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Puerto Lopez is a fishing village on the coast surrounded by Machalilla National Park. From here, you are able to get to Isla de la Plata, often referred to as the “poor man’s Galapagos” because of the many birds that nest on this island and the rich marine life surrounding it. It is a perfect pre-cruise option for divers heading to Galapagos.
Blue Footed Boobies, Red Footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies, Waved Albatross, Magnificant Frigates and ethereal Tropic Birds all reside and nest on Isla de la Plata.
June until October is not only high season in Galapagos (Whale Sharks), but the season for one of the largest aggregations of the absolute largest giant Pacific Manta Rays in the world, Manta birostris. The giant manta ray was first identified by Andrea Marshall. The species, like the reef manta ray (Manta alfredi), is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Even dive guides from Galapagos come here to the coast to dive with manta rays. Watch the Queen of Mantas, Andrea Marshall, discuss mantas at Isla de la Plata on YouTube. Read what Save Our Seas wrote on their blog. This video is excellent, though it is in Spanish apart from Andrea Marshall.
To quote Andrea Marshall:
“When the Mantas hear you underwater, they can hear our bubbles, they come in from the deep water and they play with you, sometimes for a half an hour. It’s a really interesting experience to be in the water with such a large animal and have it want to connect with you. They’re not swimming away, they’re swimming to you. So that’s a really incredible experience, I think for anyone, but as a biologist, it’s really great.
I’ve studied Mantas all around the world and there are many places great for Mantas. I love… my own home is Mozambique, Africa is great. I’ve studied Mantas quite a lot in Australia and Indonesia, places like the Red Sea. But nothing compares to Ecuador.
For me, this is such an exciting population to work on. We’ve basically discovered the world’s largest population of Manta Rays. We see more individuals here and identify more individuals than anywhere else in the world. But even more than that, the individuals here are huge. The size of the Mantas here are bigger than anywhere else that I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. And they’re also incredibly friendly, so it’s a great place to do research because they come close. They like to interact with you. So it’s a great place to film and it’s also a great place to do science.
I’m not necessarily sure of what makes the Mantas here behave different than many other parts of the world, but they seem more relaxed here. Perhaps they’re well fed. Ecuador is renown for having very productive waters. They allow you to get closer and they engage you more. They want to have kind of an experience with you…Isla de la Plata is one of the most important habitats for Mantas anywhere in the world. “
Simultaneously, this exact same area has one of the world’s largest migrations of Humpback Whales. No snorkeling is permitted, but there are plenty of up close and personal whales to watch from the boat. Like the mantas, this is where they come annually to mate and give birth. It is estimated that roughly 10,000 Humpback Whales migrate to the coast of Ecuador annually.
As if those 2 rarities alone are not enough reason to motivate you to explore the coast, additionally 4 species of sea turtles reside and nest on the coast: Green, Leatherback, Hawksbill and Olive Ridley sea turtles. Mola Molas are also sometimes sighted at Isla de la Plata. And we get the occasional Humboldt penguin, a close relative of the Galápagos penguin. Watch this dive with Mantas and Mola Molas at Isla de la Plata.
And like Galapagos, the topside’s not too shabby either. We have coastal rainforests that are birding hotspots with monkeys, too. We have architectural ruins dating back thousands of years. We have surfing and kite surfing.
Did you know the famous Panama hat originated in Ecuador? That’s right. Teddy Roosevelt’s hat was from Ecuador even if it caught on when he visited the building of the Panama Canal. And the place most famous for that is Montecristi, just outside Manta.
Last, but never least, the Manabi Province on the coast, is considered the richest gastronomy of the entire country. Fresh seafood, coconuts, peanuts and chocolate provide the raw ingredients for very inventive meals. There’s even an option to go with the chef to forage for parts of your dinner! Manabi offers no end of interesting options to explore.
Because our tours are designed with divers heading to Galapagos in mind, everything is custom. Below you’ll see some of the options you can use to build your own pre-cruise extension.
GYE Airport – Guayaquil, Ecuador or MEC Airport – Manta, Ecuador
Depends on tour
Because our tours are designed with divers heading to Galapagos in mind, everything is custom. Below you’ll see some of the options you can use to build your own pre-cruise extension for groups of 8+ people.
Departure may be any day of the week.
This is a custom tour for groups of 8+ only. Hopefully, by 2024, flights to Galapagos will be direct from Manta, Ecuador in addition to Guayaquil and Quito. Manta is only 2 hours from Puerto Lopez. Until then, we recommend flying into Guayaquil where we will have a van or bus to transport you to Puerto Lopez, 3.5-4 hours.
