The Split Personality of... Montanita, Ecuador
So you've done your research and you believe you know everything you need to... but the thing is, every blog post or article basically says the same thing. But here at RoK Gi Yeon, we traveled it, lived in it and made local friends in it. Read on for a few new insights, as short and sweet as we can, on the split personality of Montanita:
The party: Yes, this town is a party town. The thing is, you can party like this in plenty of places around the world. From my experience, the first to come to mind are Las Vegas, Seoul, London, Tokyo, and a myriad of other cities across the globe. So is it unique? Absolutely not. So why does it get such notoriety when you search Ecuador and South America in general? Two reasons. First, the reputation. Every day I meet a new traveler and it all sounds the same, "I haven't slept," "I came to party," "Have you seen Lost Beach?" etc. If you go somewhere and expect the party, and everyone else came the same way, then there's a party. Second, it's the beach. No, this party is not unique, and the beach, while a beauty, is not one-of-a-kind either. But, when you combine the two, now you've found something unique. So, if you want to party your cares away, come to Montanita and get drunk on cocktail alley (ask us how to do it cheap), sweat till you dance and dance till you sweat at Cana Grill, Santo Cielo, Spacio, Lost Beach, or even on the street, and go home long after sunrise to share your stories with your hostel-mates. This is the usual and the road far too oft-travelled. But Montanita is so much more than a party town.
That's what the blogs say, with our two cents, but here's what you're missing out on...
The "party" for us, was the combination of the people, the dancing and the music.
The people: The people here are some of the warmest, most caring individuals we've ever met. Take the time to talk to the locals, hear their stories, and meet their kids and their pets. You will be welcomed into their lives, into their homes, and feel warmed by their hospitality. From our house to the party was about a 7-10 minute walk. During that time, we greeted 20 people every day who work, live, chill and (to be perfectly honest) smoke in this paradise.
The dancing: Our favorite late-night weekend activity became sitting at our favorite cocktail cart (Cocteles el Tigre), drinking Caipirinhas and watching the out-of-towners dance in the street, in the rain, on the chairs, on the tables, with anyone and everyone all night long. There is a kind of permanent Carnaval feeling in Montanita, especially on the weekends, throughout the high season, and it's such a "chilled," happy vibe to absorb.
After living in Ballenita for 2 months, we looked into Montanita because it was still on the coast and there were rumors of live music there. This turned out to be true, but too few people actually know about it. You've got to be there at the right time, but generally from Thursday through Saturday, Santo Cielo and Cana Grill have something on. There are shows periodically at Lido (on the beach) and Cafe Rustica. And there's a street corner where you'll sometimes catch special performances by bands touring up the coast that will probably be playing at one of the aforementioned clubs. There are a few local bands that play every weekend at different spots and play sets of various covers, while the touring bands come through every 6 weeks or so and play great original rock, funk, Latin-fusion and more. The reason most tourists miss it, is simply that, like much of this area of South America, the evening starts sometime after 11pm, whereas the music kicks off closer to 8~10, while everyone is still pre-partying at hostels or on the beach. Do yourself a favor and take a walk around those areas to see if something cool is happening, as you could get a rare opportunity to check out some South American indie rock you might never get to see again!
Of upmost importance to mention, there is a truly undiscovered side of Montanita, one that happens from roughly June through Christmas:
The off-season: DO NOT believe the rumors. I first visited Montanita at the end of October, right in the middle of the "off-season," and after exactly one night, I decided we had to move there. The vibe is decidedly more chilled out, the streets are quieter through the week, though weekends still get busy enough, and you can meet and talk with absolutely everyone. But most importantly, the beach is still clean and beautiful, the waves still stellar, the sunsets still spectacular, the weather lovely without that sweltering midday heat that makes a high-season siesta a pleasant necessity, but if you spend your early weekdays there, it will basically be your private beach…with cocktails. Make your friends in the off-season, and get 1st-class service, discounts and fantastic conversation throughout the high-season. The bottom-line here is, don't be scared off by stories of gloom, or cold, or whatever else you're told, the off-season is only "off" because it's quiet(er).
But there's more beyond drinking and partying in stunning Montanita, from the surf, to THE club, the hostels and the unfortunate truth of the world, the crime, all of which we'll outline in part 2, always with our two cents on the reality behind it all.