Whilst Santa Marianita has been famous in kitesurfing circles for quite a few years, it’s only recently started to emerge as a popular destination for expats and travelers looking for a more rustic alternative to the busier beaches such as Manta, Montanita & Ayampe.
On a personal level, I hold this fishing village close to my heart as I originally came to Ecuador for a quick 2-week kitesurfing stint at Santa Marianita. And then I never left Ecuador. You could say Santa Marianita seduced me with its bubbling authenticity. If we decided to move away from Cuenca, Santa Marianita would be high on our list.
Let’s get stuck into why we like visiting Santa Marianita.
Where is it?
20 minute drive south of Manta in the Manabi province of Ecuador.
Getting To Manta
There are direct flights daily from Quito to Manta that normally cost between $50 & $100. Manta Eloy Alfaro International Airport is about 3km to the east of the city center and a taxi to town should cost you less than $5.
Ecuador’s extensive bus network connects with Manta mainly through the Terminal Terreste near the airport. From here, you can get a bus to many neighboring towns as well as longer trips to cities such as Quito for around $10 (approx 9 hours) or Guayaquil for $8 (4 hours).
The drive from Quito to Manta takes around 7.5 hours. From Guayaquil, you have two options; the quick option via Jipijapa (3.5 hours); or the more scenic coastal route (5 hours).
From Manta to Santa Marianita
A camieneta from Manta will cost you $1.25. This is a small truck where you ride in the back. They leave from right near Manta’s central market.
Taxi will cost around $15 and take 20 minutes.
When to Visit
- Kitesurfing: May – December
- Surfing: December – April
- Whales: July – August
Mostly very dry from April – December. Rainy season from January to March.
15 Mb up & down. Mostly stable except during the rainy season when you can expect a power cut every week or so.
Kitesurfers, digital nomads, beach lovers & expats looking for a chilled beach home close to quality amenities.
Why Visit Santa Marianita
Santa Marianita generally attracts two types of visitors. Firstly, the Ecuadorians that love visiting the beach on the weekends and holidays. Secondly, foreigners that are looking for a quiet beach to spend a week or more.
The undeniable attraction of Santa Marianita is the beach. This town is still primarily a fishing village, with tourism only recently making its mark. Many now come to enjoy the fantastic kitesurfing conditions, either as an active participant or just to watch others and potentially get inspired to try it themselves. Others time their visits to arrive with the humpback whale migration.
Ecuador’s Best Kitesurfing
As a kitesurfer, there’s always the temptation to try and keep your favorite spot a secret as you don’t want the masses invading your space. But, as popular as Santa Marianita is, this village hasn’t suffered this fate (yet…) and you can still kitesurf in great conditions without fear of bumping into others. At least most of the time. For example, if you visit during Carnival (end of Feb), you’ll find the beach pumping with activity, making it a little more difficult to kitesurf in peace.
What makes kitesurfing here so special?
Glad you asked! It’s actually very difficult to find a kitesurfing spot that ticks all of the boxes:
- Consistent wind
- Warm water
- Ample beach area (without sharp rocks)
- Not crowded
You need just the right wind window to effectively operate a kite. Not enough and your kite won’t stay in the air. Too much wind and it quickly becomes dangerous as everything goes faster and harder (including your crashes).
Sure, you do have some level of control such as using a bigger kite when the winds are down, but this is not the optimal experience.
Santa Marianita’s unique geography & Humboldt Current are responsible for the consistent winds. It’s very dry and the coastline is a little protected from the open waters. This allows the optimal kitesurfing winds to form. The thermic wind gets stronger as the day gets warmer.
The end result is that you’re almost guaranteed to have some good winds for kitesurfing if you visit during the right season. For visitors planning a kitesurfing trip, being able to bank on consistent winds is very important.
This isn’t to say you’re going to be able to kitesurf every single day as the winds aren’t that consistent. But, you should be able to kite most afternoons as the wind picks up.
If you visit during May – December, you’ll most likely have reliable kitesurfing winds of 15-20 knots in the afternoons. This makes it ideal for kites between 9-12 meters.
