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

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.


28 thoughts on “Montañita: A Party Town Without the Guilt”

  1. I’m not too much of a party boy either Steph – I have to be in a certain mood. Vang Vieng and the Thai islands, non-stop partying 24/7…it sounds like hell to me!

    This place sounds a lot more fun, and I’m glad you had a great time! Never heard of Montanita before, either – learned something new today!

  2. I’m not much of a party girl. Gerard says I’m an old lady who sleeps early. But I’m looking forward to hitting up some when we get to Asia. And by some I’ll try one. Lol. Though Montanita sounds like a cool place to party, we’ll add it to our list when we make our way down South. 😉

  3. such nice photo you have mam love join you love travleing and adventure and my work owner of silk shop at varanasi (india)

  4. Party towns/ beach towns give me ALL KINDS of moral dilemmas. I mean, drinking on a beach is sweet and all, but when that beach is crowded with ultimately boisterous foreigners (usually not wearing shirts) then it can be a bit much.

    But you make a good point, if the locals are travelling there to have a good time, then that is DEFINITELY somewhere I want to be.

  5. Adventurous Kate

    Sihanoukville, Cambodia, is another great example of a party town where locals go as well. Most of the time, I hung out on the Khmer side of the beach. Easier access to squid on a stick!

    1. hey Adventurous Kate, I just found this article, funny thing is i’m actually talking to people, researching, and looking for a place to open up a backpacker hostel and/or dive shop. I stepped away from JJ’s (too much of a drunken party crowd) i’m getting a bit old as well now.. and am back in California looking for my next move!
      a good friend of mine actually told me about montanita. and of course here you are! hope things are well!

  6. I’m super wary of the “party towns” in SE Asia–it just weirds me out to have all these people catering to white people’s drunken fun. We’ll see how I go in Thailand…but at the very least, I know there might be something more up my alley in South America 🙂

  7. This place sounds really cool! I am not a fan of the other places you described. Maybe it’s my old age, but I much prefer to have a party without the drunken, obnoxious people looking to get absolutely trashed and high.

  8. So happy you had a good time in Montanita. I did too. I think the photo comparison you did of the two street bars speaks volumes too.

    Even though I found the mojitos to be strong in Montanita, it’s not like I’m trying to down a fifth of vodka and a red bull mixed together in a kid’s pink plastic bucket.

  9. This information is great. I am starting to (serioulsy) brainstorm my 8 month/year trip and debating either central and south america or asia. This gave a good comparison to one aspect of backpacking. You mentioned that Montanita drained your pocket…how much was a cocktail from the street vendors on average and what would you say was the biggest money suck?

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