Ecuador straddles the equator and is the smallest of the Andean countries in South America. At about the same size as the state of Nevada, the geography is diverse and the countryside spectacular. The Seven Seas Navigator stopped over for the day in Manta, the largest port along the central coast of Ecuador.
Many cruise travelers visit either Quito and/or Guayaquil on their way to a cruise of the Galapagos Islands. However, many ships sailing along the western coast of South American stop over at the port of Manta.
Shore excursions from Manta are varied, but usually include a tour of Manta and the nearby village of Montecristi to see the archaeological museum in Manta and a chance to see Panama hats being made in Montecristi. Although many people believe that the first Panama hats were actually made in Panama, they were not. They were first marketed in Panama, but manufactured in South America. Montecristi remains as one of the best places to buy one of these woven hats or other goods made from wicker. Even if you are not interested in hats, a trip to Montecristi is worthwhile.
The village is only about 15 minutes inland via bus from Manta and still retains its colonial look, although many of the old buildings need restoration. A ride on the Chivas bus to Montecristi will have you laughing all the way!
Two shore excursions in Manta involve a short flight inland to the stunning capital city of Quito. At only 16 miles south of the equator, you would think Quito would be hot and tropical. However, its 9,200 foot elevation and valley location surrounded by mountains give the city a spring-like climate year-round. Quito's wonderfully preserved colonial center earned it a designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. A walking tour of the old city, with its grand colonial buildings and ornate balconies, sounds delightful.
The second shore excursion involves a flight to Quito and a bus ride along the Pan American highway to the most famous Indian Fair/Market in South America--Otavalo. The Otavaleño weavers have been using the backstrap loom for over 4,000 years! The Otavaleños weave tapestries, bags, ponchos, shawls, blankets, and sweaters. The shops in Otavalo also sell other crafts, and bargaining is expected. Sounds like a shoppers' heaven!
Both of the day trips to Quito feature the ultimate tourist's photo opportunity--the chance to stand with one foot in each hemisphere! The Equatorial Monument, just 16 miles north of Quito is at latitude 0.
Reading about Ecuador and visiting Manta convinced me of one thing. One day was not enough to see much of this interesting country.