Enjoying Montanita: Ecuador’s Surf & Hippie Hangout

Kativa & I on Avenida de los Cocteles
Kativa & I take over Poeta's bar on Avenida de los Cocteles

I arrived in Montanita on a Saturday afternoon, the busiest day of the week in the little surf and hippie hangout on Ecuador’s Pacific coast.

The streets were filled with a mix of vacationing Ecuadorians, dreadlocked South American hippies, and surfers from around the world.

My friend Kevin likened Montanita to a “backpacker vortex” because it sucks travelers into its laid-back, daily rhythm of life.

After spending 2 weeks, and 3 weekends there, I wholeheartedly agree. Montanita quickly grew to become one of my favorite places in the world.

And much like my visits to Gili Trawangan and Caye Caulker, my time in Montanita was defined not by a single amazing experience, but rather by all the little ones that collectively made up the whole.

Making Friends

I met Kativa and Whitney that first Saturday night at Hola Ola, a Western-owned bar known for its weekly Ladies Night every Thursday, and Saturday’s “all-you-can-drink-for-$6” night.

(Note: both open bars are only about two hours, and the drinks they peddle are a heavily liqoured vodka-juice combination that’s intended to get you drunk before you realize how terrible it tastes.)

Montanita is a short two and a half hour bus ride from Guayaquil, so it’s common for the town to swell with partying Guayaquilenos on the weekends.

Kativa’s outgoing personality (and cute looks) immediately caught my attention. We ended up spending the following week together: drinking, dancing, speaking in Spanish, and walking in countless circles around town.

She had lived there for a few months previously, and seemed to know everyone. And if she didn’t know someone, she would change that quickly.

The beach in Montanita, Ecuador
The beach in Montanita

The Beach

Montanita was originally a surf destination, and if you talk to the local expats, it won’t take long to meet some that talk of the days when they first visited years ago, before the paved roads, and Wi-Fi enabled hostals being constructed today.

I’ve already tried my hand at surfing around the world, so I spent my time taking reflective walks down the beach to The Point (a rocky outcropping at the North end) and back.

On one occasion, I walked with Kativa to The Point in the late morning, at low tide. We continued beyond the “danger” sign, walking past tidal pools, until we had turned the corner of the cliff.

We were suddenly alone, with only the sound of the crashing surf against the jagged rocks. We were rewarded for our valor with a view of the neighboring pueblo further up the coast.

Other popular beach activities included soccer and volleyball, eating ceviche, and the typical tanning and people-watching.

Ocean view at Mochica Sumpa hostal
Ocean view at Mochica Sumpa hostal

A Room with a View

Arriving late on a Saturday afternoon, I simply walked into the first oceanside hostal I saw, and ponied up for a private room. The next day as I shopped around, I quickly found I was paying three times the typical rate.

I moved to Hostal Papaya in the center of town, where I proceeded to lose any ability to sleep due to the constant noise, a mix of cement mixers and construction on the hotel across the street, and music blaring unti 3 AM from the local bars and discotecas.

If I was going to stay in Montanita another week until my birthday, I had to find a quieter room. I gave up Wi-Fi access in favor of a room with an ocean view at Mochica Sumpa. I offered to pay a week up front, and they slashed the room rate in half (to $10/night).

Despite the presence of a big discoteca 50 meters away, the loud music was softened by the sounds of the waves crashing on the rock retaining wall at high tide.

The ocean was so loud, I wondered at first if it would keep me awake as well, but I quickly got use to the new soundtrack playing outside my room.

Sunday Night Concerts

Every Sunday night, after the weekend party crowd goes home, Montanita becomes super-chill again.

Sunday nights were my favorite for this reason, as well as the concerts and performances held outside the Mochica Sumpa Hostal.

Around 10 PM, a singer from Guayaquil would perform a set with a group of local musicians. He sang slow enough that I was able to understand some of the songs in Spanish.

After the Guayaquileno sang, others would perform. And it wasn’t just musicians. Some very talented local jugglers would do their thing, and on my 2nd Sunday, there was a full-fledged visiting circus — clowns and all!

On my 3rd and final Sunday in town, before the Guayaquileno singer performed, I introduced myself as a new fan.

I then recorded his entire 40-minute set that night, as I knew it would always be a way for me to return to those Sunday nights in Montanita.

