With beautiful scenery, jaw dropping jungles, curious looking wildlife, friendly people and great surf spots, Ecuador remains a bit of a hidden gem. My itinerary was based on the coast but if you’re wanting to go inland, the mountains are breathtaking.
In the North of Peru and more than likely the first town you will stop in if you are coming over the border from Colombia like I did. The streets are cobblestone and the town is surrounded by looming green mountains. If you plan ahead you can organise all kinds of adventure travel including paragliding, kayaking, hiking and much more.
A whole lotta history here. For a major city, it will exceed your expectations. As a capital city, Quito is a great base for day trips with excellent transport options.
Old Town is noteworthy, it was one of the world’s first World Heritage site boasting a tonne of attractions including: plazas, theatres monuments, markets, museums, palaces and more.
Cuidad Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world) or Ecuator line has a monument, museum of ethnography and planetarium
Rumicucho: pre inca site pretty close to Mitad del Mundo. There are three well marked areas used as a place of ceremonies and rituals, food consumption and lastly, housing.
Pululahua: Volcano & Geobotanical reserve.
One word: beautiful! The town itself is a fishing port about 7km from the main road which is covered by beautiful luscious jungle forests. You can buy all things fishy straight off the boat and cheap. The surf is perfection with a point break and beach break (it was small when I was there- December) January is the start of the swell season. The point break is a long left with about 1-4 main take off spots depending on tide and wave size. There is something for every level. The two main outermost spots being the fastest and most barely (but also close to sharp rocks), all points link together and can be ridden to the shore when waves are 5-6 ft. There is a barrelling section from the main take off with great walls to carve.
Hostel DMCA is probably the most popular at $8 per night, or you can volunteer in most hostels in exchange for accomodation. Check out Workaway.info.
Ecuador was hit pretty hard by the April 2016 earthquake but no where I saw was hit harder than Canoa. There are buildings missing the higher floors all over the whole town, everything once tall has been forced to rebuild or has shut down completely. It looks like a broken city. There are volunteer options for those with some extra time or skills to help out.
Over the weekend Ecuadorians coming from the city stop off to enjoy the salt and sand. The beaches are covered with shelters and umbrellas for rent and along the road are beach front restaurants.
The waves in Canoa are fun. The beach has A frames with take off points extending as far as the eye can see. While it may look crowded at times, there’s room for everyone and the locals are super friendly.
We stayed in Ricky’s hostel for USD$7 per person, per night. The staff and Ricky, the owner are super friendly. They’ll take good care of you. Montañita is a small (ish) town that was built up rather than out which has given the illusion of it being huge and maze like. The town is very heavily catered to tourists with restaurants, bars, and clothing shops choking out any kind of local culture. If you’re looking for something a more quaint, leave. Most go there to party.
Alternatively, the side furthest from the point break is a little more local with cheaper stores, hostels and a less gringos.
The point break is always crowded but you can score some waves to yourself, if you’re lucky around 2-3:30pm (the heat of the day or nap time). It’s a very consistent right with a nice bowl drop and a fast section towards the beach. At low tide you’ll be waist high with some unforgiving sharp rocks.
The beach breaks are A frames which work as far as the eye can see, but there are a couple popular spots right in front of town. The waves are sharp and fast.
Popular spot for people from the city. Honestly, I found it a little underwhelming but a great spot for day trips or surf trips. We rushed to Playa Engabao which is super beautiful, quiet and tranquil.
While Puerto Engabago is only 30 minutes from Playas, it feels like another world. The climate is dry and deserty and dogs and families of pigs play in the fast drying mud on the dirt roads. The town is made up predominantly of an Indigenous fisherman population who battle the waves of the point break to get out to sea. In the mornings the shores are decorated with fishing boats which disappear during the course of the day. There are only two hostels, but a bunch of accomodation options. You can stay in hospedajes or surf houses. We stayed in a hospedaje on the point (near the lighthouse) called El Delfin which had the everything we needed and more (bed, bathroom, fan, dehumidifier, fridge, wifi & stoves). The owners were so kind and accomodating, offering us free food, drinks, cheap accomodation and any help or advice we needed. Truely hospitable!
Very modern city, especially after coming from a rural area with limited food options I was blown away by the delicious, varying and oh-so-cheap foods options. It is also a cheap jump off point to the Galapagos Islands.
In the city you can visit the Malecon 2000, Las Peñas/ Cerro Santa, Iguana Park and do a free city tour. Everything you want in a city, you’ll find here.
New Years Tradition & Festivities:
Not specifically a place, but noteworthy. If you’re lucky enough to be in Ecuador for New Years Eve, you’ll see a pretty cool tradition called “El Años Viejos" (The old years). Vendors sell masks, everywhere for the weeks leading up to New Years Eve which locals purchase to make puppets. The puppets represent negative aspects of the past year, for example, negative people, politicians, we even saw a few ‘old drunk guy’ puppets. You may, however, see a familiar cartoon character, you know, just for fun. The puppets are filled with wood chips and firecrackers and burned at 12am New Years Day. Some superstitious folks even jump over the burning puppet three times.
There’s a bunch of cool places we missed, such as:
If you have visited any of these places, let us know your experiences in the comments below.