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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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28 Responses to Montañita: A Party Town Without the Guilt

  1. Cori January 11, 2012 at 9:25 AM #

    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?

    • Paz April 26, 2015 at 7:08 PM #

      Cori,
      Curious, did you end up doing Central/South America or Asia and why?
      ~Paz

  2. Dave January 11, 2012 at 11:50 AM #

    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.

  3. DTravelsRound January 11, 2012 at 1:52 PM #

    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.

  4. Christine January 12, 2012 at 12:42 AM #

    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 🙂

  5. Adventurous Kate January 12, 2012 at 4:45 AM #

    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!

    • Steph January 12, 2012 at 6:25 AM #

      Oh wow I totally forgot Sihanoukville, a party town I actually really did like! You make an excellent point.

    • jason September 2, 2012 at 7:30 PM #

      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. Sarah January 12, 2012 at 3:18 PM #

    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.

  7. saurabh January 13, 2012 at 8:52 AM #

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

  8. Satchel January 13, 2012 at 2:59 PM #

    Buzios, Brasil is a great one as well…Mostly just Brazilians and their friendly rival Argentinians…

  9. Kieu ~ GQ trippin January 14, 2012 at 6:07 AM #

    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. 😉

  10. Tom January 15, 2012 at 6:35 AM #

    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!

  11. Emily in Chile January 15, 2012 at 9:05 PM #

    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 🙂

  12. allie October 21, 2012 at 7:07 PM #

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

    • Steph October 21, 2012 at 7:38 PM #

      Hi! I actually rented an apartment, so no hostel recommendations, sorry. Check hostelworld!

  13. TOM January 6, 2013 at 4:57 PM #

    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

    • Steph January 6, 2013 at 10:28 PM #

      Mature. Definitely proving your point there buddy.

  14. tina February 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM #

    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!

    • Steph February 18, 2013 at 12:38 PM #

      We were there in December actually- and it was VERY crowded- no clue about July- sorry!

  15. Emma August 15, 2013 at 9:21 AM #

    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 🙂

  16. bill lucky December 5, 2014 at 10:56 PM #

    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 people werent starting fights like in Asia….and you are right! Thats because, like yo u also wrote, it is mainly Ecuadorian owned, like all of South America (except fucking Brazil) and if you attempt to start fights with Latinos, they will FUCK YOU UP in a heartbeat. THey DONT back down….EVER. There are no rules in Ecuador, or Colombia, or most other Latin American countries. The rule is: you give respect, you get respect. Once in a while in Bogota there is the moron European or American backpacker who tries to talk shit when they are drunk, and at first the locals laugh but then they end up beating the living shit out of him. Which they should. You give, you get. Your description of Montanita could not have been better. KUDOS!

  17. anewdayanewplace February 15, 2015 at 6:57 PM #

    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?

    • Steph February 16, 2015 at 3:40 PM #

      There are but they are harder to find… I would look for less popular islands maybe? Or less populated areas away from popular party places (the party people tend to cluster pretty close together). We had good luck with Koh Lanta and the less populated side of Koh Samui.

  18. Paz April 26, 2015 at 7:18 PM #

    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 the Ecuadorian culture is still prevalent as we also touched on in our post: http://lucidpractice.com/backpacking-montanita-ecuador/
    Glad you were able to chill & have a good time. Where are you traveling now?
    With positive energy ~
    Brian

  19. Irena C September 30, 2015 at 4:35 PM #

    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 🙂

    • Steph September 30, 2015 at 5:22 PM #

      I’m guessing there will still be something going on, although maybe not as wild as a weekend night!

  20. Lex December 24, 2016 at 11:34 PM #

    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!

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