Tour.
Pre-Columbian indigenous South American cultures have a rich history of ceramic statues, decorations as well as functional items. In Ecuador, one of the most famous hubs is “La Pila”. Located 30 minutes from Manta, a little past Montecristi, is the village guild full of master pottery craftsmen. We often stop by here on our custom private tours to see the manufacture of handmade goods. You can pick up small souvenirs from under $5 up to very big statues or wall decorations for under $100. I love the statues from the indigenous gods and myths, and my house is full of clay bowls and pots. The masks are also a favourite with tourists.
Ecuador is quickly catching up Columbia as one of the best coffees in the world. Unfortunately its history was held back by a plague that has wiped out 60 to 70% of the plantations. Nowadays the industry is recovering and going from stride to stride. The best coffee is renowned as coming from the Loja province. To see the process from tree to cup, check out our Cacao and Coffee tour to process, roast, and grind then brew your own artisanal cup.
Getting a cup on the street can be very hit or miss. Most of the best coffee beans go to export so what is left in a lot of places is not good quality. Some vendors / producers also have a nasty habit of cutting or mixing the crushed coffee with the bean skin or peel which has been burnt during roasting. Increasing volume and profits, decreasing flavour. This will explain the used ashtray smell of a bad cup you may find in Ecuador. Saying that in the last 10 years coffee shops have really taken off here and more and more places are serving a great brew. Our favourite comes from a national producer called Montañes. They have a selection of amazing flavours from around Ecuador. Well worth taking back a bag or two.
Montecristi is famous for weaving many products, not just Panama hats. A local reed like bush called Mimbre produces wicker like fibres that are used to make furniture, baskets, bags, boxes and all manner of wonderful things. You can get some great deals on these products and often see them being woven while you buy. They can customize colours and paint names and designs very quickly if needed. These items can make for a very nice present for loved ones back home, without breaking the bank. We have plenty of time to see this art form on our Montecristi Hat Tour.
You can to learn more about day trips in Manta Ecuador.
Blankets and Textiles
A standard for any weathered South American traveller is a good Alpaca blanket. We´ve all seen them. A gift that will likely last a lifetime, great to have around the house or mount on a wall as decoration. The best are produced almost exclusively in Otavalo, to the north, but they are sold all over Ecuador. The Alpaca wool is softer than sheep, water repellent, hypo-allergic and fire resistant. It is an amazing fabric. Remember that a product this good won’t come cheap. Starting at around $100 for a simple blanket and more for a poncho. You can however, get synthetic textiles that look exactly the same and are very soft too. Take a look at the varios types and design on our Montecristi Hat Tour. Bonus fact: did you know the alpaca is a species of camel, often confused with Llamas but not the same.
San Antonio de Ibarra is home to master carpenters of the highest degree. When you walk down the main street you will see that every house a porch full of jaw-droppingly good carvings. From souvenirs that will fit in your pocket to huge statues and wall art. As a result, many shops in Montecristi bring their wooden products down from the mountain town. You can pick up some really nice things for a bargain on our Montecristi Hat Tour.
Ceviche (pronounced Seh-Beachy)
I know, you can’t really call the Ceviche a souvenir but I found the cold fish delicacy very surprising when I first visited. Way better than our English fish and chips. As I say the best souvenirs are often the experience itself so give this a try. The locals slice uncooked fish and seafood into small pieces and then let them sit in freshly squeezed lime juice for several hours. The citric juices effectively cure the fish through acidic action. Best consumed fresh, this dish is a point of national pride. Seafood lovers need to tick this off their list before getting back on the ship. At least the pictures will make good souvenirs. You can get them from street vendors for a few dollars. In the best restaurants, they can cost from about $5 to $20 depending on the place and style. We highly recommend the restaurant called “FISH” for a few minutes from the port. Remember we are very flexible on our tours so if you are interested in trying a great Ceviche, we can pick one up on any of our standard tours.
Manta has a fledgeling craft beer industry with some very interesting flavours I have never tasted before. We have more beers than we can count in the United Kingdom, but in Ecuador, there are not so many. Some of my favourites are Bonanza and Inca beers. The best for us, however, is Umiña beer. Named after the Goddess of health from Mantas pre-Columbian indigenous culture, they have a very unique taste. You can even tour the brewery that is about 8 minutes from the port. Well worth trying to sneak a bottle past the cruise ship staff. You can pick up a bottle in most of the good restaurants in town for around $4 or $5, and the major supermarkets also stock them much cheaper. On all of our standard tours, we make stops at places that serve Umina beer.
For more information, you can read our Blog post 10 best things to do in Manta Ecuador.