This article has been updated on April 18, 2021
Unless you are a surfer, Peru and Ecuador are likely to be destinations you’d mainly associate with the natural beauty of the Andes, tropical jungle and Inca-related tourism. In spite of having a combined Pacific coastline of incredible 4651 km (2890 miles), which is btw more than from Seattle to Tampa, except the popular Galápagos Islands, neither of these two countries is particularly famous for its ocean locations. In this piece, we’re therefore going to talk about two of the better known seaside locations with strong party vibes Peruvian Máncora and Ecuadorian Montañita, only separated by a 12hr bus ride from each other. So let’s get on it: Máncora vs Montañita which one is better and why?
Party town vibes and people
Both towns are located in the area where two oceanic currents, Humboldt and El Niño meet. Ocean weather-wise, it creates great conditions for water sport activities, mainly for surfing and kitesurfing. And because the water sports fans are known not to be exactly shy of partying, as a consequence, both towns grew a decent party-orientated local economy.
Personally, I find it interesting how small party towns all appear to have the same characteristics, regardless of the local culture. Whether it’s Hoi An in Vietnam, Magaluf in Spain, El Tunco in Salvador, Máncora or Montañita, there are quite a few things all these places have in common. A classic party town basically involves tons of bars and restaurants; massive visual as well as audio smog, mostly in the forms of blasting music and various promotional offers and stereotypical cultural-icons images across each other.
People-wise, we’re talking about a unique and fragile environment consisting of few archetypes. For instance, there usually are numerous Casanovas; predatory tuk-tuk/taxi drivers; a few gangsta wanna-bees; obligatory rastas and street artists; beggars; eccentric characters of all kinds; shady drug dealers and more. And both Máncora and Montañita are no exceptions to all that, although it might not be in the exact same order.
After being mesmerised by incredible nature, buzzing cities and archaeological sites for nearly 2 months in the high Andean altitudes, I’ve realised that – instead of wearing my rain gear and constant gasping for air – an idea of wearing sandals, a T-shirt and shorts only, full-on oxygen and perhaps a little drink on beach begun to pop up in my subconscious with a steadily increasing frequency. I guess I was ready for the sun and sound of an ocean. But where’s a good place on the beach in Peru?
After a little online research, I’ve decided to hit Máncora, the beach town popular among surfers from all around the globe as well as among many Peruvians who come here in large numbers to enjoy the local beaches and service industry. Máncora is located in the north of Peru, only two hours drive from the Ecuadorian border. We’re talking about a small beach town with a permanent population of under 10 thousand people that receives nearly half a million tourists from all over the world.
Tip: the links highlighted in red are Google Maps locations to give you an idea about where we're talking about. If you save the locations you're interested in into "want to go", once you arrive to the destination, it could make things easier for you to orientate yourself in the area, not to mention the (sometimes) helpful and informative reviews or the fact that it might also help you to determine your itinerary ;)
Things to do in and around Máncora
To be honest, when it comes to Máncora, this is perhaps the easiest “things to do” paragraph to write ever. Basically, except for beach walks, water activities, sunbathing, dining, partying hard and nursing hangovers, there isn’t that much to do in the area. Well, it’s not entirely true. There are few things you can do outside or in between the above-listed activities but I’d say that most of them are just secondary sub-activities, only to refresh the beach-life stereotype…
For instance, you can take a tour to swim with the sea turtles in Los Orangos or El Ñuro. This was something I originally looked forward to but upon seeing the video of how the poor, stressed out-looking turtles trying to get away from the massive crowd of people that surrounded them to take selfies, I’ve opted against it.
If I were to recommend one thing to do, I’d say take a stroll to quieter and prettier Las Pocitas beach, which is only about 10 minutes walk south of the town. Most of the other possibilities are pretty much designed for water sports fans. In case you were into surfing or kitesurfing or wanted to get into the scene, you will be able to find things to do easily. Besides practising the sports, there are also various scuba diving, kitesurfing and surfing schools you could look into to improve your skills or learn something new.
For those who contemplate the idea of hanging around for longer, you can also learn Spanish in the local language school. If learning Spanish wasn’t your thing, but you still wanted to break the “daily stereotype”, you could perhaps appreciate visiting a small pool of hot water springs located around 30 minutes from town. To be honest, given what Peru has on the menu, this mud pond isn’t exactly a representative sample of its finest tourism options.
