If there’s one place in Ecuador that’s set firmly on the backpacker trail, it has to be the beach town of Montañita. This place seemingly has it all – decent choice of restaurants, plenty of places to stay, loads of crazy bars, cheap booze and a sprawling beach that’s very surf friendly. You can even settle in and learn Spanish here.
First things first, though, if you’re planning on visiting. Do not, and I mean DO NOT forget to pack some strong insect repellant. Not so much for the mosquitoes, but for those tiny little biting insects that will ravage your feet and ankles as soon as the sun sets.
The bites sting, they swell, sometimes blister and they’ll scab up for weeks. Almost every traveller you see has the telltale red marks around their ankles, so take our word for it and smear on loads of repellant.
Neither of us was keen on surfing or leaning how to, and thanks to just returning from the Galápagos, there was no need to head up to Isla de la Plata to spot whales or birdlife.
Out time in Montañita was purely to chill for a few days and do next to nothing. And the great thing about this town is that nobody will judge you for it.
One thing we did do was eat, swim in the pool at Hotel Swisspoint where we stayed and got stuck into a few drinks around town. Ok, more than a few.
Let’s take a closer look.
With Montañita being a bit of a party town and all, non-partygoers and early risers such as ourselves may find it a bit of a struggle to get breakfast.
Luckily there are a few options, and one of the most popular joints is the casually dressed Tiki Limbo. Not only can you stay at Tiki Limbo, but there’s a fully stocked bar and a restaurant offering all things International. Lobster, tacos, pasta, coconut crusted shrimp, they’ve got it all.
Breakfast-wise, you’ll see all the usual suspects like el gringo (4.5) which involves homemade bread, eggs, coffee, juice or tea. I ripped into the hula panini (6), a sandwich loaded with scrambled eggs, ham, cheese and sautéed mushrooms. You also get some pretty excellent hash browns plus juice, tea or coffee.
Tiki Limbo, Calle Guido Chiriboga Solar 2
For the frugal amongst us, there’s a row of 10 juice bars at the top of town where you can also grab an inexpensive breakfast. The food choices may not be in your favour, but you can pick up a stack of pancakes topped with fruit and syrup for $3.
We stopped in at a friendly little vendor called The Flowers, and she even blended up a generous fresh fruit juice for $2. Bargain, really.
If pancakes aren’t your thing, then maybe an omelette, crêpes or toasted sandwich is.
Check the map for location.
The opening hours may stray from the ones displayed at Buena Onda, but it is worth checking them out for your morning fill. Just turn up an hour after opening time and they just may be ready to serve you.
This fab little cafe does a few breakfast dishes, excellent smoothies and espresso, and they’re friendly to boot. The resident moggy is pretty cute, too.
Get stuck into the likes of del surfista (6) which is a baguette with boiled egg, onion, gouda and avo; plus a few sticks of capsicum and spiced mayo on the side. Or spoon into some yoghurt with granola and berries!
Buena Onda, check map for location
Lunch options are aplenty in little old Montañita, and it didn’t take us long on our first day to decide on where to eat.
It may be small and it may only offer a few seats, but Rastapan will surely get you hooked on their fresh-out-of-the-oven pides. There are toppings like the Argentine fugazzeta, Hawaiano and pepperoni.
We went for a tocino (bacon) and a caprese – each $3.
Rastapan, check map for location
Be it for breakfast or lunch, this is the place to head if you have a penchant for shakshuka or simply want to take a break from local food.
Casa Fistook Shakshuka Bar offers 10 kinds of shakshuka, all based on the classic. They’re served up with bread, salad and a drink, and depending which you go for, it should only set you back around $5.
It’s all rather generous, and the one pictured is the Israeli – chickpeas, parsley, hummus and the usual tomato and eggs. Everything’s quite tasty, though I struggled to locate the promised hummus.
Casa Fistook Shakshuka Bar, Ruta del Spondylus
One thing you do notice along the Ecuadorean coast is the abundance of ceviche. It’s kind of everywhere, and just as you may see it on almuerzo menus in Máncora, Peru, you’ll see it here in Montañita as well.
