Montañita is Ecuador ’s version of a hippie haven, and it’s a little pocket of heaven if you like being surrounded by bare-chested, long-haired surfers and their tanned girlfriends. Like other backpacker hubs, you’ll probably either love it or hate it, but the infectious energy of the place is undeniable.
Montañita has long been a surfing mecca, with year-round rideable breaks reaching 2–3 meters on good days. It’s not the best place for beginners, but you can learn here, and there are plenty of experienced teachers. Conditions are best January–May, and seasoned surfers along with thousands of visitors flock to the international competition around Carnival (usually Feb.) every year.
If you’re looking for long stretches of sand, however, you may be disappointed. The beach at high tide is practically nonexistent thanks to the 1997 currents of the El Niño climate pattern, and the remaining beach gets crowded. The town’s popularity shows no signs of waning, though, and everybody in town makes a living from tourism by running hotels, restaurants, Internet cafés, surf shops, or simply hawking their wares in the street.
The north end of town toward the point is much quieter and also better for surfing, but beware of rough seas and riptides, particularly June–August. One aspect of the town that has improved is the newly paved road, so the annual mud-fest is a thing of the past, in the center at least. Note that in high season, you need to be careful at night. Don’t walk along the beach alone, and female travelers should be particularly vigilant, as assaults have been reported.
There are several surfing competitions in high season, the biggest of which takes place around Carnival (usually mid–late Feb.). It is televised and attracts surfers from around the world. Montañita has a pulsating nightlife on weekends, particularly in high season. The center of the nightlife scene is the restaurant, bar, and disco at Hola Ola (Guido Chiriboga and 10 de Agosto, tel. 9/457-5216, www.holaolacafe.com , 8 a.m.–midnight Sun.–Thurs., 8 a.m.–2 a.m. Fri.–Sat.), or the Cañagrill (Guido Chiriboga and Costanera a la Playa, tel. 4/206-0086, 8 p.m.–2 a.m. Thurs.–Sat., cover $5 Sat.), a disco that attracts well-known DJs on weekends.
Three Executive CLP buses run from Guayaquil  (3.5 hours, $5) at 5 a.m., 1 p.m., and 5 p.m. daily. If you’re headed up or down the coast, there are several buses per hour south to and from Santa Elena (1 hour, $1.50) and north to and from Puerto López (1 hour, $1.50). There are also buses to Manta (3 hours). From Quito , either fly to Guayaquil and head up the coast, or take a bus to Manta or Puerto López (11 hours, $12) and transfer. Getting around Montañita is easy; everywhere is within walking distance.
Robberies have been reported on the outskirts of town, however, so don’t walk alone at night.