Being the party city of Ecuador, it was a no-brainer to head to Montanita for New Year's Eve to ring in 2023! While the rumored party scene might be one of the exciting parts of Montanita, I found there was so much more to this sweet little village. While the intention was to let loose on NYE, it actually didn't go that way for us during our visit!
Montanita - December 31, 2022
Montanita means "Little Hill" which we could've easily mistaken Nativa Bambu Ecolodge for! The small town is well known for it's surfing and partying but we could've easily been mistaken. Perhaps it's because we didn't go out late enough for the party scene but the quaint town was a lot different from the significant partying I had read about! So if you are going to visit, in my opinion, it wasn't all that crazy. While we could see the whole town from our hotel balcony, we were able to get a quiet sleep but be aware, there is always music booming (you'll be warned about this in other blogs too...ALWAYS read the reviews prior to booking lodging!). The "surfer's paradise" title didn't seem fitting either as the waves were quite calm and there weren't many surfers around but I don't think it's fair to judge based on only two full days there!
Montanita - December 31, 2022
Regardless of the town not being identical to what I read, it was hands down my favourite stop on the entire trip (and keep in mind, Galapagos was our next stop)! The vibes were so chill, I felt safe, and things were pretty cheap. I would highly recommend heading to Montanita if you get the opportunity during your travels in Ecuador. Check out the last blog post for tips on how to get there by bus from Guayaquil.
Montanita - December 31, 2022
I can't fully describe the peaceful feeling I had while walking in circles in Montanita but the best I can do is saying it just felt free.
Me being mesmerized by Montanita - December 31, 2022
Transportation to Montanita
Since there is no airport in Montanita, there are two other cities you can fly to that will get you closer (Manta, which is north of Montanita and Guayaquil which is southeast of Montanita). From each of these cities, you can take a bus, a private driver, or a rental vehicle.
The bus terminal in Manta is 5 minutes from the Eloy Alfaro International Airport. The same applies in Guayaquil, with the bus terminal located next to the airport however, with the way the road infrastructure is set-up, the drive takes you all the way around the airport which could result in a 20 minute drive with traffic. We went with this transportation option, taking the CLP bus line from Guayaquil to Montanita costing $12USD for two of us. Once we approached Montanita, we got off at the main CLP bus terminal.
There is an awesome service called Daytrip and although we did not use them for this specific route, we did use them later on in our travels (more to come on this in future blog posts). The super cool thing about Daytrip is that they accommodate tourist stops along the way as 'add-ons' so you aren't losing a full day doing a separate trip from your destination.
Renting a vehicle is an option we took on a separate leg of the trip in Quito, Ecuador (and later on in David, Panama - blog post to follow). I felt safe driving in the area we went to during our vehicle rental period but based on what we saw from local drivers in Guayaquil, it isn't the most safe area to drive in, especially if you aren't familiar with the area. We saw lots of fender benders!
Lodging in Montanita
The selection of hostels and hotels were very limited for us booking so last minute (due to our trip issues) and staying there on New Year's Eve. But Montanita does have a ton to offer if you look ahead of time. We splurged and stayed at Nativa Bambu Ecolodge which can run from $200-$400 per night. There are plenty of hostels in town that are dorm style ($14+ per night) or private style ($30+ per night). It is extremely important to read the reviews prior to booking! There are certain places that may not provide towels, have hot water, be the most clean, or have card machines for payment. The price could be great for your budget but you will have to evaluate what you really want in order to enjoy your time in Montanita. Don't let a bad stay ruin your entire experience of this beautiful place!
Nativa Bambu Ecolodge, Montanita - January 1, 2023 Montezuma Hostal, Montanita - December 30, 2022
Food and Entertainment
We are not the biggest 'foodies' so our main priority has never been restaurant hopping, and this didn't change on this specific trip. However, there are certain things you just need to try when you're away from home and in a new country! Full disclosure: I am 90% vegan. Okay, well what the heck does that mean? For obvious reasons, I eat primarily plant-based to lower my carbon footprint. When I am in my regular routine (AKA not travelling) and doing my own meal preparation, I will never buy meat or dairy for myself. But there are times when I am out with family, there's a work function, etc. when I eat more like a vegetarian or pescatarian.
The restaurant options are endless in Montanita. We had brunch included in our stay at Nativa Bambu and it was fantastic. A typical go to dish in Ecuador is ceviche with plantain chips and I most definitely broke any veganism I had in me and may have overdosed on this specific dish for the entirety of the trip.
Shrimp ceviche at Nativa Bambu Ecolodge - December 31, 2022
There are plenty of restaurants and vendors for food and drinks. Since Montanita is so small, you can easily stroll through the village first to choose some top places to go and narrow it down after to stroll back if necessary! There are also tons of convenient stores to grab something small or bigger markets to make your own meals.
Pueblo Market, Montanita - December 30, 2022
Local empanada stand, Montanita - December 30, 2022
Have you ever met a broccoli fiend? (It's me, hi.) On this trip, I was searching everywhere for broccoli and guess what? It was one heck of a difficult task. Ecuador has a lot of starchy vegetables so I found it fairly difficult to find greens. Once again, the language barrier made it difficult to describe what I was looking for. After lots of walking around in circles and practicing my Google Translate skills, I was able to find a place that whipped up a delicious stir fry, featuring broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and onions. It was exactly what I was looking for!