Kitesurfing in cold water with high winds isn’t exactly the most comfortable. You’ll most likely find you enjoy kitesurfing significantly more when you’re in warmer water. You’ll also be able to kite for longer before your lips start turning blue.
This is especially true for beginners as you tend to spend more time in the water than standing on your board.
You can expect to be kiting in comfortable 75.2°F (24°C) waters during the kite season. This means that most can get away without needing a wetsuit and a simple neoprene ‘rashy’ will suffice.
Ample beach area without rocks
Launching and landing kites are two areas where beginners can really struggle. It’s much easier to learn these skills when you have a lot of sand to practice on. It’s also important that the beach area doesn’t have lots of rocks or sharp shells as one failed launch can easily rip your kite and ruin the rest of your day (and hurt your wallet).
Bumping into other kitesurfers sucks. You can easily get caught in each owner’s lines, making it impossible to relaunch your kite. Again, beginners are particularly susceptible to this.
You also don’t want hoards of visitors on the beach creating hazards for when you’re launching, landing and completing laps by walking on the beach. A crowd can also create unwanted pressure on beginners.
Santa Marianita has all of the above, which makes it one of the best kitesurfing spots for all levels.
I consider kitesurfing at Santa Marianita to be great value. The prices amongst the 3 different kitesurf schools are all fairly consistent:
- 1-hour lesson (1 on 1): $40
- Beginner course (8 hours): $300
The beginner course will be spread out over a number of days. This is generally around one week. But, to be on the safe side, we generally recommend staying around 2 weeks to ensure you’ll have sufficient windy days to complete the course.
There are also courses for more advanced kiters, including foils. The schools are flexible, and can generally tailor a course to your specific needs.
There are 3 kitesurfing schools in Santa Marianita:
- Ocean Freaks
- Kite Ecuador
Each of the 3 kitesurfing schools offers something a little bit different.
Humboldt Kitesurfing School
Humboldt is located right on the ocean, about a mile from the main Santa Marianita beach. This is perhaps the best kitesurfing school if you want to complete a course because they also offer numerous accommodation options. They also sometimes have good deals like free dorm accommodation if you book a course with them.
Humboldt’s other main advantage is their relative isolation. Whilst it’s only a mile from town, this is enough to ensure that this part of the beach is often deserted, which can make for a better kitesurfing experience.
Ocean Freaks is a kitesurfing, paddle boarding, and diving school located at the end of the main beach in Santa Marianita. Its location isn’t quite as remote as Humboldt’s, but it’s far enough away from the main hustle and bustle that overcrowding shouldn’t be an issue.
It’s got a very relaxed atmosphere, but what I love most about this school is the attached bar with a balcony that overlooks the ocean. It’s the perfect spot for a cheeky beer after you’ve exhausted your body with a solid kite session, but I like to visit even if I’m not kitesurfing. They did offer tasty food, but they’ve now closed the restaurant due to covid and not sure if/when they’ll re-open it (the bar is still open).
Located on the main beach is the most central option; Kite Ecuador. Whilst the location is convenient, you’ll have more chance of finding a beach crowd here during the busier periods.
They do offer some good deals, including very reasonable rental rates for experienced kiters that don’t need a lesson. Just keep in mind that their base rental rates don’t include any sort of gear insurance, so you could be up for a costly kite repair if you cause a rip (which can happen easily & quickly).
They have a restaurant next door that serves cheap and tasty shawarma, which can be a welcome break from seafood if you’re planning on staying a few weeks.
If you have more time than cash, don’t be afraid to ask the schools if they’re accepting volunteers. This can be a great way to extend your stay and get some quality kitesurfing in at the same time!
Did I mention that the kitesurfing season overlaps the whale season? Yep, if you visit June to September, you can actually kitesurf with whales. But, the best time to visit is July & August.
I enjoyed this privilege during my first visit and it was an incredible, yet somewhat unnerving experience. You know the whales are close by, and you also know that your kite is going pretty darn fast. Fast enough that you know you have little chance to evade if a giant humpback decides to breach right in front of you. Such a thrilling experience that does not exist in many other places. It really is quite the treat.
The humpback whales come to these warm Ecuadorian waters to give birth. And, you certainly don’t need to be a kitesurfer to enjoy them.
