There is no denying that Montañita has quite the reputation. Ask any backpacker in the country their thoughts and you will either be met with a look of disdain or excitement. Undoubtedly THE party town not just on the coast but in the country, initially we weren't even sure if we were going to visit.
However, after three weeks in perhaps the quietest fishing village in the world, we were more than happy to put on the gringo-hat, abandon any pretence that we just wanted to experience Ecuadorian culture, get drunk and have a burger.
As it turns out, there is more to Montañita than just super strong cocktails and all-night parties - we weren't expecting to enjoy it so much. Sure, if you just stay in a noisy hostel in town and only visit the most crowded section of the beach, you might get an awful impression and want to pack your bags after one night. However, visit in in low season, choose a hostel away from the noise, hang out at the near empty far end of the beach and pick and choose when you want to party and with whom, and you may just end up staying here for a while.
Accommodation in Montañita is abundant, with something to satisfy literally every budget. The prices tend to get more expensive as you get further away from the bars and noise, but you can still find a relatively quiet hostel without breaking the bank. If a good night's sleep is important to you, then you really do need to get as a far away from the town centre as possible (facing the sea, take a right).
Hostels are definitely more expensive here than elsewhere on the coast, but if you visit in low season or plan to stay a few days, most places seemed to be happy to give a discount.
We stayed at Moai Hostel, and couldn't be happier with our choice - $25 for private double with en-suite, balcony, kitchen, free water and breakfast included.
WHAT TO DO
People come to Montañita for two things - to surf and to party. And it is absolutely brilliant for both.
For those more experienced in the ocean, the best time to head here is January-April when the biggest swells hit, but be warned that the this also coincides with high season, when the sea is full of surfers all trying to catch their wave. We were there in low season, at a time when it was great to learn on the gentle beach break (in fact this is the place we'd recommend for beginners wanting to improve). Board rental for the day is available for $8-10 at Casa del Sol and Hostel Ricky's, whilst most other places charge $15-20/day.
There are a number of tour companies in town, offering day trips to popular dive spots, Los Frailes, Isla de la Plata and cycle tours. We spent the day with Go Montañita on their popular 'poor man's Galapagos' package and had great fun!
Yoga classes, Spanish lessons, paragliding, learning to slack-line for free, massages and all other manner of activities are offered up here, so you'll have no excuse to be bored when not on your board.
After Los Frailes, and despite the surplus of parasols, Montañita probably has the best beach on the coast. The sand is soft, yellow and sinks under your feet.
You are never too far from a someone that can sell you an ice-cold beer and you needn't even move for food - stay any prolonged period of time and you will have offers for cookies, muffins, churros and pizza.
And the best thing? Not a child in sight.
The beach is pretty much divided in two. Closer to town, you'll find all the deck-chairs, large groups and crowds. However, walk five minutes towards the cliffs and you'll be able to get a spot all to yourself without crowds or music.
WHERE TO EAT
If like us, you've been on the road for sometime, you'll probably be craving something other than rice, meat and plantains, and Montañita is by far the best place to find it! Whether you want a greasy burger, great pizza, Asian noodles or a Belgian waffle, you will find something to satisfy even the worst hangover.
It would take weeks to try every single place in town, and whilst we'd love the chance, neither our wallets nor waistlines could probably not take it. So instead, here are the places we visited that we absolutely encourage you to give a go:
- Ezzio's pizza - for $3 you will get an individual pizza of AWESOMENESS!! Seriously, these were the best pizzas we've had since we left the UK. Located on cocktail alley, just follow your nose. If you want a bigger pizza, you'll get better value by choosing two small pizzas for $6 rather than a medium for $7.
- Rastapan - another pizza treat. Not quite as large as Ezzios and an entirely different base but wonderful for a snack. These are the pizzas that are offered on the beach.
- Thai Connection - although they were unfortunately missing the thick rice noodles that a pad thai really calls for, this ticked ticked off a major Asian craving we'd both been having. The meat dishes are a little pricey ($8 - $10) but the portions are huge.
- Tiki Grill - a firm Montañita favourite, Tiki serves up all manner of treats for the carnivorous amongst you including a selection of fantastic (and massive) burgers! But do not fear vegetarians, the falafel burger is pretty bloody brilliant too. The burgers cost $8, the other main dishes cost this and above - this is not a budget friendly place, but great for a splurge or hangover cure.
- Empanada stands - given the abundance of Argentinians in town, it is hardly surprising that they do a roaring trade in empanandas. Far less greasy than the Ecuadorian equivalents, you'll find a bare-foot hippy peddling this on the street at any time of day. The going rate is $1 each.
- Almuerzos - There are a number of small locally-owned comedors in town, a little away from the main drag, where you can get a great soup/main/juice combo for $3. Not the best we've had on the coast, but definitely a great option for those watching the pennies.
Given the size of the town it is hugely surprising that there is NO supermarket. Instead, you will find multiple small tiendas and the odd fruit and veg lady.
Whilst the produce is actually really good quality and the mark-up on price not too extreme, for anyone hoping to cook more than eat out the supplies on offer are rather limited and pretty costly. Our recommendation is to hop on the bus to Olon (around 10 minutes north, should cost no more than $0.50) and do a shop in the small supermarket there. Alternatively, a two-hour round trip to Puerto Lopez will give you more options.
It's also worth knowing that you'll inevitably end up paying a little gringo-tax whilst you're here. We had a number of shops try and charge us ridiculous amounts for things such as bottled water.
Simply follow the noise! Every good night begins on cocktail alley - a narrow street lined by wooden stalls selling every cocktail known to man. For $3 you can get a large, STRONG glass of your favourite tipple. As expected, some are better than others, so you have a good excuse to try a few! Oh, and remember, if it's not strong enough for you, they don't mind if you ask for some more booze!
There are a number of 'clubs' in town, but the cover charges can make your eyes water. Our favourite FREE place was Caña Grill. Located at the end of cocktail alley, this is a bar/live music venue/club with sandy floors, drinks offers and good music. Open until 4am most nights, it is a very popular place to end your night.
The ultimate budget-backpacker's destination on a Thursday night should be Hola Ola's Ladies night where the first 50 women get unlimited free drinks until 12.30 a.m. If you're not lucky enough to be amongst the first 50 or have a penis, the good news is that for everybody else it's still only $10 entry to enjoy the open bar until 12.30 a.m.