Ecuador, which lies in between Colombia and Peru, is also moneywise right in the middle. It is cheaper than Colombia, but also more expensive than its southern neighbour. It lays exactly on the equator, what a surprise, but that doesn’t mean that it’s hot everywhere. The capital city Quito being on 2800 meters of altitude in the middle of the Andes gives you the possibility to get away from the heat. The Andes are a contributing factor to making this country so diverse. The east of the country, called ” El Oriente” is mostly jungle, and then there are the Andes (la sierra) with peaks up to 6000 meters high! To the West from here it gets lower and warmer, with a 1500 km long coastline. And there are the Galapagos Islands, but that is a whole other story.
The coast in the deep south doesn’t get much swell, but the south-west facing stretch around Guayaquil (Ecuador’s biggest city), receives all the south swells that come in during the southern hemisphere winter. The rest of the coastline faces more west and north-west, and picks up all the other swells. This makes it an all year round surf destination. Even so, the months November to March are probably the best for surf and crazy parties in the beach towns, mostly in Montañita.
The Galapagos Islands are around 1000km off the coast and pick up every swell around. It’s expensive to get there, but I say it’s worth it once you’re here. It’s a really special place, and they do their best to keep it the way it is. Things are changing and it definitely won’t get any cheaper.
With the Andes stretching north to south through the whole country, there are many nice places away from the beach where you can do and see something else other than just waves, or to wait out a flat spell.
The people in general are super friendly and helpful, but there are not many who speak English. You find them, but in general a bit of Spanish makes life easier. Public transport is good and reasonably priced, but keep in mind that most bus trips take you 50% longer than people tell you.
Quito lays on a altitude of 2800 meters and is surrounded by mountain much higher. This city is the same as other South American capital cities, a really modern city with many shopping malls, cinemas, international restaurants, bars, nightclubs and all those thing you’d probable look for without success in other parts of this country. If you’re looking for some nightlife, there are obviously bars and clubs all over the city, but most tourist give it a go on ‘Plaza foch’. It’s more expensive than other parts of the city, but you’ll find a lot of people who speak English and nice places to have a drink. As always, ask people who have been around to know where to go, things can change quickly in big cities. Colonial district or Mariscal could be a good plan, for a night out as well. The best night to go out is probable Friday, dress proper, wear your dancing shoes and have fun, but don’t forget, you’re not at home and people might think you’ve got money with you only because you look foreign. Keep your eyes open, don’t walk alone and drunk in dark streets at 3am, short: “Don’t be stupid”.
There are many things to do around Quito, much more than just shopping, eating and cinemas. Why not climbing a mountain? Probable the easiest one to climb from there is Pichincha. There is a cable car (teleferico) that takes you up to 4100 meters and from there it’s around a two hours hike to the top of Rucu Pichincha (4690 meters). Easiest is to take a cab and tell the driver you want to go to Teleferico, what cost you a couple of dollars from everywhere in the city. You could go there by bus as well, but depending where in the city you are, it can be a bit difficult. It’s not all that cheap to use the cable car, and the restaurant on top isn’t cheap either. But the view over Quito is great and a good alternative if you are too lazy to hike to the top. But if you decide to do the hike, go as early as possible, as think fog comes in around midday most of the days.
Another great thing to do is to go biking. Take a bus to Cumbaya and ask where “el Chaquiña” is. This is a wonderful trail of around 35-40km return and takes you along the old railways through a beautiful valley and some tunnels. Every few kilometers are some places to buy a snack and some drinks. The first couple of meters are already nice, but it is well worth to go all the way to the end and back. You can rent a bike at the entrance. They are not the best bikes in the world and not always in perfect condition (i guess they never are), but that’s all right for only a few Dollars.
Cotopaxi is not far outside of Quito and not only one of the most beautiful and perfect coin shaped volcanoes, but also one of the easiest to climb mountains with such a altitude (5897 meters). It is a good idea to spend some days first in Quito and climb another mountain around here and then a few days somewhere on a higher altitude before you try to summit Cotopaxi. There are various organisations who can organize a guide for you and rent you all the gear you need. It costs a lot of money, so better check the weather first, make sure you’re fit and well acclimatised.