Popular with hippies and surfers since the 60s, Montañita grew from few huts into a decent-sized village. Located about 180 kilometres north of Guayaquil, the largest city and a most important port in Ecuador. The town’s name translates as “Small Mountain”, the reason for which is unsurprisingly an actual small mountain just north of the town that separates it from another, much quieter beach town Olón. Like its Peruvian counterpart, Montañita is also loaded with hotels, hostels, bars, restaurants, nightclubs and shops. Its economy is nearly all based on tourism tight to its pretty beaches.
Things to do in and around Montañita
The major activities in Montañita are pretty similar to those in Máncora and many other destinations popular with surfers. Except catching some waves, you can educate yourself in water sports, or in Spanish, there are also the classics, such as yoga or diving courses, fishing trips and all that. And then there are of course the night core activities, which is partying, strolling around the village at night, people watching and more partying.
As for other activities, I’d definitely recommend a day trip to Los Frailes, which is by many considered to be the best beach in Ecuador. It’s located in a Machalilla National Park, for which you’d have to catch a bus to Puerto López, which is about an hour’s drive and then a tuk-tuk to the park. The city itself is not exactly stunning, its beach/bay area is very pretty and also rather lively. In case you didn’t get enough water, you can stop by a cute community thermal pool Agua Blanca on your way back.
Puerto López is also a good place to consider visiting the so-called “Poor man’s Galapagos“, AKA Isla de la Plata, where you can go whale and bird watching for just $50. Heading the other direction from Montañita, you could enlighten your over-partied brain cells by visiting a pre-Columbian history museum in Valdivia. I humbly believe that I’ve listed every notable and/or interesting activity one can do in and around Montañita.
Máncora vs Montañita
IMHO, the major difference between the two settlements is that there are more things to do in and around Montañita, when it comes to tourism options and that Máncora feels more local. As for the towns themselves, I’d say that Montañita is also not exactly bigger in size (it only has one thousand permanent residents) but it’s more massive when it comes to the party vibe and general buzz. Perhaps it’s because Máncora is stretched along the Pan American Highway, which is pretty much its main street, while Montañita on the other hand is a classic grid that’s just off the highway so the holiday vibe-concentration is higher, while there are no dangerous and noisy trucks.
If we were to compare the events’ quality and musical diversity, the winner is again on the Ecuadorian side of the border. Actually, it’s not totally rare to be able to catch even some decent dance music names in the local Lost Beach Club, which btw scored an impressive 31st place in DJ Mag’s competition for the best clubs in the world. Funnily enough, in Montañita you are also less bothered by the street touts but that might only be due to the fact that there are more people to bother and they quickly move on to another potential customer.
Other than that, the towns are like siblings, with the exception that Montañita pretends to be more hippie with symbols and icons but that’s just an echo of the past-turned marketing tool – those symbols have no real meaning here – except perhaps the Bob Marley one because you can smell weed around town quite often. I guess it’s somehow tolerated by the local cops, which is apparently an exceptional situation for Ecuadorian law and standards.
And last but not least, I should mention the public services, more particularly waste management. At the time of my visit, the Montañita beaches were much cleaner. For instance, in Máncora I didn’t even bother to go into the ocean after I spotted dead fish and birds in the water, not to mention the amount of plastic rubbish left on the beach ): I don’t mean to sound judgemental but if you don’t care about maintaining the major and otherwise free source of your income, then…
Social life and events
Both towns are filled with decent restaurants, cute cafés and bars in which you can overdose on ceviche and other tasty treats as well as a variety of fantastic and inexpensive beverages. The high competition is working in favour of the customer in this case. When it comes to clubbing, the tune changes a bit. There’s still a lot to choose from when it comes to venues, however, when it comes to music diversity, that is very limited. The genre king is unsurprisingly reggaeton, the local Chuck Norris of Music.
In Máncora there’s the usual suspect Loki, the middle of the road hostel/venue chain, which is for some reason popular with many backpackers around Latin America. The main competitors are the Point Beach Hostel and few bars on the beach that seem to be more favoured by locals. Some say to be careful around here but we’ll get to the subject of safety soon.
In Montañita on the other hand, even the official clubbing offers more options even for those who can be a bit picky about the music they like to dance to, although it’s more of an exception than a rule. Overall, Montañita is just a different league if compared to Máncora when it comes to clubbing as well as live music. Except for the above mentioned Lost Beach Club with the occasional DJ treats, there are numerous large disco bars, some craft beer places with live music and so on. The menu is big.