La Sazon de Elvia, Montanita - December 30, 2022
When I see a beach, it just makes sense to have a coconut in hand to slurp on some fresh coconut water! There was a tiny elderly lady who had a small little shack across from our hotel with an assortment of fruits for sale. I went to her multiple times for a coconut and each time, she would whip out the machete and work her magic. For every time I got a coconut, I would leave a dollar or 2 behind (the coconut was $3USD) and she would shoot me a smile I'll never forget. On my last visit, I gazed the shack and her precious photo hanging up of her and her late husband. Knowing it was the last time I would ever see this woman, my heart broke a bit. I got my last coconut, gave her an extra $10, and once again she shot me that smile while approaching me for a big hug.
Tiny shop where I kept getting coconuts! - December 31, 2022
When it came to entertainment, my biggest joy came from just walking around the little town! On our first night, we arrived as the sun was going down and the stars came out in no time. We made our way directly to the beach and went to a walk-up restaurant, which was also a hostel. This specific place, called Selina, was actually one of the places I looked into for lodging. The reviews were a bit concerning for value received given the price tag. But you couldn't beat the location for beach accessibility:
Beach entrance and exit from the Selina hostel - December 30, 2022
The location seemed to be both a blessing and a curse. The hostel was tucked into the town and right off the beach, kind of like it was the center point of everything. But that seemed to become a huge problem for some people based on the reviews I read. There is always music booming and it is definitely a party place! Because we were booking last minute, the prices were quite high so that is why we resorted to Nativa Bumbu Ecolodge, since we had to splurge anyways given that the options were limited.
When we popped in for a drink and took a look at the menu, the prices were a bit pricey in comparison to the town itself. We spent $36.47 CAD on one drink for each of us and a small salad for me. To put it in perspective, I popped into a convenience store and bought a bottle of vodka for $5USD. So if you're on a budget, there are easier ways to go about things cheaper! We spread out the bottle of vodka for the 2 full days we were there...I mean hey, I was on vacay and it was New Year's Eve!!
This was a club Nativa Bambu owned as well. We walked by on New Year's Eve day - December 31, 2022
The Nativa Bambu Ecolodge had an amazing infinity pool and bar so we took advantage of that on New Year's Eve (which you might have seen in the previous blog post). I felt bad it was kind of empty and the bartenders were trying to make sales, so I ordered a drink while we were in the pool, killing time before getting ready for the 3-2-1 countdown.
Infinity pool at Nativa Bambu Ecolodge - December 31, 2022
My go to bevvy is a vodka water and I am unsure of exactly what they gave me because this happened shortly after:
My allergic reaction - December 31, 2022
Fun fact about me - I am allergic to rum, and this exact reaction is always the consequence so my guess of what they gave me to drink became a lot more clear. I had asked for a vodka water but again, language barrier! They mixed something up and I just accepted it. I don't travel anywhere without Benadryl!
The reaction passed and we made our way back to town. There was excitement in the air as everyone prepared to ring in a new year.
Montanita - December 31, 2022
But as with any event, in flooded my eco-anxiety. There were balloons, confetti, paper lanterns, and los año viejo everywhere (we will get to that soon) that I knew were going to all be disposed of in a landfill or in another method, which I found out later. Let's backtrack a bit here. When we were at the bus terminal in Guayaquil waiting to head to Montanita, there were these styrofoam statues EVERYWHERE. They were strapped onto people's cars or being carried around as if it were a child. I honestly didn't know the meaning of it and truly, we didn't find out until February when we were already back home. Benjamin was listening to a podcast that explained what they were - now I wish I had taken some pictures!
Los año viejo are life sized statues made of styrofoam or paper mache and painted into some character:
Los año viejo [photo credit]
What made me laugh a bit was the struggle to get a Sonic character on our bus. I couldn't help it but it was so funny that the baggage had to be adjusted multiple times, the staff thing Sonic was holding has to be taken apart; they were at this for at least 10 minutes as we all waited to get on the bus. There was just so much attention surrounding this styrofoam statue and it was hilarious to me - mostly because I knew this would NEVER fly in Canada and if someone attempted to bring it on a bus, train, or plane they would be charged enormous amounts!
The one on the bus looked like this but is missing the staff thing it holds! [photo credit]
So back to my eco-anxiety. It is a given that there is always fireworks on New Years Eve in addition to everything else, adding another layer of anxiety. But as we know, at this point, I had a few drinks in me to ease the stress and allow myself to enjoy the moment I would never get back. The fireworks exploded, the countdown happened, and I was standing on the beach with my favourite person.
Yes, the boyfriend of an environmentalist is holding a plastic cup with straw :(
(He didn't have many options to get a drink! I couldn't be too hard on him)
New Year's Eve celebration - December 31, 2022
I did end up taking a picture of an año viejo, not a great one but one nonetheless.
What happened next blew my mind. All of a sudden there were fires everywhere on the beach. If you look closely...you'll see what they threw in!
Sonic and friends in one of the firepits - December 31, 2022
They were tossing their los año viejos into the fires! The celebration on December 31st for Ecuadorians is called la fiesta de Año Viejo which translates to "the old year festival." The statue represents "past mistakes or unachieved goals" and they were burned to the ground to demolish the past year.
All I kept saying to Ben as we departed from the beach was "I wonder how all of this garbage is going to be collected." The piles began and the beach was covered.
Garbage pile beside the beach during the NYE celebration - December 31, 2022
Following the entertaining night, I went directly to the beach in the morning ready to help with clean-up...and this is what I walked up to:
A clean beach following the NYE celebration - January 1, 2023
It was as if nothing happened! I could not believe my eyes. But where did all of the garbage go? Stay tuned because that discovery will come in the next blog post.
See you again, Montanita
It is hard for me to describe or pinpoint exactly what I loved about Montanita so much. It reminded me of a similar feeling I had visiting Split, Croatia. It was the feeling of "I could live here one day" and considering all of the travelling I have done, it is not a frequent feeling which means the place must be really special to me! Until we meet again, Montanita.