North of Quito
Quito is around 4 hours from the border to Colombia. Around halfway between Quito and Colombia are Ibarra, Cotacachi and Otavalo. It’s a beautiful area, great for hiking and if you’re interested in Handicrafts, the marked in Otavalo is a must go.
If you’re looking for leather jackets, boots or what ever else made out of it, you’ve found one of the best places to buy it.
From here to Colombia is easy. You have to go to the border town of Tulcan and cross into Ipiales. This border is on a altitude of around 3000 meters above sea level and pretty cold. Wear some warm clothes, as you’ll be standing around outside for some time. But the good news is, it’s a fairly easy border crossing and not as annoying as you might think or been told.
Baños is a little city that lies on 1800 meters, what gives it a moderate weather all year round. High mountains or actually volcanoes surround it and with Tungurahua, they even have one that is highly active and your chances are good to see some lava at night. Baños has its name because of the hot springs, but chilling in a hot pool is not the only thing to do here. It became over the last couple of years the number one spot in this country for action sports, or as I like to call them “zero skill extreme sport”.
There are many hotels and hostels here, something for every price class, a couple of Spanish schools and countless tour organizer. They offer Zip lining, river rafting, paragliding, cannoning and all those thing. If this is a bit too wild for you, you can rent a bike and explore the nature around, take a trip to some of the waterfalls, or hit the nightlife. There is a street with one bar after the next, places to dance and to sing Karaoke and with all the backpackers and students, a big night out here is as frequent as people going down the zip line.
This is Ecuadors biggest city and the commercial capital. It’s not my favorite city in the world, and not the safest, but it has a new and nice area on the bank of the Guayas River. It is great for a Sunday afternoon stroll after a big night out. If you come here to party on the weekend, you’re not the only one. Best thing to do is to hit “las Peñas“. This is a neighbourhood with mainly bars and clubs beside stairs with some 400 or so steps, which take you up to reach a lighthouse with a great view over the city.
There are countless places to choose from. Bars, clubs, places where you can buy some food, and here, a lot of people speak English.
Two and a half hours south from Guayaquil by bus is the beach town of Playas (Spanish for beach). It’s not a nice town, and gets really crowded on weekends. There are a lot of different Hotels for all kind of tastes and budgets. I tried to find out what there is to do other than sitting on the beach and drinking beer, and the answer is: NOTHING! It is a place where the locals come, and they in general don’t really want to spend their money on Zip Lining and stuff like that. They are happy to sit on a crowded beach, drink beer, eat cevice and have loud music pumping from somewhere.
From Playas to the west are around 10 righthander pointbreaks. They are all a bit different and work with different tides and swells. BUT if there is a good swell from the right direction, most of them are on fire. The right direction is from somewhere a bit south, that means most the time in winter, but the water is still warm enough to surf in a shorty. Because of the big number to choose from, the crowd spreads out. Even if you end up on the spot with all the locals that day, it’s not really a problem, as they are friendly and more likely than not, they will tell you about a better spot and take you there, instead of telling you to leave as it can happen in other places.
If you’re new in town, try to find “Jalisco surf”, a restaurant owned by the ex president of the Playas surf club. A keen surfer and the best source for surf related info around here.
There are places close to Playas without the concrete buildings, where you find nothing more than a small fishing community with a few basic places to eat and sleep, and a wave. As so often, spend some time talking to people and try to find out about such places here. You’ll find them, and it is worth the effort.
This is the most western corner of the mainland. It’s a surprisingly big city with high risers next to the beach. You will find parties here, but it’s more clubbing than beach parties. There are a couple of good surf spots around here, but some of them are only possible to surf with permission from the army. For this you need to know someone from the local surf club who might be able to take you there. If you find people who take you surfing, you’ve got a 270 degrees swell window! Even without local help, there are still a couple of beaches around you can surf. Check out “Mar bravo” for some heavy shore break barrels.
