About 35km east of Manta and connected to it by a fast road, PORTOVIEJO sits rather uneasily as the inland capital of coastal Manabí province. Ecuadorians know the province as the relaxed and fun-loving place of beach resorts and peaceful fishing villages, but Portoviejo is seen as its boring overseer, staffed by office workers toiling in the heat and dust. It's not of great appeal to visitors, who usually end up here by accident rather than design to change buses or money, though if you have your own transport the villages of Zozete, on the road to Crucita, and La Pila, towards Montecristi, do a thriving trade in tagua carvings and reproductions of (erotic) pre-Columbian ceramics respectively.
Francisco Pacheco founded Portoviejo on March 12, 1535, under the orders of the conquistador Diego de Almagro, who wanted to bring order to the region after the destruction wrought by Pedro de Alvarado a year earlier. Although founded on the coast, it was relocated "seven leagues inland" later that year, only to suffer a terrible fire in 1541. Nevertheless, the area soon became an important agricultural centre, and in the 1570s even the few nearby indigenous communities that had survived the Conquest were doing well enough to own horses and commercial farms – while still having to pay crushing tribute to their Spanish overlords. During the post-colonial era Portoviejo flourished as a business centre, and while it's now second to Manta in commercial activity, it's still a key administrative centre and the site of an important state university.