"Oh, yeah, the hippie surfer beach."
That's the universal answer about this beach town from almost anyone you ask in Ecuador, even if the person you're asking has never actually been there. So is the description valid?
Well, yes and no.
Cynthia and I decided it was time for an ocean getaway, and since I'm an avid body surfer Montanita had been on my radar for some time. Based on TripAdvisor recommendations I booked an oceanfront room at Hostal Kundalini, a short five minute walk down the beach to town. Our four night stay, including breakfast, plenty of hot water, and daily maid service set us back $120.
We took a van through the foggy Cajas to Guayaquil,
walked a couple of blocks to the bus terminal/mall, bought our tickets, and for the first time in years ate Big Mac's and fries from McDonald's in the food court (Why? Because we're on vacation, dammit!), then rode a very clean and comfortable bus 2 1/2 hours to our destination. We had no idea where our lodging was, but Montanita's really small so the first person we asked promptly directed us to our location just a couple of blocks away.
Kundalini is exactly as described (thanks, TripAdvisors!)--lovely landscaped green space,
large enough rooms with a big bathroom, huge balcony with two hammocks overlooking the ocean,
and juice, coffee/tea, fruit, eggs and toast each morning. But just as important is that five minute distance from what is a real party town. There are numerous night clubs, some of them huge,
and we're told the noise goes on into the wee hours. All we heard each night were the waves outside our room.
Speaking of which, I must comment that it's delightful to wake up each morning to the sounds of songbirds and crashing waves instead of car alarms, buses, and roosters. Cuenca, you know I love you, but I'm just sayin'------------.
Yes, there are certainly a bunch of interesting looking characters wandering the streets in Montanita.
It sometimes surrealistically feels like 1969 again. But then you see families with little kids, clean cut looking exchange students (someone had the excellent idea to open a Spanish school here), baby boomers like us--and dogs. Lots of dogs, so many strolling and lying around that it almost seems like they run the joint and put up with the humans so they can be fed.
The food in Montanita is amazingly great. We kind of expected to find only cheap hippie/surfer grub, but instead we enjoyed excellent shrimp dishes from Peru and Chile, super fresh grilled fish, chicken with pineapple and coconut sauce, kick-ass chicken fajitas, and the best pizza + salad we've had in Ecuador. With cheap beer and 2 for 1 cocktails to wash it all down.
The weather was overcast the first couple of days but consistently warm enough for shorts, a forgotten article of clothing never worn in Cuenca because it’s rarely hot enough to do so plus it’s just not how they roll here. We took long walks on the wide beach (a brown sugar color that reminded us of South Carolina) and I rode waves to the point of exhaustion. Montanita has the best surf in Ecuador with waves that are big, bigger, and biggest.
A bit north of town a spot called The Point is where you find most of the hard core surfers.
There are many inexpensive hostals catering to this crowd there as well as several surfing schools.
I’ve never tried getting up on a board and this is probably not the point in my life where I’m going to attempt such a strenuous activity, but it’s great fun to watch kids whipping through the waves.
On our third day the sun finally broke through and we enjoyed a glorious afternoon and sunset.
At one point we were surprised when some unexpected sun worshippers wandered onto the beach for a visit.
Overall I found Montanita to be the best beach town we’ve visited in Ecuador. Salinas’ beach is too narrow with zero surf, and Bahia, while beautiful, is borderline too far from Cuenca for a quick getaway. Not only is Montanita reasonably close (and certainly affordable), we really enjoyed the youthful energy and happy spirit we found there. We plan to eventually visit all the coastal areas in the country, but Montanita definitely rates a return trip when I need a beach fix.