Below are some of the activity options on the Manabi Coast of Ecuador. This is a custom tour so we build it with your group in mind. This tour is only for groups of 8 or more people.
For divers, you can dive with the giant Pacific Mantas for 3-4 days, then take one day to ride horses in the jungle. If you fly into Manta, you can dive with the Mantas x number of days, then go kite surfing or foil surfing and stay in a rainforest lodge on your last night.
There is an organic farm north of Puerto Lopez that brings in Michelin chefs and offers a tasting menu once a month. If the timing works, we can put that on the option list. There is another restaurant that uses guests to help forage for supper, in the sea and coastal forests. Manabi is considered the ultimate in gastronomical opportunities in Ecuador due to the abundance of fresh seafood, coconuts and produce, including peanuts.
This can be done 1 of 2 ways. Either you fly into Quito and from there, fly into Manta where we collect you OR you fly directly into Guayaquil and we collect you there.
Flights from Quito (UIO) to Manta (MEC) are currently available for about $110 round trip. It’s a quick 49 minute flight available at 6:30 AM, 7:30 AM or 7:30 PM.
It’s approximately 2 hours from Manta to Puerto Lopez or 3.5-4 hours from Guayaquil to Puerto Lopez.
AM: Dive Isla de la Plata. See Humpback Whales on the way to dive with the largest Manta Rays on the planet.
PM: Trek Isla de la Plata to see the many nesting birds that are the reason this island is called ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos.”
You can dive every day or avail yourself of other activity options in the area.
Machalilla National Park is a spectacular area of biodiversity with beaches like Los Frailes, considered the most beautiful beach in Ecuador.
After Los Frailles, we will head to Aqua Blanca, a small indigenous village near the coast. Once there, you can see pre-Colombian art, soak in a sulfur pool, get a free mud mask, pick from three types of massage, and hike the surrounding forest.
A fairly delightful one-hour walk (2km) crosses a riverbed and passes through tropical forest. Stop along the way to soak at a four-meter-deep sulfur pool, where the combination of 70 percent natural minerals and therapeutic mud are equal to a spa treatment. There’s also a small treatment center where you can have mud massages.
Return to Puerto Lopez.
20 km / 12.5 miles south of Puerto Lopez is a coastal rainforest, Rio Ayampe Reserve. It is one of the top birding hotspots in Ecuador. It’s also a surfer’s paradise. We can organize both activities in one day if you’re game.
Birding: This area is considered an IBA (Important Bird & Biodiversity Area) by Birdlife International. This organization based in the UK is run by an Ecuadorian, Patricia Zurita. She is the first woman from a developing country to lead an international conservation organization.
The Esmeraldas Woodstar is not only the 2nd smallest hummingbird on the planet, but also one of the one of the most rare in the world. Fewer than 1000 exist and only on the coast in Ecuador. Hundreds of other bird species are in the Rio Ayampe Reserve, including toucans, parrots and macaws. There are also 2 species of monkeys and even pumas, which are typically only seen on watering hole cameras at night. Thought it’s in Spanish, this video is also understandable with just the great photography.
Surfing: Whether you’re a pro or want to take lessons, one of the favorite spots to surf on the coast is where we turn to head into Rio Ayampe for birding.
Afterwards, we’ll head back to Puerto Lopez.
You, too, can ride a horse across a deserted beach or choose a path through the jungle to see birds, monkeys and blue morph butterflies.
When flights to Galapagos finally do leave from Manta, this is an incredible final day option.
Kite Surfing or Foil lessons:
Santa Marianita is a stunning 3km long beach with constant trade winds, starting from 16 to 22 Knots coming from the southwest and hitting side on shore. Our best conditions season starts on May/June to December/January.
It offers the best wind conditions and infrastructure for wind sports in Ecuador, and like any other community along the coastline, it is also a fishing village. As Mother Nature is so amazing, the humpback whales move directly past Ocean Freaks Kiteboarding School, as they migrate south, which is a very common sight between July to October.
Jungle Lodge: Nearby is Pacoche Refuge, another coastal rainforest with an abundance of birds, monkeys and more. Spend the night in a comfortable jungle lodge without traveling to the Amazon.
If you wish to include this option before there are flights to Galapagos from Manta, it’s very doable. Manta is less than 30 minutes away. You could fly from there to Quito, overnight and leave the next morning for Galapagos.
Unless you are now heading to Galapagos, you’ll be sad to leave.