Montañita: A Party Town Without the Guilt

I’ve always had a weird relationship with so called “party towns.” In case you’re not a familiar: party towns are small backpacker havens that exist solely for travelers to party and relax comfortably in a scenic back drop. You can find them mostly in South East Asia but it would seem there are a few sprinkled elsewhere around the globe as well.

Last year in South East Asia I didn’t fare so well with the party towns: I was grossed out by Ko Phi Phi, depressed in Vang Vieng and cautious at the Full Moon Party in Hat Riin. All around me people were having wild drunken fun but I just couldn’t relax.

Tug of War on Koh Phangan

Now I like to have wild drunken fun as much as the next twenty-something girl, but something about these places just rubbed me the wrong way. When you boil these places down what you have is essentially a bunch of (relatively) wealthy foreigners going wild without having to worry about things like “money” and “laws.” People who have flown thousands of miles to get high, eat french fries and watch Family Guy at a bar in Laos.

On the one hand I try really hard not to be a judgmental traveler. People can do whatever they want as long as they are respectful to the locals. Still, the weird artificiality and the strong differentiation between the western consumers and the local vendors really ate at me, and I just couldn’t loosen up. I felt like an old lady; “turn that down!” “put on a shirt, you’re being disrespectful!

Which is why I had mixed feelings on spending the holidays in Montañita, Ecuador’s beachside party town. On the one hand, I was dying for some beach time after months in the Andes, but on the other hand, apparently I’m an old lady who hates fun and partying. Mmm, things could go either way.

Actually, things turned out pretty well because Montañita is nothing like those Asian pleasure islands. It was fun, and it was relaxing.

Ko Phi Phi
Montanita

The first time I walked down the street in Montañita was absolutely surreal: it felt like I’d transported back to Thailand. Everything was bright and loud and western. There were street vendors and restaurants selling fruit juice and crepes. Instead of colorful bucket sellers there were tiny street side bars serving every cocktail imaginable. Even so, the atmosphere felt entirely different because:

It’s Not Just Gringos

In SE Asia there seemed to be a strong differentiation between the western tourists and the people serving them. It made me uncomfortable: sure they were making tons of money off the masses, but their businesses were also entirely dependent on catering to foreigners. You would rarely, if ever, see a Thai tourist on vacation to Ko Phi Phi.

In Montañita things were more diverse. There were quite a few gringos from around the world, but there were just as many if not more Ecuadorians, Colombians, Argentineans and Chileans. This wasn’t just a vacation spot for backpackers- it was for everyone.

New Years Trick or Treating (?)

Ecuadorian Culture still Dominates

Although very different from anywhere else I saw in Ecuador, Montañita still retained some of it’s local charm. There are many foreign owned businesses but Ecuadorians are still running the town, the dominant language is spanish and the place has a unique charm. This was particularly evident on our fiery Ecuadorian style New Years celebration.

People Were Relaxed

It was easy to party hard in Montañita, but it wasn’t the hedonistic free for all of somewhere like Ko Phi Phi. Nobody was puking in the streets or starting fights, people either relaxed at a street side bar or danced at a club or listened to a band, but they did it all with good humor. Maybe it’s because the crowd was on average a bit older than you’d find in Asia, or maybe it’s the extreme prevalence of marijuana. Can’t say.

In any case, the place felt more relaxing and less cliche-d than any other party town I’ve been to. It had it’s downsides: it drained our wallet for one thing, and I got pretty damn tired of hearing the same 5 pop songs played on a continuous loop (if I never hear Party Rockers again I can die happy). Still, for a little while at least I was able to shake my guilts and hang ups and actually have a good time.

 

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Lex
Lex

This is great! I’ve been to Thailand before and booked a trip to Montañita without lots of research (sounds silly, I know, but the price couldn’t be beat for what I was looking for) and when I realized it was a party town I was devastated ha. I’ll be staying further away from the craziness, but glad to hear it’s more mellow than islands in Thailand bc even at 30 that was a bit much for me. I just want to relax, do yoga, and surf!

Irena C
Irena C

Hi there,

Love laid back party towns like this. This sounds very much like Montezuma in Costa Rica, for example. Given my current itinerary, I may be in Montenita Tues-Thurs, leaving Thursday night. Are those still happening nights or pretty quiet? Appreciate your input 🙂

Paz
Paz

Hey Steph, Very well written, thought provoking reflection on traveling in the so called “party towns” on travel circuits. I found the largest dichotomy to be on Koh Phangan where you have the Full Moon Party on one side of the island but also the most relaxed, tranquil atmosphere on the other side. I’m so happy we got to see the latter & I can’t imagine how many travelers blow through Phangan just for the party & subsequently miss out on something really special. As for Montanita, I agree it was different than the party towns in SEA especially because… Read more »

anewdayanewplace
anewdayanewplace

Glad to hear that Montanita is a bit more laid back and “diverse”. I am planning on heading down that way but wasn’t sure if I wanted to be in a big party town again (I’m the same as you are). Although I am bummed to hear this about Asia. Can you still find beach towns that aren’t huge party places in Asia?

bill lucky
bill lucky

Extremely well written. I am an American (California)who has been living in Colombia for 7 years (only 34 now…..not an old fuck yet) and the way you described Montanita is perfect. I have been there a couple of times and I am going with some buddies on New Years Eve this year. Montanita is awesom…..safe as hell, fun as hell. and GREAT PEOPLE! Why? They are LATINOS! There are always a ton of Colombians there, which always makes for an awesom time. Latinos are great…they know how to party and chill out like nobody else in the world. You mention… Read more »

Emma
Emma

Was in Montanita last week with a large group of 18-24 year olds, and even in low party season we had a great time!! Easy to relax and party equally. The street-side vendors were really friendly, local, and some of the jewellery was lovely.
Full of dreadlocked stoners, but that just adds to its character and its not like they’re dangerous.
I recommend Hostel Esperanto if you go there 🙂

tina
tina

What time of year were you there? I’ve heard the best time to go is dec – feb but we’ll be in Ecuador in late July.. any idea what the vibe is like then?

Thanks!

TOM
TOM

u need to be shot lho phi phi haad rin and vang vieng is the time of ur life u must be 1 borin bastard

allie
allie

hi! I’m currently in Ecuador, making plans to go to montañita the weekend after next. any tips on which hostel to stay at?

Emily in Chile
Emily in Chile

My husband and a couple friends just spent a few days in Montañita and loved it – glad you had a good time too! And they’re broke Chileans, so they’re not feeding into the rich gringo stereotype you had trouble with in SE Asia 🙂

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