ten things to know before travelling the coast of ecuador

A number of people visiting Ecuador focus only on the Amazon, colonial cities, hikes in the interior and the expensive Galapagos. In fact,  we've met a number of travellers skipping the country completely whilst on their South American trip.

However, they'll be missing out on a gorgeous stretch of coastline where you can find perfect surf and some great beach towns. 

We spent seven weeks travelling down, then up, then back down the coast of Ecuador. These are the things you need to know before you make the same trip! 

#1 there aren't ATMs in some of the best places

Atacames has several cash machines, as does Puerto Lopez, but Canoa, Mompiche and Ayampe don't. Here's an overview:

  • Mompiche - closest ATM in Atacames
  • Canoa - need to take local bus to San Vincente where there are several
  • Montañita - several ATMs but all charge withdrawal fees and have maximums of $150-200
  • Ayampe - closest ATM is in Montañita or Puerto Lopez

#2 the seafood is incredibly tasty and incredibly cheap

Go for the lunch deal in almost every town and for $3-4 per person, you can get prawn soup followed by fried fish. Or fish soup followed by breaded prawns. Or if you're feeling crazy, prawn and prawn or fish and fish - the choices are endless! 

Cheap seafood, Ecuador

For anyone on a budget, we definitely recommend making lunch your main meal of the day. For us, it was great to visit a restaurant and be guaranteed something tastier and cheaper than we could cook on our own.

And for those of you that are heading to Mompiche or further north to Atacames etc, you definitely have to gorge on prawn or fish encocado - seafood cooked in a delicious coconut sauce. It is somewhat of a speciality to the area, and every restaurant will have a 'mama' with a different recipe - you'll literally never have the same dish twice!

#3 if the Lonely Planet calls it a fishing village, it probably isn't.

We've fallen victim to this on a number of beach trips. The guidebooks paint a picture of idyllic and chilled out little fishing villages with pristine beaches. But when you arrive, the town has trashy souvenir shops, pumping music and ugly hotels lining the beach.

Along the coast of Ecuador, the majority of places fit this bill. However, there is still a little gem you can visit our favourite place on the coast, Mompiche

To know exactly what to expect in each town on the coast, read our ultimate guide to Ecuador's beaches here

#4 if you visit on a weekend, be prepared for crowds!

The contrast between Canoa when we arrived on Sunday afternoon and when we went out to the beach on Monday morning was stark. Ecuadorians love to hit the beach en masse on the weekend, so be aware that some places may feel a little overrun from Saturday to Sunday, whilst prices at accommodation may also increase. 

#5 there are some great surf spots

Surf is great on Ecuador's Coast!

Ecuador has long been known for its awesome surf. Whilst the best waves hit the coast between December and April, if you come out of season you'll still find great waves but with hardly anybody else fighting you for it.

If you're keen on learning to surf, or are a beginner looking to improve, then we recommend the beach break in Montañita

#6 buy plenty suncream before you arrive

The average temperature during our time on the coast was 30 degrees - i.e. pretty bloody hot. For those of us not keen on being a perpetual shade of pink, we're going to need a LOT of suncream.

Unfortunately, and for reasons we can't entirely fathom, suncream is incredibly expensive here. So, if you can, stock up on it before you arrive or at least stop in Atacames on the way south where you can get a 250ml tube of SPF 50 Banana Boat for less than $10. In other towns, that same tube retails at $15-20. 

#7 everywhere is accessible by public bus

Despite the fact that the distances between coastal towns isn't that great, you'll often have to catch multiple connections to travel between destinations. Thankfully, most buses are inexpensive and frequent. Do be prepared to pay a little more on the way to Montañita where transport rates have almost tripled ($3 per person for a one hour ride). 

Hitch-hiking is also a decent option if you're comfortable with the risks it can present. 

#8 visiting in low season is cheaper and better

We visited the coast part way into low season (April - May) and, although there were a couple of nights in some of the quieter towns when we wished there were a few more backpackers to have a drink with, we remained very happy with our decision. 

Accommodation in Ecuador has proven to be a little more costly than elsewhere in Latin America, especially when you consider the standard of a lot of the rooms. By travelling in low season, there is a lot more potential to get a discount here and there.

Empty beaches can be found during low season!

Additionally, as we mentioned above, Ecuadorians LOVE hitting the beach at the weekend - we can only imagine how crazy the coast could become during the school holidays!

#9 there are lots of mosquitoes

Any half-decent hostel is going to give you a bed with a mozzie-net and for good reason. You will get bit during the evening so make sure to take the usual precautions by using lots of bug spray and trying to cover up in the evenings.

Malaria is not uncommon on the coast; especially in the Esmeraldas province. This is a disease that can kill, and at a bare minimum would certainly make you very unwell, therefore seriously consider the need for anti-malarials. If you need more information on malaria in Latin America, take a look at our guide.

Additionally, there has been a recent increase in the number of reported cases of Chikangunya and dengue fever. Anti-malarials won't protect you from these, but the other recommended precautions will help.

Top tip: DEET is very difficult to come by, if not impossible. The best alternative is Deltan, sold in any supermarket or pharmacy. A small bottle costs around $3 and lasted us nearly a week. If you get the one for kids, there is almost no offensive smell either. If you're looking to buy a good mosquito-repellent before you set off to Ecuador, we can't recommend this one highly enough - repels the little buggers, it's not rested on animals and it's good for the environment.

#10 you can experience the galapagos on a budget

You don't need to spend a fortune to visit the Galapagos - try Isla de la Plata instead!

Well, ok, it isn't that much like the Galapagos but Isla de la Plata is a good option for budget backpackers who can't make it to the real thing. If you take a day trip from Puerto Lopez or Montañita you're guaranteed to see the famous blue-footed boobie, red-throated frigates and snorkel with some impressive fish. You may even spot the odd whale if you visit during the right time (June-September). 


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10 Things to Know Before Travelling the Coast of Ecuador

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