It seems to us that Canoa is the sort of place you love or hate - or at least thoroughly enjoy or shrug your shoulders at. Prior to venturing to the coast, we had heard fantastic things; we were convinced that this was the place we going to spend weeks. Instead, we left after three days.
Whilst the beach is undoubtedly beautiful, the cheap seafood plentiful and there is more quality accommodation than you can shake a stick at, Canoa just fell flat. It felt like a town constructed for 100's of tourists that weren't actually there.
That is, until the weekend, when Ecuadorian families descend to the beach en masse.
Update February 2018 | In April 2016, the north coast of Ecuador experienced an earthquake of epic proportions, and Canoa itself was severely affected. Remarkably, due to the hard work of those that were affected, Canoa is recovering, with construction projects being completed every day and hotels and restaurants re-opening. Whilst it almost certainly doesn't look the same as when we visited, locals want to reassure tourists that it is a very much open for business, and that your tourist dollars will only help speed up the return to normality.
ACCOMMODATION in canoa
Understandably, although a many hotels have re-opened, accommodation options in Canoa have changed a little since we visited but there's still plenty of availability - for every budget. As a rule of thumb (if you arrive without a booking), the further south you go down the beach, the fancier the hotels becomes. Here are a selection of our top picks:
Hotel Rutamar | An eco-hostal just two minutes walk from the beach, Hotel Rutamar is a great blend of treehouse life, friendly staff and cool common areas. Provides breakfast and has guest kitchen. To check prices, availability and to find out more, click here.
Sundown Beach Hotel | Comfy rooms that open right on to the ocean, a guest kitchen, a great traveller's vibe and doubles from £16 a night. What more could you ask for? No dorms, but well-priced triples and quadruples if travelling with friends. To check prices, availability and to find out more, click here.
Rio Muchacho | Not your typical Ecuadorian coast sort of place, but an awesome option for those interested in permaculture, eco-tourism and a live-off-the-land hippie vibe. Located a 20 minute drive from Canoa, it offers the chance to really get in touch with nature. To check prices, availability and to find out more, click here.
For backpackers on a tighter budget there is no shortage of cheap and cheerful venues. Perennially popular with backpackers is Coco Loco which has dorms from as little as $8 per person although we have heard very mixed reviews from other travellers. Certainly what is clear is that it is not the cleanest of places!
Things TO DO in Canoa
Apart from sunbathing, most backpackers take the opportunity to surf the beach break here. There are a number of places renting out boards at reasonable prices but the cheapest place is opposite the main bus stop in town where a days rental costs just $8 (most other places charge $10). Hourly rates are also available, starting at $3.
Canoa has deliciously soft yellow sand along its long stretch of beach. The waves are big, strong and populated with surfers and body-boarders. We were really struck by the poor etiquette of a number of local surfers, so just watch out if you're in the sea and surfers are close by.
Dotted along the beach are the colourful shelters for rent ($5/day) which have become pretty much symbolic of Canoa. Quiet during the week, they are almost guaranteed to be filled with local weekenders come Saturday morning.
WHERE TO EAT in canoa
** We'd really appreciate if anybody that visits Canoa could let us know in the comments if any of these restaurants are still open**
In addition to the usual plates of seafood, Canoa has a number of great gringo options, including a fantastic veggie restaurant called Addicto Surf. It is only open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays but is well worth stopping by! It is difficult to find good veggie food in Latin America, but this was excellent.
Another place you should be sure check out is Surf Shak. Unabashedly catering to the western tourist, they do some great burgers and have a really good cocktail happy hour.
where to buy GROCERIES
The biggest supermarket is located on the main street on the right hand side heading away from the beach. It is not the cheapest place to shop but has the best selection in town. If you're staying long-term, then your best option is to visit San Vicente's supermarkets to stock up.
Unfortunately, Canoa is one of the few places whose nightlife does tend to suffer in the low-season. There are a number of small bars near Addicto Surf that pump out obnoxiously loud music until the wee small hours but there were rarely any clientele. (update February 2018: Adddicto Surf is no longer open).
The Surf Shak hosts weekly pub quizzes on Tuesdays and occasionally has live music. Other than that, you'll struggle. Your best bet to find out if anything's going on and meet some others is to head to Hotel Bambu for the happy hour cocktail and sunset between 5-6 p.m.
The nearest ATM is in San Vincente - approximately a 20 minute bus ride away (costs $0.75c each). It is on the main street (malecon), a few doors after TIA supermarket.
Please remember to be cautious here - the only reason for a gringo to be in San Vicente is for the ATM, therefore make sure you don't become an easy target for theft.
TRANSPORT to and from canoa
All buses to/from Canoa pass by the same street corner which is three blocks from the main beach (ask any local to point the way). For onward travel to Puerto Lopez or Montañita, please see this guide.