If street food is more your scene, then simply seek out the ceviche boys with their yellow carts clustered in the centre of town during the morning and early afternoon.
For several dollars you can spoon into a generous bowl of shrimp, octopus, fish or clam ceviche – or go for the mixto (7) which has a bit of everything.
Ceviche stands, check map for location
There are a few other street food options about town – things like sandwiches and hotdogs, freshly-shelled boiled quail eggs with salt and spices, or if you can catch him, the guy selling cakes and pastries from his motorbike.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Safari Cafe offers a diverse menu of burgers, pasta, local food and lots of seafood in its very colourful set-up.
I was kind of in love with the frutos de mar (15), a flavour-packed plate of spaghetti and seafood. A little higher than our budget allowed, but it sure was worth it.
Can’t say much about the chicken sandwich, however, other than don’t even bother.
Safari Cafe, check map for location
Hola Ola Bar is one place in town to gravitate to for your fix on loud music, endless booze, late night partying and fire juggling.
During the day it’s a much more somber affair, with people milling about having a quiet lunch or cooling drink. We can definitely vouch for the iced coffee. Don’t forget to take a look at the sweets and cakes in the cabinet facing the street.
Hola Ola Bar, check map for location
Montañita’s main attraction has to be its beach. Yes it can be a bit grotty and littered with garbage in places, but if you blur your eyes from that, it’s a good spot to catch some sun, waves or somewhere to sit and enjoy a drink.
Speaking of drinking, the place to get your big plastic cups of booze is Cocktail Alley. Simply choose from one of many drinks cabañas, pull up a plastic stool, choose your preferred drop and get swilling.
Half a litre of excellent mojito for $3? Um, I’ll take four.
Cocktail Alley, check map for location
Further along the beach are a couple of other places you can settle in and soak up the boozy beach vibes, with chilled music to match. Just don’t forget to cover your legs with insect repellant, remember?
Espacio Beach Club is a small spot where you can sit either right on the sand or in a decked-out cabaña complete with lounge chairs. The beers is ice cold, the mojitos don’t compare to Cocktail Alley, but it is a smashing spot to watch those glorious Montañita sunsets.
Espacio Beach Club, check map for location
Come nightfall at the end of the week and you’ll probably witness the town swing right into party mode. None of that for us, thanks to being in town midweek, so its was a rather quiet affair of wandering the streets in search of a dinner venue to help soak up some of the booze we’d consumed.
The offerings at Lost Burger may not rock your world, as they didn’t ours, but for no more than $6 a piece, it’s still a doable spot for dinner.
They’re right on Cocktail Alley and have seven burgers to choose from, all of which come with fries and a soft drink for an additional $1.50. Or for $2.50 extra you get a beer and fries thrown in.
Lost Burger, Calle de los Cocteles
Going to a Peruvian restaurant so soon after travelling through the country wasn’t really on the cards, but it somehow happened anyway.
Here you can check in with your Peruvian favourites like papa a la huancaína, lomito saltado, tacu tacu and pescado a lo macho (fish in seafood sauce; 9.5) and pretend you haven’t even jumped the border.
Tambo Sabores Peruanos, check map for location
Saving the best for last, these guys kind of rocked our world. Ezzio’s does eight varieties of pizza that range from a 25 cm personal pizza for a measly $3, to a family size for $15.
It’s conveniently located a few steps from the drinks vendors on Cocktail Alley, so it’s easy to stumble in and dive right into a couple of the beautifully blistered specimens and wish that pizza was this good everywhere in South America.
Ezzio’s Pizza, check map for location
Buses run almost every hour from Terminal Terrestre right next to Guayaquil Airport. The terminal can be a little confusing, but simply head to the CLP bus ticket office on Level 2 not too far from the bakery. It’s a good spot to grab a few snacks for the bus, too.
Tickets cost $5.75 per person and it takes about 3 hours to get to Montañita.