Despite its small size relative to its neighbouring countries, Ecuador is incredibly rich and biodiverse. It has three distinct climate regions: the lush rainforest to the west, the magnificent Andean highlands, and its Pacific coastline with almost uninterrupted beaches. It is precisely these beaches what attract professional and beginner surfers alike. I had the opportunity to see what its waves were like for myself, and I did so by driving Ecuador’s coast completely from north to south. From hidden, low-key Ayampe to the lively, tourist-packed Montañita, one is sure to find their niche– and not want to leave it– in one of Ecuador’s mystic beaches.
The Spondylus Route
The Spondylus route is named after a spiked shell that was important for pre-Columbian Andean peoples as it was used as currency as well as an offering to the Pachamama. It extends along the whole Ecuadorian coast, so you’re in for awesome views for the whole length of your roadtrip. There’s plenty of ways to drive down the road: you can choose to bus or rent a car, but if you happen to have your own you can opt to remove the back seats and throw in a mattress (like I did), to grant yourself lodging with ever-changing views.
The journey begins in Ecuador’s north coast in a small surf town called Mompiche. This two-street, unpaved town is a well-kept secret and there are quaint hostels with great vibes for those who find it. Spend the afternoon catching some waves with locals and tourists alike and then unwind for a seaside coffee while you lie in a hammock.
Desde Mompiche con Amor (from Mompiche with love) is a great place to spend the night and meet like-minded travelers.
Following the route south and you’ll have arrived to Canoa, a slightly bigger town bordered by a single, extensive beach. Canoa lies in the Province of Manabi, which was the epicenter of the recent earthquake. Its signs are still quite visible, but international and local efforts have been quick to restore Canoa back to its surf-town glory. The constant swell, however, has continued to attract surfers from all over the world.
The long Pacific coastline makes Ecuador a sweet spot for surfers seeking constant swell and warmer waters.
Follow the highway until you reach San Mateo, and you will find a long beach lined by tall, beautiful cliffs. Catch some waves or spend the day walking its full length and admiring its beauty. San Mateo is 15mins away from the city of Manta, so it was easy to find a place to spend the night with a tight budget.
Los Frailes National Park
Although it’s not allowed to spend the night, I definitely spent most of my day in Los Frailes National Park, a large protected area with plenty of beaches, forests and impressive rock formations. There’s plenty of space to swim, hike and unwind so take your time to explore it and you’ll surely be surprised by the park’s flora and fauna. A walk along its beaches will leave you awed at the size of its towering cliffs, and you’ll get another striking vantage point by walking up to its lookout. If you’re visiting anytime from June to September you might even get the chance to spot some humpback whales in their mating season.
Long, mystic beaches surrounded by desert and towering rock walls. Los Frailes National Park is a solid 10.
Make your way towards Ayampe and you’ll have to find a local to ask how to access the beach. It’s that low-key. Once you pass the row of houses, however, you’ll be surprised at the length and size of the beach. The grey sand and constant ocean spray from the crash of strong waves give this beach a mystical feel. Don’t be fooled by its beauty though, as its strong swell are sure to knock down if you’re just starting to surf. The size, beauty, and solitude of this beach made it one of my favorite stops along the trip. Check out the Buena Vida (Good Life) hostel and make sure to visit the local surf shop (Mineral Surf Shop) as its equipped with a local shaper, eco-wax and great vibes!
The next stop on the Roadtrip is world-famous Montañita beach. With a point break that creates competition-perfect barrels from January to April and a constant beach break, this beach attracts surfers from all over the world, and tourists looking for a lively party scene are quick to follow suit. Definitely faster paced than all the previous spots, Montañita’s motto is “surf all day, party all night,” so find yourself one of the cocktail carts lined in its bustling center and you’ll be in for a fun night.
Follow the Spondylus route onto Salinas, a popular vacation spot for many Ecuadorians. Although there’s plenty to do in Salinas, but I drove past to avoid the crowds and find those waves. I made it to Playas, appropriately named after the numerous, continuous beaches separated only by rocks, which add to the beauty of the landscape and create perfect point breaks for many levels of expertise. If you’re into volunteering or simply looking for a cool place to pitch your tent, head to Playa’s Ecological Reserve, go for a dip in the lagoon and meet great people who truly care for the planet. Oh, and don’t forget to try the coast’s famous Ceviche, which couples perfectly with plantain chips and a local beer!
There’s no better way to enjoy a ceviche than by the sea where it’s freshest and the views are better!
By this point I was only hours away from the border with Peru, but Ecuador’s Spondylus route made me want to drive it back and forth. Even if you’re not into surfing, there’s plenty to do and see in all of the beaches and towns and the people you’ll meet are nothing short of fascinating. Although the country was recently shaken by a devastating earthquake (that still has visible marks on facades and debris, it is heartening to see communities everywhere getting together to rebuild their country. Ecuadorians are more united and energized towards a common goal than ever, and new hip, great-vibe businesses are springing up all around. I’m sure you’ll be quick to notice that local one-liter beer bottles are only a dollar each.
The Spondylus route is quickly making a name for itself, so hurry up before the crowds and tourist buses are lining up along the highway!