The Quick Guide to Ecuador’s Beach Towns
As I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t planned to spend very long in Ecuador, but once my toes hit the sand and my skin felt that familiar rush of salt water in one of Ecuador’s beach towns, it didn’t take long to change my mind. From Banos to the Esmeraldas isn’t really your standard backpacker route. Most people just go straight down to Montanita and call it a day. But no, I wanted to see as many of Ecuador’s beach towns as I possibly could, so I caught a bus that would take me North-West away from Banos.
It took 2 buses and a random switch between the two in the middle of the highway, when the bus had come to a dead stop due to traffic and the driver started yelling at me in Spanish that I could barely understand. What I thought he was saying, determined strictly through wild hand gestures, was “Hey, Gringa, there’s a bus beside us going to Esmereldas. Come on!” So I jumped up, ran off the bus, grabbed my backpack from underneath and was shepherded from one bus driver to another in the middle of a traffic-jammed Ecuadorian highway. And, thankfully, the bus stopped in Atacames, a beach town on the Northern coast.
Located in the Northern region of The Esmereldas, Atacames is a popular beach town for Ecuadorians and visiting Colombians seeking vacation. Atacames was the starting point for my trip down the Ecuadorian coastline, a stopover on my way to Mompiche, and I only spent one quick night here.
The atmosphere of the Atacames beachfront was the only place along the coast that I felt had a very Caribbean-esque, African influenced vibe, which I loved – from the music to the people – and I would have liked to stay an extra few days. I stayed at an Air BnB that wasn’t good enough to recommend and spent most of my time hunting down coconut smoothies, strolling down the beach and watching the sun set over the water.
Ah, Mompiche, you were the place that stole my heart the moment I saw you. I was only meant to stay for 3 days but with your hippie, beach town vibes and nothing but a few dirt roads lined with small shops, local restaurants and a beach bar or two, I was sucked into your laid-back lifestyle for a good two weeks.
For those of you who, like me, are drawn to small coastal places with the ultimate relaxed atmosphere, you cannot miss Mompiche. It’s a bit of a journey no matter where you are in Ecuador, most of which include multiple buses, a few hours, and often getting dropped 10km out of Mompiche on the highway + then having to hitchhike into town but it is more than worth it. Mompiche was easily my favorite of all of Ecuador’s beach towns that I had the chance to visit. If you’re already on the coast, Mompiche is about 13 hours north from Montanita, 4 – 5 hours north from Canoa or roughly an hour and a half bus ride down from Atacames.
Like many places along the coast, the best budget meals in Mompiche are the lunch specials – around $3 for a soup, juice and main dish of rice, salad and seafood. The last restaurant on the main road, closest to the water, is amazing, and the place directly across the street sells delicious batidos de coco.
As for nightlife, there isn’t much to be heard of in this sleepy beach town. Instead, Mompiche is a place to slow down – days on the beach, thumbing through a paperback on a hammock or out for a surf + evenings spent on the wall watching some of the most beautiful sunsets, followed by some beers with new friends.
Looking for a cool place to stay? I stayed at both The Mudhouse and DMCA Surf Hostel, both of which I would highly, highly recommend and roughly $10 a night! Both offer a very outdoorsy, chill atmosphere and each have a kitchen that you can use. The Mudhouse sells some seriously good burgers (vegetarian-friendly option as well!) and DMCA has a great chill space loaded with hammocks.
QUICK TIP FOR MOMPICHE: There is no ATM here, so bring enough cash with you for your stay. If you need more money, you can grab a bus up to Atacames for the nearest ATM.
Still recovering from the aftermath of the 2016 earthquake, the Canoa I experienced was still getting back on its feet but still welcoming in a decent number of tourists. The main drag of restaurants and bars along the beach was mostly back up and running, but if you ventured further back into the town you could still see a lot of damage needing repairs.