Montañita is what you hear if you speak to someone about surfing here. It has a fantastic righthand pointbreak that starts working with just a bit of a swell, and is already grood fun, but turns into an amazing wave with some descent size. I don’t know how big it can get, but with around 2.5-3 meter faces, it’s a perfect, powerful wave. Most of the locals don’t surf it really early, but there are always people out. Even so, have a look and sometimes you can get lucky midday. If it is too crowded, or too heavy, no problem, the beach is long and there are always a few good peaks working. The point is at the really end of the beach, next to a cliff. There are a few places to sleep here and to have a drink in the beginning of the night, or to eat breakfast after an all nighter. Between here and the town are a fair few places to stay, from camping to fancy surf camps. And the town its self is pact with Hotels, Hostels and all kind of accommodation.
Most probably the main thing to do in Montañita is not surfing or even learning Spanish in one of the numerous schools, it’s to party.
This place is a never ending orgy, with only two reasons why you would sleep alone. First: Because you choose to do so, maybe you would rather wake up early and surf, or second: You’re too drunk!
Most people start the night with a bottle of cheap rum on the beach, or sitting around the streets and drinking. Next stop is Calle Coctel (cocktail street), where countless little stalls mix you your favorite drink and refill it with alcohol if you ask them. The music is too loud, but they have to be louder than the ones next to them! If you have had enough, there are a couple of clubs waiting, and if one of them closes, there is always another one that is still open. You see, it’s easy to fall for reason number two.
There is live music every night in one place or another, from rock to reggae and back. Another great thing about Montañita is the food. You can find a lot of different foods from extremely cheap to pricy. In Montañita there is more than enough, bars, clubs restaurants, people, beer but also street artists and hippies, who try to sell some handmade jewelry to fund their further trip.
If this whole craziness is too much for you and you just want to surf, no problem. This stretch of coastline gets so much surf and has so many beachbreaks with good waves, but only very few surfers. All you need is to go somewhere else and surf alone. If you’ve got a car, nothing easier than that. You can stay in Montañita, or in a town a few minutes outside, where rent is much cheaper, and drive somewhere every day to go surfing. If you travel with public transport, you can stay somewhere else with much less people and good waves. Probable the closest and best known place to get away from the crowd is called Ayampe.
Ayampe is around half an hour bus ride north of Montañita. Tell your driver to let you know when you’re there. There are a couple of different options where to stay. From cheap and basic cabaña or camping, to surf camp, language school, joga resort, hotel or what ever they are called.
Ayampe picks up most swells and is rarely flat. Best is a north swell, what gives you a long right, but there are different peaks up and down the beach. Take a walk and explore the waves on the other side of the river. You definitely have less people in the water here than in Montañita, but with so many options where to stay, and as such a well known Montañita -get away, you won’t be there alone. There is also a place with WiFi and a nice place to chill, socialising and eat at night.
There are a lot of different places and towns all along the way up north. Some of them have surf, some of them don’t and most of them are basic. There is Puerto Lopez, where you won’t find waves, but a lot of tourist. It’s not a nice town, but people don’t come here because its nice, they come to do a trip to “Isla de la Plata” also called the Poor Man’s Galapagos.
Another possible stop on your way up north is Manta, a city that is not known for its beauty or tourism, probable because there isn’t too much of it, but it has a couple of waves. From what I’ve heard, the locals here are not as friendly as in other parts and you need to go there with the right swell. Talk to Ecuadorian surfers, if they know about it, they’re happy to tell you. When I was there, there was no swell and I can’t tell you a thing about the waves.
Canoas is sometimes called” the new Montañita”, and as it became an often chosen stop for backpackers in Ecuador, I can see why. But don’t expect to find something similar to the Montañita-madness. It has a couple of places to stay, bars and restaurants, as well as a long beach, but it is much quieter and not where you’d come to party.I mean, you can if you want to, it is just not as crazy or wild as Montañita. A small river produces on both sides of the river mouth good sandbanks and if they are too busy, you still have the option of walking down the beach and find a wave for only you and your friends. You shouldn’t come here in search for world class waves, even you might find some, you should come here to surf some fun waves in a relaxed atmosphere and without the haste of Montañita.