If your accommodation offers sea views, then you’ll almost certainly be able to spot them. Especially in the morning as the sea is calmer, making it very easy to spot these awesome creatures breaching and playing.
As a digital nomad, I found it both a blessing and a curse to be able to watch these humpback whales every day. The blessing is obvious; they are beautiful to watch. The curse is that it can be incredible difficult to stop staring at them or waiting eagerly for the next breach. Especially with project due dates lurking.
Honestly, I found myself lying during meetings about my location. Nobody stuck in an office wants to hear that you’ve spent your morning watching whales frolic freely whilst they are dealing with the rat race.
If you’re after a closer encounter and you don’t fancy your chances kitesurfing or paddle boarding with whales, then your best bet is to take a whale watching tour from either Manta or Puerto Lopez.
A tour will cost around $30 and it normally takes an hour or two of cruising until you come across some whales. Your tour should include the cost of a guide and national park entry fees. You can also opt for additional activities such as snorkeling.
The surfing season compliments the kitesurfing season very well in Santa Marianita with quality surfing available from December to April. Basically, when the kitesurfing season stops, surfing season begins. This is perfect if you’re like me and enjoy doing both. There’s never a bad time to visit Santa Marianita!
Outside of December – April peak surf season, you can still find waves. But, you won’t find the consistency and the shape can be less than forgiving as the waves tend to break heavily on the shore. This can make it more difficult for beginners to find their feet too.
Unfortunately, there are no permanent surf schools or options for renting a surfboard in Santa Marianita. Your accommodation might be willing to lend you a board (Punta La Barca allows it), but otherwise you’ll need to head back to Manta to find both schools and rental options.
There are several great surf spots around Santa Marianita that are worth checking out too; La Tiñosa (5km north), San Mateo (10km north) & San Lorenzo (10km south).
Visiting during the surf season has a great vibe to it, especially during recent years as more slo-mads choose to explore this area with their surfboards in tow.
What separates Santa Marianita from some of Manabi’s better-known cities and towns is that you’ll still find the majority of the population involved in fishing. These fishing trips often last for many days and weeks, with the risk of piracy becoming an increasing concern for fishermen.
You’ll see fishermen coming and going, and whilst it’s certainly possible to tag along if you find a suitable trip, you certainly won’t find the locals advertising fishing tours. This can make it even more special if you do meet some locals that are happy to take you out. You’d certainly want to offer some money – at least to help out with their expenses.
However, you can find some commercial operators offering deep sea and sportfishing tours. Ocean Freaks offers these tours. I haven’t been on one so can’t comment about them (hint to Ocean Freaks – please take me out lol).
The fishing village is still the heart and soul of the local community. This is where you’ll find the simple, yet tasty and filling meals, along with small supermarkets & other shops.
But, many long-term expats choose to live a little away from the village in a beachside suburb called “Playa Bonita”. This is where you’ll find the fancy developments sold to foreigners.
Close to Manta
Being so close to the bustling, expat-friendly city of Manta is a considerable attraction to staying here as you’re only 20 minutes away from all of the amenities that you could want.
But, it feels like you’re a million miles away.
Manta is also a major transport hub, providing air and bus connections to other parts of Ecuador. They’re also in the middle of a major airport upgrade, which should hopefully include additional international connections.
A taxi from Manta will cost you about $15, just be sure to let the driver know that you want to go to “Playa Santa Marianita”, as Google Maps might point you to another Santa Mariantia that is still in Manta.
But, a cheaper alternative favored by the locals is to catch public transport in the form of a camieneta from Manta’s main mercado. This costs $1.25 per person and is perhaps your best opportunity to make friends with locals.
This proximity to Manta can really help those that choose to spend a month or more chilling in Santa Marianita. How you ask? Well, Santa Marianita can feel a little small after a while.
So, having the option to sneak into Manta to try a different restaurant, do some shopping, or even have a hit of golf can go a long way to alleviating any feelings of boredom that can crop up when staying in the same small town for an extended period of time.