The interesting observation is that given the drug of choice, clubbing in these parts of the world comes with a slightly different crowd vibe. While the European clubs are filled with the loved-up kids on pills, in South America there’s a different popular and widely available poison that comes with – let’s say – more selfishness, fewer hugs and general love. Instead, there’s more individual dynamism, that appears a wee bit selfish as opposed to the “one love” pill crowd. You know what I mean: everybody’s talking and nobody’s listening 😉
Price-wise, it’s all however much cheaper to have fun here than in Europe. When it comes to drinks, expect to pay around 5-15 soles ($1,5-4,50) for a 1/2l of beer and 15-25 soles ($4,50-7) for a basic cocktail in a club in Máncora and about $2,50 for a pint of beer and up to $5 for a cocktail in a Montañita club. I could keep going on about the social life in these two places and make a whole essay out of it but I believe that you get the picture now and the rest is to experience it yourself.
Please note that in Máncora, there’s a whole part of town to the north of the beach that is not exactly the best place for a tourist to end up even in a broad daylight, in the past there were even police officers who would advise people not to walk any further. When it comes to the local beach bars – I haven’t experienced anything bad – but few people told me to be careful around there at night either.
Otherwise, in both towns, it’s just a matter of being aware of pickpockets and scam. That means the usual drill of watching your valuables, that’s especially if you’re having a few. To be honest, I’d say that if you can, do not take your passport and expensive things with you if you go clubbing. You know, the chances of losing things increase with the number of drinks inside you…
If you’re planning to experiment with the rather widely available local drugs, because you are right next to the largest cocaine-exporting port in the world, please make sure that you’re doing it with someone you can trust, especially if you’re an inexperienced user, because you’re exposing yourself to further scams and risks.
And then there’s also the ocean. Please do not underestimate the power of the ocean’s currents. Pacific can be a beast, especially in these parts. More information and tips about safety in Latin America could be found here, in case you were interested.
Get around and how to get there
Unless we count in the newly opened private airport nearby, the closest airports to reach Máncora are Talara (1,5hrs away); Tumbes (2 hrs) and Piura, which is 3 hours away. To reach Montañita, your best bet is to get one of the numerous buses from Guayaquil, which is where the nearest airport is. The best and safest option is to get a direct shuttle from Guayaquil airport. There’s also a direct connection between these two towns. An overnight bus with a custom check that takes about 12hrs would cost you about $16-25.
When to visit
Both locations are pretty much all year round destinations. If you are a surfer, the high season takes place in Austral Summer, which from December to April. The warmest month is January with an average maximum temperature of 31°C.
Both towns have a wide variety of accommodation options available. In case you were planning to get there for some major national holidays, make sure to book your place in advance. Also, try looking at multiple booking platforms as they often compete with each other. In my own experiences, it’s worth it, if you want to get a good bargain 😉
As for myself, in Máncora: I’ve picked Hospedaje Costa Norte. It’s a nice, family-run establishment, located right by the main street, where everything happens and about a 3-minute walk to the beach. $12,-US per night was a great value for a clean and spacious double room with an en suite shower. I would recommend this place to my non-conformist mates.
In Montañita, I’ve decided in favour of a place called Coral Blanco @ $12 for a private room with a shower. First I was put off the booking.com’s mess with the location of the place as it is about a $3 taxi drive from the actual Montañita. However, I was later happy with that location error. Coral Blanco is right by the beach in the neighbouring village Libertador Bolivar that faces stunning sunsets each evening. The hosts are a great and friendly family, who made me very welcomed there. The room was very basic but clean but the food was brilliant. In many ways, I was happy to be staying away from Montañita to have the tranquillity/non-party option available. In case I felt like it, as I said, the party was just a $3 taxi drive away…
In Puerto López, I’ve stayed in Hostel Dannita B&B. I was falling a little behind with my budget so I went to a dorm for a change. The place exceeded its price tag expectations. I thought that for $8 per one night in a dormitory it would be worse. The phrase you get what you paying off comes to mind but I personally think it was better than what I’ve paid for. The owners are nice local people. The property is about 4-5 blocks (5 minutes) from the beach in a wee bit neglected residential part of town. A/C in the dorm was rather efficient.
Sort of conclusion
I am aware that from the surfers’ point of view, the good waves add a very strong value to these locations. I totally understand that for surfers, everything other than waves is just pretty much a second-hand product or consequence they are happy to deal with, as long as the waves are good. But if you’re not a surfer you might be looking into different areas places provide excitement in order to meet your expectations.
