After the Galapagos, I spent two weeks in a coastal town called Montañita, learning to surf and taking Spanish classes at Montañita Spanish School. It is a huge party scene as well, with parties on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, and you can easily stay out until sunrise dancing your feet off.
I loved Montañita and two weeks was definitely long enough to stay there. I stayed in Hostel Esperanto, owned by a lovely Ecuadorian man called Jorge. The normal price per night is around $10 but I got a bit of a discount for staying so long and I only paid $63 for the second week!
Esperanto is in a great location, slightly outside of the centre, across the bridge, in a quiet street one block from the beach. It has hammocks on the roof with a great view of the breaking waves. I spent many hours in those hammocks!
A couple called Carlos and Anna are working there for the season and they are absolutely great as well; friendly and helpful. Plus Carlos is a great chef and I had dinner at the hostel a few times for only a few dollars.
The town is tiny and you get to know it very quickly.
The main landmarks and activities:
Breakfast Alley – narrow street packed with vendors serving up excellent breakfasts – choose from crepes, fruit salads with granola and yogurt, or omelettes and you won’t pay more than $4 for freshly prepared deliciousness. Plus the freshly blended fruit juices are unparalleled at $2.
Centre of town – full of lovely little restaurants where you can have lunch (almuerzo) for around $3.50 including two courses and a glass of juice! My favourite place was run by an Argentinian woman and she also served up fantastic ceviche for $6.
Also there is a cafe called The Wave, which is new, spotless and serves the best coffee in town. One night per week they have a taco party where tacos are only $5 (note: not actually super cheap but they are nice…).
Dinner options are also varied and there is a great selection of international cuisine (plenty of Latin American favourites). Don’t go to Montañita if you want a pure untainted view of Ecuador in and sense, so embrace the variety while you are there. There is an Italian restaurant called Pigro at the end of Breakfast Alley which is nice though not cheap. My two favourite restaurants serve delicious burgers. One is a beachfront place called Lido, a little of the beaten track with a lovely ambience and a decent selection of burgers between $8-9.50 (except Tuesdays where you can get a burger and a cocktail for $9!). The second place is Caña Grill which is a restaurant during the day and transforms into one of the most popular nightclubs at night. The burgers here are $3.50-5 and they are a little smaller than at Lido but still lovely and you can have a drink and side combo for an extra $1.50. I would recommend you try both really and make up your mind as to your favourite!
Cocktail Alley – between Breakfast Alley and the beach you have Cocktail Alley where you can get a great variety of decent cocktails for $3 until about 5am all the while listening to the music blaring from the nearby clubs.
Clubs – when you have had your fill on Cocktail Alley there are some good clubs to choose from in the town depending on the night. The pricing is really sexist so usually women get in for free all night and men can pay up to $10 after a certain time (or when the club is getting full).
Caña Grill is good for Monday night and plays regeatton mixed with a few western hits and it’s usually free to get in. Lost Beach is good any of the party nights but especially at the weekend and they regularly have famous DJs playing on a Saturday night. Alcatraz is an incredibly well-designed club, from the outside it looks like an imposing prison in the centre of town, it’s only open at the weekend, Saturday is a big night and they play salsa, it costs about $5 to get in. Those are the main clubs but there are also hostel parties with all-you-can-drink cocktails (cube libre or a vodka/orange mix); Funky Babylon on Monday for $8, Hidden House for $5 on Wednesday but those drinks are too sweet with no alcohol!
Aside from eating, drinking and partying, Montañita is great for learning to surf as the break is pretty consistent and not too huge. You can rent a board for $5 per hour or negotiate a weekly rate (I paid $60 for a week). There are plenty of new and second hand boards for sale if you are staying more than a couple of weeks. I took lessons during the week with a hilarious Ecuadorian instructor called Jorge and an American surfer dude called Ross, they were a great pair and I learned really quickly at first and then managed to beat myself up in a huge variety of different ways. My favourite incident was probably when I caught a green wave that was too steep and my board caught the bottom of the wave and stopped but my body didn’t get the memo so I continued and managed to surf the wave on my face, turns out it’s just a matter of speed.
When I wasn’t partying or surfing I was learning Spanish at one of the best Spanish Schools in South America. Montañita Spanish School was great and I felt lucky to get a space starting on the Monday after I arrived as people tend to book in advance. But I turned up at 0730 on Monday morning to take a written Spanish test and was then assigned a level. I was actually given a choice of levels as I knew a bit of everything (picked up through travelling rather than formal education), but the depth of my knowledge was not great. Lessons were four hours per day and I had a great week in group lessons with Phillipe and Elias from Switzerland and we were joined some days by others but they didn’t stay. In the morning we learned grammar with Stalin for two hours and then in the afternoon we had a much more practical session with a lovely woman called Ambar. It was only at the end of the week that we really realised that she hadn’t spoken English at all and when I asked it turns out that she doesn’t speak any English. It felt good to know I could get by entirely in Spanish. It was also quite shocking to realise how little English grammar I am actually cognisant of, we really are taught it so poorly in England. The non-native English speakers were much better at remembering the names of tenses and structures.
On the Friday I decided to stay for another week and decided to have private lessons to push a bit faster through the various tenses, though to keep the price roughly the same as group lessons I opted for three hours per day and I spent the spare hour learning vocabulary which is a fairly limiting factor! Private lessons were actually really tough and it hasn’t all sunk in yet but I’ve got my notes to review when I fancy. The prices seem reasonable, the school has a registration fee of $20 and then group lessons are $170 per week and private lessons are $240 per week. I paid $180 for the week of private lessons with fewer hours and it worked out better for me than four hours per day one-on-one.
When it came to leaving it was quite sad to say goodbye to everyone but I had decided to spend a couple of weeks travelling around Ecuador with a few guys I met in Montañita.
Finn, from southern Germany, and I jumped on a bus at 9am to Guyaquil for $6 and then onwards to Cuenca to meet up with Stijn and Silvan from Netherlands and Switzerland respectively. The bus from Guyaquil to Cuenca cost $12.20 each, took less than 5 hours and we arrived at 5pm.