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Sun, sand, surf and locals along with warm weather make Montañita a spectacular stop for weary travelers in search of a little rest and relaxation. Nestled along the southwest coast of Ecuador, this charming ocean-side gem has all the flavor and flair of a hip beach town without being too busy or over-the-top touristy. Dusty dirt roads wander past palm trees and simple adobe buildings with bamboo roofs with brightly colored facades. Inside, bohemian-looking beach-goers lounge about, sipping tropical drinks or flipping through dog-eared paperbacks. The main street leads directly to Montañita’s most popular attraction: the beach.

Jutting out of the sand at one end of the beach, the craggy outcropping known as La Punta serves as a natural beacon marking the best surfing spot on the coast. From here the beach stretches as far as the eye can see, bordered by turquoise water and tropical vegetation, making it the perfect playground for surfers and sand bunnies alike. Time seems to slip by as the afternoon sun gives way to spectacular sunsets and beach bonfires at night.

During the day, the main beach is filled with foreigners and Ecuadorians alike, sprawled out on beach towels and accompanied by either sun lotion bottles or beers (mostly beers). Vendors wander up and down the beach front selling a variety of items, from exotic tropical fruits and drinks to jewelry and T-shirts. In addition to excellent waves, Montañita also boasts an array of hotels, restaurants and bars that tempt visitors with mouth-watering menus and refreshing cocktails. Despite its popularity as a hot surfing spot, the town maintains a relaxed almost-island feel, where visitors can enjoy languorous afternoon strolls, the drinks are always cold, and even on the busier weekends there is room to breathe.

At times it feels like the town itself sleeps during the day, saving its energy for the long night of partying ahead. Unlike other trendy beach towns, Montañita maintains a distinct small town charm. The two faces of Montañita—one characterized by colorful, funky restaurants and hostels catering to a host of international travelers, and a slightly less flamboyant but certainly just as captivating section where sun-wizened old men chat in doorways and chickens converse in the street—combine to make for a very unique chilled-out atmosphere. The eclectic beach crowd and a variety of international and national cuisine infuse the laid back atmosphere with a distinct multi-cultural flavor that is sure to rejuvenate even the most jaded of travelers. Indeed, this is a place where you can find a lot to do without really doing much of anything.

In the high season, from December to August, prices tend to rise along with the temperature as people from all over flood into town. Although prices are lower from September to November, the lower temperatures and rarely seen sun make for a slightly less spectacular beach experience. In general, seafood aficionados should stock up on Montañita’s marine fare, as it is cheaper (and better) here than inland. In particular, the traditional ceviche dishes are sure to please the palate. Of course, everything tastes better when it’s served with fresh salt air, sun, and an ice cold beer.

Despite its popularity, Montañita is still well within the reach of even the most miserly backpackers. Hostels range between $5 and $15 per night, depending on whether you visit during high or low season. Most restaurants serve up a variety of dishes that are sure to satisfy the taste buds and the budget: average main meal $2 to $5. Beers and cocktails are also cheap, but then drinking is one of the Montañita must-dos.

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