And on that note, with no disrespect intended, I’d say that neither of these two towns isn’t exactly the top beach destination I’ve ever visited. To be fair, I shall also say note that nor they were the worst ones. For my taste, both places are a bit too predatory, when it comes to street touts and other “marketing strategies”. However, I must point out that I’m not a big fan of busy beach destinations. I love the sound of the ocean and I love the tranquillity about that – and these two spots provide none of it so perhaps, I’m not the most impartial judge here…
To me, it feels the same as when you walk into a shop just to look around if you spot anything interesting. And the store’s employees keep approaching you if they can help you with something, while you keep saying “thank you, I appreciate your attention but I just want to look around. If I spot something interesting, I might seek your assistance then”. Except that they won’t let you look, they’re paid to push you to buy something so they ask again and again. And imagine this with food, drinks, drugs and all that the “street employees” in Máncora and Montañita are making their money off…
If I was ever forced to make a Máncora vs Montañita choice, I’d easily go with the latter one without much hesitation, mainly because it felt cleaner and more relaxed. It also had incomparably higher quality of performers, when it comes to the live music as well as clubbing, it also had a wee bit more activities on the menu and so on. But I’d stay in one of the neighbouring villages, which is yet another advantage Montañita has over Máncora, to get my tranquillity and if I ever felt like having a few, I’d head to the town for few.
One thing is for sure. None of these two places is exactly ideal for a family holiday. However, as I said, Montañita is practically surrounded by different alternatives and your kids would perhaps have fun walking through the town during a day to observe the hippie-looking bamboo structures, bright colours and all that. But then again, everything depends on what kind of holiday you prefer and what is the nature of your travels. If you asked me if I would ever travel to Peru to visit Máncora only, I’d say no.
But we’re not talking about prime beach locations here. After all, as I’ve mentioned in the opening paragraph, Peru and Ecuador are not the countries you’d associate with beach-related tourism. But if you wanted to chill on the beach few days, after visiting some extraordinary touristic options either of the two countries provides in the Amazon or in the high altitudes of Andes, Máncora and Montañita should do just fine for that purpose. Otherwise, unless you’re a surfer, I’d modestly advise you to look elsewhere. Perhaps to look north of here, as there’s the whole Caribbean 😉
How long to stay
The length of your stay of course depends on your interests. If you are a surfer or if you like to party hard, you can get stuck here. If those two major local activities weren’t what could hold you here, I’d say that to get to know the place, I’d stay 2-3 days in Máncora to get the vibe, include the hangover day. I’d give Montañita an extra day or two, in case you include few trips around the country, such as the Los Frailes beaches and/or Poor Man’s Galapagos but then again, you can also stay in one of the small beach towns or Puerto López for that.
Useful and interesting links
- Viva Máncora: information of the beaches of Piura and Tumbes, northern Peru, hostels, hotels, houses, surf, etc..
- Peru Máncora: information and booking website
- Info Montañita: a website promoting tours, shops and more
- Montañita Spanish School: a website with information about language classes
- Yoga Montañita: info about Yoga classes
- Olón: a website promoting the village’s restaurant, hotels and so on
- Puerto López: Wikitravel’s page on the town
- Poor Man’s Galapagos: Sarah Gilbert writes about Isla de la Plata for The Guardian
- Ecuador Bus website with numerous connections, including the shuttle from Guayaquil to Montañita
Next possible destinations heading north
While most of the mega-popular attraction in the region is located south of here, if you headed north, there are also numerous amazing places that are certainly worth checking out. If I were you, I wouldn’t miss out on one of the first-ever two cities declared as a UNESCO site: Ecuador’s capital Quito. IMHO it is arguably the prettiest colonial town in Latin America. Getting further north of Quito you’d cross the equator and enter southern Colombia to enjoy the Nariño Province of Colombia with its capital Pasto, Cali, Guaviare and Desert Tatacoa, before hitting Bogotá or Medellín, not to mention the amazing Colombian Caribbean coast…
Next possible destinations heading south
Although in a considerable distance, which is worth considering flying, heading south of Máncora, you’d enter Peru’s busiest tourist locations Cusco, Machu Picchu or Arequipa, neither of which need introducing that much. Further south, you’d encounter the amazing Lake Titicaca which would take you to the border with neighbouring Bolivia. In case you want to experience the incredible and surreal nature of the Altiplano plateau, you should definitely consider visiting Uyuni Salt Flats after you check out the country’s two capitals La Paz and Sucre.