The proximity to Manta goes the other way too. With many visitors from Manta and other cities visiting the beaches around Santa Marianita on the weekend. This can definitely change the overall mood from something that is quite lazy and chilled to more upbeat. But note, you won’t find anything coming close to the party atmosphere of Montanita – so if this is what you’re after, you should definitely skip this sleepy village.
Mountain biking is another sport that is gaining traction here. The hills behind town make for an interesting and challenging ride. Your best bet for arranging a bike is via your accommodation.
The Ruta Del Sol is one of the most popular and scenic rides throughout Ecuador. It meanders through many small villages and towns, covering diverse environments and tourist attractions.
There’s really not that many good options for renting vehicles in Ecuador. You can rent a car in Manta, but if you want to feel the breeze through your hair, you can also opt for a motorcycle sidecar tour from this tour company. They start their sidecar tours in Santa Marianita.
National Parks & Forests
You can find several great day trip options from SM that will allow you to enjoy the various environments this unique part of the world has to offer.
Pacoche Tropical Forest
If you go just 10km south, right near San Lorenzo, you’ll think you’re in another world as you enter the Pachoche Tropical Forest.
Santa Marianita is super dry, receiving rain on only a handful of days every year. But, smack bang in the middle of this dry coastal area lies the enticing microclimate of Pacoche. Here they receive rain on most days thanks to the low clouds that pass through. It’s quite surreal as you drive from one environment into the other.
You can book a day trip to Pachoche from SM. In addition to the lush greenery, you’ll also run into some howler & capuchin monkeys, over 250 bird species (many of which are endemic), tarantulas, and more.
This area is also great for producing many fruit trees which you can learn about during the tour.
Again, your accommodation is probably the best place to book a tour. Or, you can book with one of the lodges in the area such as El Mono de Pacoche run by Australian expat Jeff. He has several rooms surrounded by lush vegetation (around $30/night).
Machalilla National Park + Blue Footed Boobies
If you’re visiting this part of Manabi, then you absolutely should not miss Machalilla National Park. You could make several day trips to the National Park to make sure you can cover everything, including the 3 unique protected beaches of Playa los Frailes, Playa Negra & Playa Tortuga.
Can’t afford a trip to the Galapagos? For many, the next best thing is spotting the spectacular blue footed boobie that can be found in their thousands during summer on Isla de la Plata. You can arrange boat tours for around $40 which will get you to the island. You may also see turtles, whales & dolphins if you’re lucky enough to visit in the right season.
Speaking of turtles, there’s actually 3 different sea turtle species that nest within close proximity to SM. The Green, Leatherback, and Ridley are best found near the protected areas of San Lorenzo, but they do find their way to other nearby beaches too. The different species nest at different times of the year and you can see the hatchlings dash to the water 2 months later. There are various organizations you can volunteer with to help protect them if you’re after a more immersive experience.
When is the best time to visit?
Festive vs Sleepy?
The beaches are busiest during carnival (mid-late Feb), Christmas & school holidays. The main school holiday breaks are Jan – Feb for the coastal regions & July – Aug for the mountains.
Ecuadorian families do love spending vacations at the beach, so it’s up to you whether you want to visit when there are more people around to create a festive vibe, or whether you’d prefer to visit during a non-peak period where you’ll have much of the beach to yourself.
Wet vs Dry Season
The majority of rain falls between January and March, with some falling in December & April too. The rest of the year is very dry.
One thing to consider if visiting during the rainy season is power cuts. You can expect a power cut every week or so, especially at the start of the rainy season, when they also take longer to repair. This can be super annoying for digital nomads, but you should still be able to hotspot from your phone & use your laptop’s battery to stay online. Another option is to stay at accommodation that has a backup generator (such as Punta La Barca – see below).
Based on Your Preferred Beach Activity
Stick to the following if you want to maximize time doing what you love:
- Kitesurfing: May – December
- Surfing: December – April
- Whales: July – August
Internet in Santa Marianita
Being close to Manta means that there is quality internet available in Santa Marianita. A mid-range plan will provide speeds of 15 Mb (Up & Down).
However, because internet is relatively expensive, your accommodation may not have the speeds that work for you. If you do rely heavily on internet, we recommend having your accommodation provider send through a live screenshot or video of their current speeds (use speedtest.net or similar).
