After spending a week in Guayaquil, which was hot and sticky despite frequent rain showers, I was ready for some beach time. A cool ocean breeze sounded just about perfect.When I looked into Ecuador’s beaches and tried to decide which one(s) to visit, two names came up over and over again: Canoa and Montañita. Both sounded equally as nice but what made me eventually go for Montañita was the fact that it was quite difficult to get to Canoa.The bus from Quito takes nearly nine hours (with a change in between), and from Guyaquil around six hours. Montañita was only three hours from Guayaquil by bus.
And so Montañita it was.This little beach town is not only the number one surf spot in all of Ecuador, but it’s also known as one of South America’s prime party destinations. People come from as far as Argentina to celebrate there at massive open air parties in which DJ’s play their sets right on the beach, and the music blasts loudly out of giant speakers, resounding throughout the entire bay.Arriving on a Thursday, a four-day party weekend was just about to start. I was barely able to get a room in town and had to settle for a dorm bed, but as soon as I checked into my hostel I knew it wasn’t for me. A DJ was playing house music in the backyard of the hostel – but all I wanted were a few tranquil beach days.So I packed up my Kindle and headed into town instead, hoping to find a cozy little coffee shop or a quiet spot on the beach. As soon as I got to the town center, however, it became clear that none of this was going to happen. Big speakers were set up in several bars along the beach, all blaring loud dance music. Quiet reading time on the beach? Fuhgeddaboudit.I decided to focus on finding a coffee shop instead, but again, I had no luck. There wasn’t a coffee shop in Montañita, at least not one that looked like they’d serve a decent cup of not-instant coffee. Instead of coffee shops, I passed tourist restaurant after tourist restaurant, souvenir shop after souvenir shop, with a number of tour operators in between. Flea market stalls were lining the streets, where hippies with dreadlocks sold self-made jewelry and cheesy souvenirs. A few vendors with food carts were praising their ceviche to everyone that passed.And in the middle of it all? Hundreds of people. Backpackers, party goers, families – it seemed as if everyone had descended on Montañita at the same time that I had arrived in search of some peace and quiet.I went for a long walk along the beach, which in all honesty, did not wow me in the slightest. The waves were so high that it was nearly impossible to just walk into the water and enjoy the ocean – instead, you had to be careful not to get swept away by a wave. There was a red flag on the beach, signaling that it was dangerous to go into the water.Frustrated and unsure about what to do, I went back to my hostel and got my laptop out. Was there a place nearby I could go to? On Booking.com, all but a handful of pricey hotels were booked out. I decided to check Airbnb and see if there was maybe a room somewhere available, but everything in town was either already booked or looked terrible. And then I saw a gorgeous little cabin a little further inland, away from the ocean and away from Montañita. It was closer to the coastal village of Mangaralto a few miles to the south. The cabin seemed to be in the middle of nowhere – it was exactly what I was looking for: tranquility, peace, and solitude.I still wanted some beach time, but I had a feeling that being in Montañita during a party weekend would annoy me more than it would relax me, and so I decided to spend three nights in the cabin and then return to the town after the weekend, when better accommodation was available and the all-day-all-night parties had come to an end.And so the next morning, I instructed a cab driver to bring me to the cabin, following the instructions I had gotten from the owner. I asked him to let me out on the side of the road and walked up an unpaved road to where the cabins were – or at least were I hoped they were. Luckily my sense of direction had not failed me, and after a short uphill walk, the cabins came into sight.“Yes”, I thought to myself, “this was definitely the right decision!”.
The cabins sat on a grassy hill with a mountain backdrop and beautiful flowers. Trees and coffee plants were growing on the grounds.The host showed me to my cabin, and even though there were three other cabins, I was the only guest for the weekend. I didn’t mind the solitude though, on the contrary – I was thankful for some alone time.
I spent my days in the cabin reading and writing – there was even a desk in the wooden cabin that was entirely designed by the woman who owned the cabins with her husband.One day I walked further into the mountains to visit the village and get a glimpse of rural living in Ecuador, and I made my way down to the beach every afternoon just in time for sunset.And each sunset was so worth the three kilometer walk. The colors of the sky were spectacular, and I made it a habit to treat myself to a sunset cocktail while indulging in my book.Other than a couple of bars right on the beach, there was no sign of tourism in Manglaralto. It was a fishing village through and through, with none of the crazy party tourism creeping over there from Montañita. Here, it was only locals who were enjoying the beach, with no foreigners at all. I loved watching the local kids running around in the water, screaming with joy every time they got hit by a wave.When I returned to Montañita on Tuesday morning, I was relaxed, but I was also ready for some city life – good food in particular. I had only received breakfast in the cabin, and couldn’t find any good food on my strolls to Manglaralto – it was usually the ‘Catch of the day’, and not much for vegetarians, which is why I spent most of the weekend on a fresh fruit diet.Montañita felt like a completely different town when I returned: gone was the blaring music, gone were the crowds. It was still fairly busy, but far from the masses that had overrun the village for the weekend.I found a much nicer place to stay, a little further from the town center and the beach, but with a lovely outdoors lounge area, hammocks and lush gardens – and: a kitty!And I had already seen a few places that I wanted to eat at: Thanks to its popularity, Montañita, like so many Latin American beach towns, has convinced quite a few business-savvy travelers to put their backpacks down for a while and open a restaurant. I knew there was an Israeli café with hummus and falafel, there was another Israeli place with shakshuka (which I am officially addicted to), and there were several Argentine empanada places. I couldn’t decide where to eat first!The beach still didn’t do much for me though. I have to admit that I am a bit of a beach snob these days – but lots of people do love Montañita. Had the surf not been as intense and the current less strong so that people could actually go into the water for a swim, I might have enjoyed it more, but the red flag didn’t disappear for the entire time I was in town.However, I did enjoy watching the surfers – because they definitely couldn’t complain about the waves. On the contrary, they were embracing the wild ocean here, and for me it was fun to just relax and admire their skills.The lovely lady who owns the cabin I stayed in recommended that I also visit Olon, another beach village just north of Montañita, which she said she found more enjoyable than the party town. And so I went there for an afternoon, and saw right away what she meant: the vibe in Olon was completely different. No loud bars, no ramshackle buildings – Olon felt a little nicer.In Montañita I felt that the town grew too fast, so that buildings were constructed in a rushed way, with not much thought given to aesthetics or durability, which is why most of the hostels and hotels around town look anything but inviting.What made up for the lack of charm though was the nightly sunset, which of course didn’t disappoint here either as it was just three kilometers up the road from Manglaralto. You can’t go wrong with Pacific sunsets.So while I didn’t love Montañita, I also can’t say that I had a bad time there. And who knows, had I been in the mood to party while I was there, and danced the night away every day, staying out until the wee hours of the morning, I may be raving about Ecuador’s most popular beach town now.*
*It didn’t help that two Argentine girls who were backpacking through South America were raped and murdered in Montañita last year. Several people warned me not to walk around by myself at night, not to accept drinks from strangers, to always keep an eye on my drink when I go out, and to stay away from drugs (which are widely available). All of this made me feel a bit uneasy and a little scared to have a wild party night.