Just 4km north of Manglaralto, MONTAÑITA is like nowhere else on the southern coast. Crammed into the centre are straw-roofed, bamboo-walled hostales and pizzerias advertised by bright wooden signs, while tanned, chilled-out gringos lounge around in shorts and bikinis and surfers stride up the streets with boards under arm. There’s a certain 1960s, dope-fuelled atmosphere to Montañita that may not appeal to everybody, reaching a height during la temporada from January to April. Outside these months, visitors dwindle and the skies cloud over, but the hotels stay open all year catering to the steady stream of surfing addicts.
The town’s transformation from isolated fishing village to backpacker hangout has been brought about by some of the best surfing conditions in Ecuador; waves are strong, consistent and range from one to three metres in height, and there’s a long right break lying off the northern end of the beach by the rocky promontory of La Punta. The best waves coincide with the summer months (Jan–April), when the water temperature averages 22–25°C. Every February, surfing fever reaches a peak during the international surfing competition held here over Carnaval, which attracts contestants from as far away as the US and Australia.
Surfboards (tablas) can be rented for about $18 a day at a number of places in the centre, such as Tikilimbo and Balsa House. Montañita’s waves are best suited to experienced surfers, but beginners can get in on the action by taking one-to-one lessons with the Montañita Surf Club on the waterfont ($20 for a 2hr lesson; they also rent out boards and equipment).