Manati, Puerto Rico

Manatí is located on the north coast of Puerto Rico and measures 119 square kilometers (46 square miles). It is known as the «Athens of Puerto Rico,» an appellation that arose from the development of the town as a cultural center during the first decades of the 20th century. The town is comprised of Bajura Adentro, Bajura Afuera, Coto Norte, Coto Sur, Manatí Pueblo, Río Arriba Poniente, Río Arriba Saliente, Tierras Nuevas Poniente, and Tierras Nuevas Saliente wards. According to the 2000 census, there are 45,409 manatieñosor atenienses. 

Manatí has many beaches, the most famous of which are Mar Chiquita and Los Tubos. There is a beach festival in July, and the festival in honor of the town’s patron saint, Our Lady of Candlemas, is held in February. The principal industry of the town is pharmaceutical manufacturing. Other factories include electronics, electrical equipment, scientific instrumentation, footwear, and clothing. Manatí has fertile land irrigated by several aquifers, which has allowed for agricultural development, especially pineapples, coconuts, and other fruit. The cattle sector showed sales of more than $10,000,000 in 2002. Other sectors of the economy include commerce, Manatí being the urban center of the North Central region, services, and tourism.


Manatí is located on the north coast of the island and is bordered on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the south by Ciales and Morovis; on the east by Vega Baja; and on the west by Barceloneta and Florida. The town is in the northern coastal plain and the karst area, the latter including may caves, haystack and sinkhole formations. Caves include La Jiménez and La Cueva del Agua (Tierras Nuevas Saliente ward), which are the most attractive, as well as the Las Golondrinas cave (Coto Sur ward ). The Pelota ridge in Río Arriba Poniente ward at 250 meters (820 pies) above sea level is its highest point.

The town of Manatí is irrigated by the Río Grande de Manatí river, which runs across the municipality from south to north. Located between Manatí and Barceloneta, it is the third largest river by volume on the island and the fourth largest that runs into the Atlantic Ocean. The watershed of the river measures 580 square kilometers (224 square miles) and runs through the towns of Barranquitas, Ciales, Corozal, Naranjito, Morovis, Orocovis, Florida, Barceloneta, and Manatí. The Tortuguero Lagoon is also located in the municipality, and extends partially into Tierras Nuevas Saliente ward.

Manatí, Boquilla and Chivato Points are located in the municipality. The first two have several small keys. Boquilla and Chivato are at either side of Tortuguero inlet. Mar Chiquita Beach is considered one of Puerto Rico`s most attractive beaches.

Manatí was founded in 1738 by Pedro Menéndez de Valdés. It was the ninth settlement to be officially recognized by the Spanish Crown in Puerto Rico. According to some historians, the name of the town is due to the proliferation of the marine mammal the manatee (Trichecus manatus) at the mouth of the Río Grande de Manatí. Other historians believe that the name is derived from the name of the rivers the Taino people called Manatuabón. It has been said that this river may have been the river mentioned by Juan Ponce de León as the Ana River, where he attempted to establish the first Spanish settlement, having been attracted by the rich valley and the promise of gold in the river. It is said that the settlers left because of the strong tides in the area.

Documents show that in 1729 Bishop Sebastián Lorenzo Pizarro visited the region and observed that ahermitage had been erected on the banks of the Manatí river, in honor of Our Lady of Candlemas. By 1733, the population had increased significantly and Governor Matías de Abadía, who had named Pedro Menéndez de Valdés lieutenant of the Manatí riverbank, granted him a caballería, which in Puerto Rico was about 200 acres, of land in the Talantar channel for agricultural purposes.

Finally, the town was officially founded in June of 1738, in the Manatí Abajo ward of Arecibo. The first years were unlucky, the economy being devastated by pests that attacked the crops and storms that destroyed the town, including hurricanes Santa Rosa, on August 30, 1738 and San Leoncio, on September 12, 1738. In 1776, Friar Iñigo Abbad y Lasierra described Manatí as a prosperous settlement where there were 447 families, «more than three thousand souls.» According to Villar Roces, Fernando Miyares González, another chronicler of the time, recounted the following in 1775: «There are about one hundred tile-roofed houses set closely together and some others scattered about. The church is built of stone and is the best on the island… There is a fair amount of activity in the town and the residents are comfortable; there is an infantry company of the Milicias Disciplinadas…» (Volume 13, p. 196).

In 1786, the town was destroyed by a large earthquake, but the residents quickly rebuilt it. In 1831, according to Pedro Tomás de Córdoba, the municipality included Bajura, Coto and Arenas Blancas, Cuchillas, Llanadas and Garrochales, Manatí Abajo, Palmas Altas, Río Arriba, Sabana Hoyos, Tierras Nuevas, and Yeguada wards. By the mid-19th century, Yeguada and Cuchillas wards had disappeared, and Punta and Boca wards were created. In 1878, Ubeda and Delgado do not mention Llanadas and Sabana Hoyos wards, but do mention the new ward of Florida, which many years later became an independent municipality. In 1899, Palmas Altas, Garrochales, Florida Adentro, Florida Afuera, and Manatí Abajo wards became part of themunicipality of Barceloneta. Punta and Boca wards were also separated. In 1940, Coto ward was subdivided into Coto, Coto Norte, and Coto Sur.