Where to eat
The undeniable staple here is seafood and it does not get any fresher. I’ve started salivating just thinking about the mountains of ceviche, fried fish, and plantains.
Here are several options that we recommend, based on how much you feel like spending:
$2 – $3
At the cheapest end of the spectrum, we have simple but tasty treats like empanadas & corviches (plantain cylinder filled with fish) followed by a batida (fruit milkshake) to wash it down. But, you won’t find these on the main street. You’ll need to wander the streets around the village and look for locals selling them from their homes.
$3 will buy you several empanadas & a batida.
$3 – $5
Still in the village, you’ll also find some homes selling a basic lunch or dinner of fish, rice & lentils or a ceviche with a fresh juice for less than $5.
$5 – $10
Your options now extend beyond the village to include some beach cabanas and other restaurants. Some options in this range include:
- Pizza in the village for around $8.
- Beach cabana for simple seafood dishes such as shrimp or fish. Choosing a cabana filled with locals is normally a good strategy. Expect to pay around $6 – $8 per basic (but big) dish.
- Don Willy’s II restaurant for all types of seafood for around $10 per dish. Hint: Try the garlic shrimp 🙂
$10 – 20
There are not many options in this higher price range, but you can expect more of a western touch. You may want to check their opening hours, especially during the quieter months.
- Ecuablue offers pizzas, ceviche, bbq grill & burgers right on the beach.
- Ocean Freaks for seafood and drinks. We normally love this restaurant but they only had a limited offering when were here last.
Where to drink
This is a town perfect for sunset drinks after a solid day of playing on the beach. It’s not the spot for wild fiestas – head to Montanita for this.
If you’ve been kitesurfing, then your best spot for a drink is right there at the school. Each of the 3 schools sells cold beers, whilst both Ocean Freaks and Humboldt have stocked bars if you prefer something else. You’re most probably exhausted from the day’s kite session, so putting your feet up with a cold beer whilst you’re drying is just lovely.
For non-kiters, I still recommend the balcony of Ocean Freaks as a great spot to enjoy a few sundowners. You can also head to any of the seaside cabanas and other restaurants as your mood chooses.
For something a little more up-market / western-friendly, then Ecuablue is definitely worth checking out when it reopens (post-COVID).
Just a few short years ago it was difficult to obtain all the everyday essentials in the village. You really needed to head into the supermarkets of Manta (ie Megamaxi) to stock up on daily supplies. But now, several bigger, but still smallish, shops have opened up that can significantly reduce your reliance on traveling into Manta.
Now you should be able to get your basic fruits, vegetables, and other basic pantry items in Santa Marianita. Part of the fun of visiting small towns like this is figuring out which hole in the wall shop sells what, and don’t be afraid to try the little bakeries & other snack outlets as you meander through.
It can also be super convenient to purchase your fruits, vegetables & seafood from the back of a passing truck that does the neighborhood rounds. Be sure to check with your accommodation whether they do receive regular visits from these, noting the days & approx times they visit.
But, let’s be clear, for anything remotely exotic you’ll still need to visit Manta.
Where to stay
You can find a wide range of accommodation options to suit many budgets.
Low-end (< $50/night)
- Punta La Barca: best for digital nomads & longer stays
- Humboldt: best for combining kite-surfing + accommodation
- Donkey Den: best for animal lovers & expat community
Punta La Barca
This is one of the only genuine coworking & coliving spots found on the Ruta Del Sol. Run by a Belgian (Inge) and Ecuadorian (Juan) couple, they focus on offering longer stays to cater more towards digital nomads and other slow travelers.
Their model is a little bit different as they alternate between welcoming ‘Digital Nomad Families” and “Solo Nomads”, depending on the time of the year. Our family did have the privilege of staying at one of their family-focused stays and we really enjoyed the feeling of community they’ve been able to build.
Inge and Juan are both avid kitesurfers too (they actually met kitesurfing – how sweet is that), so they’re happy to hook you up with some good kitesurfing deals etc too.