Rumours says, that there are a couple of amazing waves, a bit up the coast and only reachable by boat. If this is true? Find out your self. Go there, talk to the locals, wait for a good swell and if everything comes together, it might be worth to pay a fisherman some money to take you to one of those spots.
The really north of this coastline is in the state of Esmeraldas. The capital with the same name is notorious and has a reputation for its bandidos. Best not to spend more time there than you have to. If you get stuck here for a night, the nightlife is wild, but take care. The waves here are not impressive at it’s best and the water quality is far from what you’re used to from Ecuador.
Not far away are such places as Atacames and Mompiche, probable some of the most beautiful surf spots this country has to offer, but the coast here is facing north, what makes it more difficult to get hit right by the swells. Best chance is to come here during the northern hemisphere winter when swells travel towards the south. It can be quiet a mission to get there, but those are often the best places, right?
Galapagos Islands are a unique place on this planet and to make sure they stay that way, a lot of money is needed. If you decide to go there, you’re going to pay that money! You can fly from Quito or from Guayaquil and you have to decide on with of the two airports you want to touch down. Once you enter the national park, you have to pay 100US$ in cash (carry that money with you), and as soon as you get out the airport, you’re in the national park!
The truth is, Galapagos is possible to do on a budget, but for this you need some time as always. There are a lot of different things to do that are for free, and walking around in one of the towns is already exciting. But once you’re here, you might better spend some money to have an even better experience and do a cruise for a couple of days. The cheapest way is to find a last minute deal for such a cruise. If you book them ahead, you probable spend four times more than other people on the same boat for exactly the same thing, but you’ve got your spot for sure.
You can fly to Baltra and take a bus to the town of Puerto Ayora. Most cruises leave from here, and this is where you have the best chance to find a last minute deal. If you don’t find such a deal, if have to wait for a few days, or simply don’t want to spend that much money, you can take a fast boat to the island of Isabela. It is another beautiful island, with a huge volcano, flamingos and countless other animals like everywhere here. But on Isabela is also a beachbreak with waves most the time. It’s not the best beachbreak you’ve ever seen, but it’s waves. If you really want to surf, you should go to San Cristobal. Here is the other airport, and the town is in my opinion much nicer than Puerto Ayora, But I would say the best thing to do, specially if you don’t have much time, is to fly into one airport and leave for the other. That way you see a bit more.
The Galapagos islands are such a special place, I’d say it doesn’t matter how much you love surfing, you should see and experience this paradise and not only the waves. Even the waves are more powerful and more consistent than on the mainland and there are almost always waves somewhere here. Some of the waves are difficult to reach and you need a boat, but some others are only a short walk away. It is not as crowded as Montañita, but if you surf the spots that are easy to get to, you won’t be there alone. Even if there wouldn’t be other people, you wouldn’t be alone. There are a lot of fishes swimming around you, as well as huge turtles and some Iguanas. The visibility under water is hard to match and the quality of the waves amazing. Probable the best thing to do, would be to come here, do a cruise for a couple of days and spend some more time on San Cristobal surfing. Once you’re here, it is not that expensive anymore, as you have to pay the 100$ entry fee only when you enter and that’s it. There are a few cheap places to eat, and if you stay for some time, you can rent a cheap apartment with a kitchen to save up some more money cooking your own food.
Ecuador has it all. From amazon jungle, to the Andes, from big and modern cities to beach towns, from clubbing to brushfire, empty beaches, beaches full of families, beaches full of backpackers or from December to February, beaches full of Chileans and Argentines. It has perfect righthander points in the south and lefthander in the north, and it has empty beachbreak everywhere in between. The waves are of great quality and most the time a friendly size, but if you’re looking for some bigger waves and more power, you’ll find them as well.
Ecuador is still pretty cheap, has good food and friendly people, a lot of out door sports and simply everything you need for your action packed adventure. It has it all in relatively short distance to each other. I haven’t been here for the last time…