Among Ecuador’s five coastal regions, you’ll find some of the best beaches in Manabí. Known for its subtropical dry climate, water sports, and exquisite seafood dishes, Manabí is a delightful place to visit and get the rest and relaxation you deserve.
A great way to explore this coastline is to follow the Ruta del Spondylus, also known as the Ruta del Sol, which traverses Ecuador’s coastline from the northern border with Colombia down to the southern border with Perú.
Los Frailes Beach: A Wanderbus Favorite Pick
Los Frailes Beach is hailed as one of the best and most beautiful beaches in Manabí, if not in the entire country.
Located in Machalilla National Park, it is one of the country’s most well-protected beaches. It is clean and pristinely preserved, giving visitors a unique window into what this segment of coastline might’ve looked like hundreds of years ago.
As a visitor, you can spend the day lounging on the coral-sand beach or explore the area on foot, walking to nearby beaches and a lookout point.
The 50,000 hectares of tropical dry forest surrounding Los Frailes beach is home to over 250 species of birds and animals like armadillos, squirrels, and monkeys.
This quiet, romantic destination located about 20 mi (32 km) south of Los Frailes is a beachside paradise. Ayampe’s attractive beach is the perfect spot for beginners to practice and develop their surfing skills. And unlike its neighbor to the south, Montañita, raucous nightlife is not part of the equation here.
Both small in size and in year-round population, the appeal of this town is tied to the charm of its unpaved streets lined with lush vegetation and the smiles of its welcoming residents. A section of Ayampe’s beachfront is lined with quaint restaurants and bars—an extension of the numerous hostels, lodges, or hotels with direct access to the beach.
When it comes to oceanside relaxation, few places offer the tranquility you can experience here. However, if you want to do some hiking, birding, or even snorkeling and diving, this is the spot. Just a short distance off the coast of Ayampe, is Islote Los Ahorcados, a remarkable place to explore underwater and a neat place to try a little sport fishing.
Santa Marianita Beach
Santa Marianita beach, located 20 minutes from Manta, has become one of the best beaches in Manabí for aquatic sports, especially kitesurfing. Even if you’re not into water sports, this is a lovely beach to spend the weekend, enjoy spectacular sunsets, and explore the nearby Pacoche Reserve, where you can spot howler monkeys and other types of wildlife.
Santa Marianita is popular among foreigners living in Manta, so much so that a new highway will soon make it even more accessible, so enjoy it by going there now before it becomes any more popular!
A nearby destination is the secluded cove beach of La Tiñosa, which is only accessible at medium or low tide. Since it’s protected from the open sea, the water in La Tiñosa is refreshingly calm and serves as a great place to explore the natural pools during low tide, go snorkel, or hop on a paddleboard.
Puerto Cayo Beach
Puerto Cayo is a small fisherman’s town near the City of Jipijapa, which is also along Manabí’s Spondylus Route. It’s one of the northmost beaches in Machalilla National Park and has become a destination for travelers wanting to enjoy the amiable, small beach town feel. It has a wonderful surf and, during several months of the year, visitors and residents can observe migrating pods of humpback whales.
Some claim that Puerto Cayo is the most beautiful beach in Manabí and, once you visit, it’s hard to argue. Here, you can experience both relaxation and adventure, as well as delicious dishes from the region.
Make sure to try local favorites like ceviche, peanut-based seafood dishes, and camotillo—a typical seafood dish.
You can also explore trails and waterfalls in the surrounding dry and tropical forests to spot wildlife.
Cojimíes is located on Manabí’s northern border, where Esmeraldas Province begins. Apart from being only a 5-hour drive from Quito, it’s a delightful, long, white-sand beach lined with palm trees. It’s one of those places where you can spend the weekend, kick back, relax, and savor the good food and warm hospitality from the modest handful of area restaurants and hotels. If you like tropical beaches, this is easily one of the best beaches in Manabí.
The surrounding area offers travelers much to explore, including Isla del Amor, a spectacular remote island located 10 minutes by boat and named after a natural, heart-shaped pool; Río Cojimíes estuary, where you can explore the mangrove ecosystem; and Mache Chindul Ecological Reserve, a tropical forest that you can explore on foot and which is home to a variety of birds and animals.
Being so close to Esmeraldas, you’ll enjoy more humid, tropical weather in Cojimíes, as well as delicious dishes like encocado de camarón or langosta (coconut-based shrimp or lobster) and cangrejo al ajillo (garlic crab).
Nearby Beach Recommendations
There’s no such thing as a comprehensive list of Manabi’s best beaches. The truth is, just by traveling through the region, you might discover your own favorite beach that isn’t on this list. However, if you have the time, try to visit some of these spectacular beaches:
- Puerto Cabuyal – Another secluded beach between Canoa and Pedernales.
- Canoa – A larger beach town, known for its nightlife and excellent waves for taking beginner surfing lessons.
- San Clemente – A small, picturesque beach town between Crucita and Bahía de Caráquez.
- Salango and Salango Island – A worthwhile stop for aquatic sports like kayaking.
- Ayampe – A beach town with a relaxed, surfer vibe and several wholesome restaurants to choose from. It is an ideal spot for digital nomads.
- Olón – Montañita’s quiet neighbor that offers travelers a similar beach and selection of activities, minus all the loud beach partying.
Do you have a couple of weeks to explore Manabí’s Spondylus Route? If you do, be sure to follow this route, starting from the south of Manabí. By the end of these two weeks, you’ll be ready to head inland into Ecuador’s stunning Andes Mountains.
Here’s what that route looks like, traveling north, beginning in Olón:
Olón > Ayampe > Salango > Frailes > Puerto Cayo > Santa Marianita > San Clemente > Canoa > Puerto Cabuyal > Cojimíes
Best Time to Visit Manabí Beaches
Bad weather can make even the best beaches in Manabí rather dreary. Try to visit this region between December and April when the temperature tends to hover between 77° F (25° C) and 84.2° F (29° C). It might rain intermittently, but you’ll still enjoy beautiful blue skies.
You’ll likely encounter more overcast skies and cool air from May to November, though you will see less rain. Some folks prefer this, slightly cooler period for visiting the coast.