For me, the best feature of their setup is the co-working office setup that has wonderful ocean views and attracts a nice, cooling breeze. They have a backup generator to ensure you’ll stay online too.
They offer the following accommodation options:
- Private rooms
- Private house (opposite main area)
Best for: Digital nomads (incl families) searching for an authentic experience with a minimum 1 week stay.
How to book
It’s best to book direct with Punta La Barca as they have a limited presence on the booking sites (they charge very high commissions).
They’ve generously offered our readers a 5% discount on stays of 1 week or longer. Just use the code “ExpatsEcuador5” when submitting your booking inquiry.
Situated right on the beach, Humboldt is a great choice for kitesurfers. They offer the following options:
- Private room
They sometimes have good deals on accommodation if you book kitesurfing lessons with them, so don’t be afraid to ask about these.
I’ve had lessons with Humbolt, but have not personally stayed there. But, I know several people that have enjoyed their stay here so I’m happy to recommend them.
Best for: Kitesufers (including beginners) that want to stay right on the beach to maximize their kiting opportunities
How to book
Donkey Den Guesthouse
This centrally located & unique guesthouse is run by a US expat, Linda. Oozing with personality, Donkey Den is one of those places that attracts travelers from all walks of life.
You definitely need to love (or at least like) animals if you’re considering a stay here. Whilst you may no longer find the donkeys roaming around – after which the guesthouse is named. You’ll still find a host of domesticated and semi-domesticated pets that pop by from time to time. Linda has a big heart and often helps neglected animals.
For digital nomads, this can mean your clients/students/coworkers may hear the occasional bark, squark or gobble.
The central location opposite the beach makes it a great place to start your stay in SM.
They also host a lovely breakfast on Sundays, where they also offer a shuttle that takes diners from Manta to the Donkey Den to meet other travelers & expats before returning to Manta.
Donkey Den Guesthouse offers the following room options:
- Private Rooms
Best for: Travellers and potential expats looking to tap into the expat community.
How to book
In addition to private rooms at the above hostels & guesthouses, this also tends to be the sweet spot for Airbnb rentals in the area.
Some suggestions if you decide to book via Airbnb:
- Internet: Some hosts may not have the wifi speeds you need. Definitely request speed tests if this matters to you.
- Access to shops/food trucks: Some houses & apartments do not have easy access to local shops to purchase supplies. Some may not have regular fruit & vegetable deliveries via trucks either. If you don’t have a car, then you’ll definitely want to understand where you can get your basic supplies from.
High end ($100+/night)
At the more expensive end, you also have a good selection of properties. The following are two options that are well located and offer lovely sea views:
Please consider booking direct with these properties. However, they are also generally available on booking platforms like the following hotel metasearch engine:
Why Expats Choose to Live in Santa Marianita
Close to Manta
Manta is quickly becoming one of the most popular destinations in Ecuador for expats. The appeal is pretty simple – quality amenities mixed with affordable sea views.
But, if I’m being completely honest, the beaches of Manta have never truly inspired me and I’ve always preferred the beaches outside the city.
Living in Santa Marianita gives you the best of both worlds. Quality amenities (including healthcare and schools) can be accessed in 20 minutes, but you’re living on a nicer beach.
Land with sea views is still affordable in parts of Santa Marianita. But, prices have gone up considerably over the past 5 years, so keep this in mind as you don’t want to be purchasing at the top of a property bubble.
In particular, some of the more expensive developments that are aimed at foreign investors can be risky as it’s a smaller market.
Mostly dry, warm conditions prevail for the majority of the year. This can make it a tempting prospect for retirees coming from the colder climates found in the US & Canada.
Expat & Local Communities
There is a growing expat community that regularly meets up for social events which can be a very welcome landing pad.
But, you’re certainly not limited to just hanging out with expats if you’re open to making friends with the locals. You’ll need to brush up on your Spanish, but chances are you’ll be rewarded with some genuinely authentic friends if you put in the effort.
Wrapping Up + Next Steps
There really is a lot to like about this little gem of a village. It’s one of those places that you want to keep secret so the crowds don’t rush in and spoil the fun.
We regularly spend time here, so do feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions.
Now, hold my beer whilst I go kitesurf with some whales.