I have now completed my trip down Ecuador’s coast (and back up the coast, then back down it again). Ecuador’s coast, huh? Ecuador is not internationally famous for its beaches but for travellers who like a little off-the beaten path, here is where to go and where NOT to go, listed from South to North:
Everyone has their own preferences. Note that I am not a surfer by any means – I like chill places with great beaches, reasonably priced accommodation, hammocks, and lots of seafood and fresh juice. This is my ranking (in order of favorite to least favorite)
- Puerto Lopez
- San Clemente
Salinas Mini-Miami of Ecuador
Salinas is filled with high-rise condos. A tidy, palm-lined Malecon separates the beach from condo-ville. The beach is nice, but nonimpressive compared to some of Ecuador’s other offerings. Salinas is in a bay, so if you like swimming imagine a giant swimming pool with no waves (surfers stay away!). Although the beach here pales in comparison to Montanita, Canoa, Ayampe and Puerto Lopez, I loved getting out to the point “La Chocolatera” where the waves mix the water against the rocks (like a chocolate mixing pot?). Gringos apparently retire here, or have second homes here. You can go swimming in the water, sunbathing, jetskiing, or taking a fishing tour. Note: I took this picture from the water using a waterproof case for my iPhone
Recommendation: My favorite modern beach city. Go if you like to stay in more developed beach cities.
Guayaquil – bustling ugly modern port city
Guayaquil (population 2M) has a very modern bus station for making transfers, a nice airport, large air-conditioned shopping malls, but little else to offer most travelers. Walking down the 9 de Octubre (the largest street in the center of town), you can find exciting places to eat like McDonalds, KFC, Wendy´s, and Ecuadorean fast food. The only tourist attractions are the Malecon 2000 ( a newly-renovated boardwalk), the artists colony on a hill called Las Penas, and a park filled with iguanas.
Recommendation: Go if you need to pass through the airport or bus station. Otherwise, skip it.
Montanita – Rustic international surf & party town
Montanita is by far the most touristy of all towns and cities on the Ecuador Coast (excepting the Galapagos). Walking through town center, you are surrounded by bamboo-thatched 3 story hostels, trendy international restaurants, stalls selling fresh mango and pineapple cocktails, and sunburned surfers. Despite the reputation as a “party town”, Montanita is surprisingly relaxed. “Partying” happens on the streets, next to the shacks with fresh fruit cocktails. There are no uber-trendy clubs, and sandals and board shorts is the dress code. Montanita is consequently great for people who like to relax on the beach with good tourist infrastructure (just make sure you do not stay within a 5 block radius of “cocktail alley”. There are surfing classes, Spanish classes, and even yoga.
Recommendation: Definitely go for the famous parties on weekends, nice beaches, relaxed, rustic atmosphere and varied international dining. Try the fresh mango colada!
Ayampe – Up and coming tiny surf village
An 1:30 north of Montanita is the tiny but beautiful village of Ayampe. With a long pebby beach, beautiful waves, just a handful of guesthouses, and some awesome local eats, Ayampe is the up and coming destination for surfers looking to get away from the party in Montanita.
Recommendation: If you just want to relax or surf on a beautiful, almost deserted beach, go to Ayampe. Make sure you are okay staying in places with less tourist infrastructure (few restaurants and hostels)
Puerto Lopez: Large chill fishing town near the national park and Isla de la Plata
Puerto Lopez is a large fishing village. The downside of this is that the southern end of the beach is filled with shipping boats. The upside is that the northern side of the beach is relatively serene, and that the seafood is second to none. Beachside shacks with hammocks serve cheap, delicious drinks and seafood. But most travelers come here just as a crashing pad to visit Isla de las Plata and Los Frailles.
Isla de la Plata is known as the “Poor Man’s Galpagagos.” I saw red-chested frigate birds and blue-footed boobies here, as well as tons of tropical fish and a sea turtle snorkeling around the island. In June – September you can supposedly see whales migrating through this area during the boat ride out to the island.
Los Frailles is a fantastic desserted beach, well-conserved because it is part of the national park (Parque Nacional Machalilla). Walking paths connect three beaches, each one more rugged and isolated than the last. The first beach is great for swimming, but currents and a strong break make the second and third unsuitable.
Recommendation: Strongly recommended for the chill atmosphere and most beautiful beach out of this list.
Manta – Sister city of Long Beach, California, huh?
Manta is Ecuador´s second largest coastal city after Guayaquil, and consequently the second least touristy place I visited on the coast (after Guayaquil). Manta is a backpackers nightmare, with downtown filled with the luxurious Hotel Oro Verde ($240/night) and the rundown budget options near the bus station costing roughly $40/night (roughly double the cost in Salinas, Montanita, Canoa, Ayampe, and Puerto Lopez). That being said, the boardwalk is filled with plastic-chair seafood, and the beach is long and sandy. Nearby Santa Marianita is a destination for learning Kite-surfing.
Recommendation: Skip, unless you want to learn kitesurfing in Santa Marianita, or want to glam it up in the Oro Verde.
Bahia de Caraquez: mini-Salinas
Bahia can feel like a ghost town depending on the time of year, with highrise buildings overlooking empty streets, and an empty, although nonimpressive beach. Bahia and Salinas were the two most modern, orderly places I visited, with accommodation in highrise buildings, and not a hammock, bamboo thatched roof, or mosquito net in sight. (A plus or a minus depending on your taste). One awesome attraction here is that there is a solitary restaurant right on the point with no signs, but it serves cebiche de jaiba (ceviche made out of the tiny little crabs) that is absolutely delicious and you will not find in the other beach towns along the coast.
Recommendation: Skip, if you like developed beach cities, Salinas is more lively and the beach is nicer. As a stopover for backpackers on their way down the coast it is okay.
San Clemente – Small town, low-rise residential
San Clemente has the luxurious hotel PalmAzul with pool-side resting futons, but other than that it is a very undeveloped, quiet, residential town with few other options for accommodation. The restaurants are all casual, with excellent seafood. The beach is nice, but not as clean as in the other small towns.
Recommendation: Skip, unless you just need a stopping point along the coast.
Canoa – mini-Montanita
Canoa has a fantastic, wide sandy beach and soft, rolling waves the temperature of a bathtub, casual, beach-side shacks with hammocks and seafood, and a small beach-side bar and party scene. There is a wide range of accommodation, much of it ocean-view, and rustic, with palm-thatched roofs. There are, however, a handful of international restaurants such as Amalur and the Surf Shak for when you get tired of seafood. The sunsets here are surreal, and it is a nice place to do yoga, eat seafood, and chill out. Overall, it is my personal favorite town on Ecuador’s coast.
Recommendation: Don’t miss it!
Mompiche – The most rustic award
This tiny town is well off-the-beaten path, infested with mosquitos, with nonexistent nightlife, but popular amongst surfers for its great waves. Eating options are almost exclusively low-key seafood joints, with one pizza restaurant for variety. At low tide, the boardwalk is an ugly desserted mud road, bordered by a concrete walls. At high tide, waves flow over and crash against the walls. It is somewhat surreal to watch the sunset from a hammock which is actually strung over the water on the boardwalk, and listen to the waves crashing all around. Grab a hammock early before they fill up at Hosteria Gabeal. And don´t forget to use your mosquito net. It´s there for your protection!
Recommendation: Go if you’re into surfing and don’t mind the mosquitos, or want to see an awesome sunset while lying in a hammock above the crashing waves!
Have you been down the Ruta del Sol? What’s your favorite town or city? Let me know in comments!