I actually spent two weeks in Canoa doing a Workaway exchange with Coconut Surf Hostel – a great hostel located a 20 minute walk down the beach from the actual town of Canoa – and considered my time there the highlight of my Canoa experience. Canoa boasts a stunning, 17km long white sand beach with wavy waters perfect for learning how to surf. If you’re lucky, you might even spot dolphins or manta rays off the coast!
My time in Canoa was spent playing with the resident dogs (and ducks!) at the Coconut, lazing away in the sunshine on what felt like an entirely private beach, swimming in the sea and watching some stellar sunsets every single night.
- You can still find great cheap eats in Canoa at the local beachside restaurants, coconut waters, batidos, etc. For some really good food, check out Hotel Bambu, where you can also go for daily yoga classes.
- I highly recommend staying at Coconut Surf Hostel – a $2 cab ride or a really beautiful 20 minute beach walk from town. They have hammocks for relaxing, surf lessons + boards for rent, a kitchen to cook with and a clean place to stay. Another place that looked busy and full of backpackers was Coco Loco Hostel right on the beach road in town – although I’ve heard some mixed reviews on the cleanliness of the place.
- Once again, there is no ATM in Canoa, so either bring enough cash or grab a 20 minute bus to the town of San Vicente for the nearest ATM.
After hearing many poor reviews on Puerto Lopez, our only reason for stopping in this beach town was to spend a day at Isla de la Plata, also known as “the poor man’s Galapagos”. For having such low expectations of the town itself, I was pleasantly surprised and ended up having a really lovely time!
Sometimes, it’s the people that you meet that make a place special. My brother and I splurged on 2 nights in an Air BnB, staying with a British lady named Fiona, who offered us a private room + bathroom with a separate entrance, whipped us up a delicious breakfast and homemade fruit juice every morning and had 2 hammocks to lounge in up on the terrace. She had so many stories to tell of her life, the places she had lived, and really made our stay in Puerto Lopez special. If you’d like to request to stay with her, you can find her Air BnB listing here.
Puerto Lopez itself has a fairly nice malecon, the stretch of road along the sea that offers tour packages, restaurants, beach bars, cafes, etc. Behind that, the streets are more run down and lacking the love put into the malecon. The beach, although we didn’t spend any time on it, looked really nice – clean, big, lots of space, not too many people.
From here, you can do a day trip to the beautiful beach of Los Frailes, check out the beach town of Ayampe which is not too far away and it’s also a good transport hub to get to Quito. But the main reason for our visit was Isla de la Plata, which I think is definitely worth visiting on a day trip and which I’ll write about soon to give you all the deets.
Most backpackers that I met skipped the entire coast of Ecuador to go solely to Montanita, the popular party town by the water. Of all of the places I visited along the coast, Montanita had the most infrastructure (including an ATM!) and was certainly the spot to be if you wanted a busy beach by day and a lively party scene by night.
Montanita was the last stop on my coastal route and I welcomed the liveliness after a few weeks of sleepy little towns + relaxation. The colorful streets are lined with bars, restaurants, neon colored signs declaring happy hour specials and craft stalls. If you’re looking for a wild place to party, some huge waves to surf, an easy place to meet other travelers and a beach full of people and vendors selling everything from bracelets to pizza to churros, make a stop in Montanita.
Food prices here are more expensive than what can be found further up the coast but there are also a lot more options – everything from classic Ecuadorian meals to Western dishes, cafes, Mexican food joints and more.
We stayed a few nights at Moia hostel (who offer free breakfast + the most adorable tiny cat I have ever seen in my life named Sumo) and then moved up to the north end of the beach to Guacamayo hostel after my brother had rain water soak his bed through a hole in the roof at Moia. I would highly recommend Guacamayo! They have amazing food, free breakfast, always playing good music and will let you use their beach beds for free if business is slow and you promise to at least buy a drink.
For all the time I spent here, the coast was hands down my favorite part of the entire country and before I knew it, I’d spent an entire month drifting through Ecuador’s beach towns. If you’re thinking of going to Ecuador, I would really encourage you to adventure farther than Montanita. If you don’t, you’re missing out on a truly beautiful, laid-back stretch of coast.