Pizza for sale
Pizza for sale on the streets of Montanita

Sampling the Street Food

While there are plenty of restaurants in Montanita, none featured food that really stood out to me. Instead, I became a fan of the street food.

There are the regular vendors, mostly Ecuadorian though I met some Colombians from Cali selling Colombian-style empanadas.

And then there are the hippies walking the streets with platters of homemade pizza, empanadas, and sweet pastries.

The hippie-food was my favorite. Most portions cost one US Dollar, and you knew the money was helping them live their hippy lives.

“Happy” brownies (aka pot brownies) were also openly for sale on the weekends. Weed was certainly the most benign drug available for partiers in Montanita.

The police don’t strictly enforce the drug laws there, which  might explain all the hippies!

Nativa Bambu discoteca
Nativa Bambu discoteca

Feliz Cumpleanos a Mi

I was enjoying Montanita so much, I stayed for a third weekend to celebrate my 35th birthday.

My friend Jodi of Legal Nomads likes to celebrate her birthdays by climbing mountains around the world.

I prefer to spend it dancing the night away in Latin clubs. Preferably salsa dancing.

To kick the night off, I had a mojito mixed by an Ecuadorian friend, Fatima, who I’d met through Kativa the week before.

Fatima had just moved Montanita from Guayaquil, and was working for one of the cocktail vendors. I don’t think her new boss was too happy she took off work early on a Saturday night to help me celebrate, but I certainly appreciated it.

We went to my discoteca of choice, Nativa Bambu, which overlooks the ocean and features the biggest dance floor in town. While there was a dire lack of salsa played that night, I still had a lot of fun dancing to the merengue and reggaeton.

Like my 34th birthday in Medellin, I couldn’t have been happier to be celebrating my 35th in the friendly, surfer/hippie enclave of Montanita, Ecuador. [gbicon]


  1. says

    Great post Dave! Montañita is a fun & chill place to spend a few weeks. Let’s face it, it’s difficult to leave! I sadly only spent two days there during Semana Santa (Holy Week) camping along the beach because all accommodation was completely booked and it was crazy packed (everyone in Ecuador wanted to be there). I look forward to returning with my wife someday.

  2. Will - Gap Daemon says

    Wowee Davey boy! What a way to see in the big ol’ 35. Helping people live there hippie lives is what it’s all about my dear.

    This place looks cooler than cool. Ice cold.

    What was the ceviche like?

    • says

      Thanks Will. I have to admit up front I’m not a big ceviche fan…though I keep trying it. I paid $5 for a bowl of fish and shrimp ceviche from one of the street vendors and it was OK.

      If I’m going to get it, I prefer a small portion as an appetizer in a nicer restaurant. Otherwise, it’s not my favorite snack!

  3. says

    Well, I have to say that Montanita sounds like my version of hell. Which is why I chose Puerto Lopez, a bit further north up the coast and much more chilled. Not many tourists but lots of local fishermen and their families who all made me very welcome, along with lots of history and archeology and sulfur mud baths, etc. But for those who like to party, sounds like Montanita is just the ticket. Belated 35th, my friend! :-)

    • says

      Thanks Barbara. Yeah, Montanita won’t be for everyone, but based on outward appearances alone, I thought it more scenic than Puerto Lopez where I went to see the whales. But I’m glad to hear you had a nice time there — and imagine, enjoyed some fresh seafood. :)

    • says

      It’s a fun place, super friendly, and wouldn’t have been nearly as fun if it weren’t for the fact that it’s a popular spot not just for backpackers, but Ecuadorians from around the country too.

  4. Juan says

    Loves the post, Dave. Most of my family is Ecuadorian, so I’ve spent well over a month total in Montañita and still consider it my favorite beach town in the world. Weekends can get too crazy, I actually prefer it during the week. It’s expat heaven, though. Did you get a chance to go to Don Carbon or Por Que No?

    • says

      Hey Juan, thanks. I met the American owner of Por Que No in another restaurant and we talked for a bit. I stopped by for a drink one night, but spent most of my time at Tikki Limbo because the seats/tables were the most comfortable and they had good wi-fi, and location for people watching. :)

  5. Victoria says

    Thanks for this Dave! I’m about to make my journey from Mancora, Peru to Ecuador n the next week or so, I will visit the hostel you recommended! I’m on a tight budget so these tips have really helped! Where did you go after here? I’m planning on making my way to Colombia – enjoy your travels

    • says

      Be prepared, I heard Montanita was a bigger party vibe than Mancora (which is why I skipped the latter)!