In economic terms, in 1853, the town changed from mining to agriculture. Sugar cane became the principal crop, and there were twelve mills in operation. There were also five pottery shops, three barrel-making shops, and two carpenter shops. By then, there were 280 dwellings in Manati constructed of rubble and brick or wood, over two thousand straw bohíos, two plazas, eight streets, and a school with fifty students. The town population grew and the economy developed throughout the 20th century, and in July of 1994, Manati was designated a city. The town coat of arms was changed from showing three towers to showing five towers, a characteristic of a city coats of arms. Since then, the town became known as the metropolis. The city leaders have devoted significant effort to acquire cutting edge technology for the residents. On March 5, 1998, Manatí made history by launching Atenas Internet, the first Internet provider managed by a municipality.

In the cultural arena, in the early 20th century, Manatí was given the nickname of the «Athens of Puerto Rico» because of its extraordinary level of cultural and artistic activity. According to Villar Roces, Manatí outshone «most of the other municipalities, and because of the celebrity of its floral games, which were better even than those that were held in the principal cities of the island.» (p. 197). The appellation is also due to the salons that were held on the terrace of the Spanish social club known as the Casino Español, «… which counted among its participants the most exquisite poets and brilliant men of letters such as José de Jesús Esteves, Enrique Zorrilla, Clemente Ramírez de Arellano, Angel M. Villamil, Cándido Alvarado, Luis Antonio Miranda, and Juan R. Parés.» Many prominent intellectuals also came from San Juan, such as Luis Lloréns Torres, Evaristo Ribera Chevremont, Cristóbal Real, Nicolás Blanco, José Pérez Lozada, José Adsuar, and Manuel Fernández Juncos.

The town is also known as being one of the places on the island where the «wakes of the Cross» were held, a custom that originated in a remote era in the south of Spain. Some historians believe that the wake began to be sung in Puerto Rico after the 1787 earthquake. The Festival of the Cross is characterized by singing with rosary beads, known as the rosario cantao. According to the town custom, the event is held on three occasions: on the anniversary of the death of a loved one; because of a promise made to a saint; and in May, which is the month of the Cross. The Wakes of the Cross were held for nine consecutive nights, at the end of which there was a dance. At four o’clock in the morning, there was a procession to the beach, and the participants spent the rest of the day there.


The Manatí flag  has three horizontal stripes, the uppermost is white, the middle band is red and the bottom stripe is blue. The central band is narrower than the other two. The colors are those of the coat of arms of the founder of the town, Pedro Menénedez de Valdés.

Coat of Arms
The coat of arms  is divided into four quarters by two intersecting lines in the shape of a cross. The first and third quarters bear a Greek temple, the Parthenon, a reference to Mananti`s appellation as the «Athens of Puerto Rico». The second and fourth quarters bear a manatee, representing the name of the city. A small shield at the center has flames, symbolizing the bonfires that are traditionally lit during the festival to honor the patroness of the city, Our Lady of Candlemas.

Places of Interest

  • Old Market
  • Old municipal cemetery
  • Río Encantado
  • Los Tubos beach and recreational area
  • Francisco Alvarez Marrero municipal library
  • City Hall
  • La Monserrate Sugar Mill
  • Acrópolis Sports Complex
  • Pedro Román Meléndez Municipal Stadium
  • Our Lady of Candlemas and Saint Matthew Apostle Church
  • Paseo de la Atenas (Athens Walkway)
  • History Square
  • La Esperanza beach
  • La Poza de las Mujeres beach
  • Mar Chiquita beach– This beautiful beach has its own legend.
  • Hacienda La Esperanza nature reserve
  • Laguna Tortuguero Lagoon nature reserve
  • Manuel Joglar Cacho Poets Hall
  • Christ of Miracles and Mount Calvary Sanctuary
  • Taboas Theater

Illustrious Citizens

Francisco Alvarez and Marrero – Poet and journalist. Alvarez founded La Voz del Norte, and his poems include one called «Los recuerdos de mi pueblo», ( «Memories of the town where I was born»).

José Miguel Class, «Gallito de Manatí» – A popular singer who has had a brilliant career in Puerto Rico and abroad.

Epifanio Fernández Vanga – Essayist and defender of the teaching of the Spanish language in the Puerto Rican school system. He is the author of El idioma de Puerto Rico and El idioma escolar de Puerto Rico.

Miguelito Miranda – A famous trumpet player.

Juan Ramón Ramos Vélez – An attorney and political figure, he was mayor of Manatí in 1887.

Clemente Ramírez de Arellano – Poet and political figure.

Néstor Rodríguez Escudero – A writer of stories and essays, whose works include Jaicoa, cuentos y leyendas and El mar en la literatura puertorriqueñaand other essays.


Festival of Our Lady of Candlemas – February
Los Tubos beach festival – June/July
Mar Chiquita festival – June
Christmas festival – December


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