Two of Ecuador’s Best Coastal Towns

If there were ever two towns that complement one another perfectly, they would be Montañita and Olòn on the coast of Ecuador. About an hour north along the coast from Salinas—one of Ecuador’s best-known and most popular beach destinations—these two beach towns each offer a very different vibe.

Montañita is named for the “little hill” that sits at its north end and separates its picture-perfect golden-sand beach from Olòn’s picture-perfect golden-sand beach. It’s less than a five-minute drive from one to the other, and a taxi ride will cost you just $2.

I think of Montañita and Olòn like salt and pepper. You can’t imagine one without the other, making for a recipe for success.

Here’s why they work so well together:

Montañita, while definitely laidback, has a youthful, upbeat energy. (Tolerance is the key word here. You may smell marijuana wafting about, see same-sex couples walking hand-in-hand, or topless women on the beach. And you’ll hear plenty of reggae.)

Olòn is the more mature and tranquil sort, yet still laidback, with a more subdued, family atmosphere.

Montañita is home to a number of funky low-cost hostels (and some increasingly upscale boutique inns) and fun, lively bars and restaurants with international flair, including Thai, Mexican, Italian…

Olòn has some lovely hostels, too, but with one or two exceptions, restaurants tend to be more Ecuadorian style—fish or chicken.

Montañita is one of Ecuador’s best-known surf spots, with strong, consistent waves that make it a great place for accomplished surfers but a bit of a challenge for novices. Each February, an international surfing competition is held in conjunction with Carnaval, which brings hordes of partiers here.

Olòn is a fishing village. And while you’ll find some surfing there, it’s better known for its calmer waters and its exceptionally long (4.5 miles) beach.

And while Montañita attracts more tourists, Olòn attracts more of those who are coming to look for a place to live. Arguably, the climate is better and the landscape is prettier in this area than it is in Salinas, which is flat and dry. But here, lush hills border the coast, and more rain makes for a more dramatic setting. You can live right in Olòn or up on the ridge, with never-ending views of the little town, the long wide beach, and the ocean beyond.

The cost of living can be quite reasonable here. Two people will rarely spend more than $25 for drinks and dinner in Montañita—especially if you avail of happy hour discounts that are offered just about everywhere.

You can buy a brand-new two-bedroom condo on the beach in these towns for about $139,000 or a luxurious 1,800-square-foot three-bedroom home with never-ending ocean views from its hillside perch for $230,000. Rental prices depend on location and amenities…but $400 to $500 a month will get you something comfortably modest…and $1,200 to $1,500 a month will get you something quite deluxe.

So, which town is the better destination? You decide…

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