      After Montanita, I took the bus to Cuenca, then Vilcabamba, and finally across the Peruvian border to Chachapoyas. In other words, I was heading in the opposite direction as you.

  6. Holly says

    Dave! This place is sick! Oh my God! Can you get by there if you only speak English? I am interested in moving to Ecuador…do you have any idea how hard it is for an American to move there? I have to figure out how to get my 2 tiny little dogs there….this place sounds exactly like where I want to be. Happy birthday! Holly in Nashville, TN

    • says

      Hi Holly, yea, Montanita’s a fun place. It’s extremely small though, which is good or bad depending on what you’re looking for in a place to live. I noticed a few of the expats living there actually lived in neighboring towns, not Montanita itself. That might be due to the constant party atmosphere, or maybe all the tourists.

      Yes, you can easily get by if you only speak English. They’re used to tourists.

      I don’t have any info on moving to Ecuador, but I think the visa situation is pretty easy.

  7. Robert Eggleton says

    Life is just too short. Looking back, I’m amost 62, I wish that I’d made more time for fun. Even during the 60s, while I have a lot of fond memories, I mostly remember work orgainzing protests, writing counter culture newsletters, etc. Please go back on a second vacation for me. Right now I’m involved in a project (Lacy Dawn Adventures) trying to raise money to prevent child abuse in West Virginia. I feel stuck in the hollow (Rarity from the Hollow is my first novel and is now for sale) and keep singing “Free Bird.” Have a great life.

    • says

      Hi Robert, thanks for stopping by Go Backpacking. One thing I love about travel is it always keeps you appreciating the present moment as you encounter new and different experiences.

      In that regard, I’ve already lived several lives at the age of 36, but I’m starting to slow down :)

      • says

        Thanks for the reply. I definitely need a vacation, but it will have to be on the cheap. I’m waiting until we get a car that I think can make it from West Virginia to the beach. It has been over a decade.

  8. Vahe says

    I have been to Montanita for couple of days and loved the place. Now, I am seriously into surfing and thinking of going back and surf and work remotely for a few months- September to November-

    I recall there was a surf bar with lots of english speaking people. Do you happen to know anyone so I can ask them questions about staying there? thanks

    • says

      I don’t remember a surf bar, specifically, but the town is so small you can ask anyone working at the restaurants. Most, if not all waitresses are foreigners. I met a lot from Argentina and Chile.

  9. says

    REALLY enjoyed this post…brought back some pretty special memories of some weeks there a long, long time ago.

    It reads like the essence of the place remains fairly unchanged.

    We arrived late at night in the back of a pick-up after full 24 hours journey from Huanchaco, Peru…from my diary (29 June, 1997):

    “After an hour or so we reach Montanita and reluctantly left our curious local companions in the pick-up and wandered into town. An excellent place! We could hear the surf as we searched for somewhere to stay. We settled on a magnificent 3-storey timber building with hammocks and views of the beach…$2.50 a night!

    “We checked in, strung up our mosquito nets and headed off up the beach for a bite to eat. The water was busy with fishermen catching prawn larvae to sell to the local shrimp farms. Their female compabions sat on the dry sand tending small fires and keeping an eye on the tubs of wriggling larvae that bring them a substantial income.

    “The only person we encountered up the beach was an armed security guard giving off an angry vibe so we strolled back to town. It was quite late by now but we found a small, outdoor bar and ordered great vego pizza and cold beer.

    “The waitress gave us something to smoke down by the beach so we kicked back by the life guard’s tower and absorbed the sounds of the waves, and the fishermen’s lights before returning to our lodgings. Up, up, up the stairs, into our open-ended room. Got tangled up in my mosquito net and fell asleep scratching. A very long day, indeed.”

    • says

      Hey Ben, glad you enjoyed it. And I’m glad to hear it hasn’t changed all that much in the 14 years since you visited. I’m sure it’s more developed, but it was still incredibly small compared to other popular beaches I’ve visited.

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