Known as the “little hill” Montañita is one of the most developed surf spots in the Ecuador. A thriving expat community, backpackers, yogis, and party animals have now called this their oasis. Located in the coastal south west of Ecuador, and only a few hours by bus from Guayaquil, the accessibility and development of hotels, restaurants, and businesses have transformed Montañita into a bonafide surf hub in the region.
How to get there:
The best way, in terms of price and convenience, to get to Montañita is by bus from Guayaquil. It costs about $3-$6 USD, and takes only 3 hours with 4 scheduled services each day. The other popular option would be to take the bus from Quito’s main terminal. From there to Montañita takes 7-8 hours and costs around $10USD.
What to do:
Surfing is the main attraction in Montañita. Nearly every hotel and hostel has a surf instructor who can provide the use of boards as well as lessons. Along with surfing, yoga is also very popular. You will see a lot of nomad artisans in Montañita that sell craft goods. This movement has been around since the 60s and the tradition still continues today. Few people know about the small farmers in and around Montañita. Coffee, is a little know secret in the area but turns out to be one of the best. Some local coffee shops serve locally grown organic coffee, although you might have to do a bit of searching as they are not well advertised.
As a budget surfing destination, you’ll find Montañita to be very affordable. Expect to shell out around $10USD per night for a bed in a hostel, and around $20 for a private room. If a hotel is more in line with what you are looking for, price ranges from about $35 and above. The Nativa Bambu Lodge and Iguana backpackers are just a few of the names that stand out for accommodation.
Gay Travel in Montañita
When development started in Montañita in the 1960s, the place has primarily been frequented by hippies and nomadic free spirits who have made their mark in Montañita, transforming it into what it is today – an open community of travelers, expats, artisans, etc. The bohemian culture of Montañita means that anything goes, especially at night when drinks start flowing and parties are left and right. For the gay community traveling to Montañita, check out El Otro Lado bar. It is the most prominent gay bar and a great place to get information and meet people alike. Check out other famous bars like Hola Ola Cafe and Poco Loco where you can grab amazing Latin American cuisine, listen to music, and kick off your celebrations and parties into the night.
San Diego, California’s Pacific Beach
Surfing in San Diego has always been firmly entrenched in the Southern California culture. Now known for it’s nightlife, tacos, and laidback surf culture that still encapsulates the hippy vibe, there’s much to see and do. It’s also a perfect spot to explore the rest of San Diego as it is centrally located and within close proximity to the freeway.
For surfing, check out either Crystal Pier or “the drive” as locals call it, which is the beach break right on PB Drive. Tourmaline surfing park at the north end of Pacific Beach is perfect for longboarders and beginners with its long peeling waves that are a lot more forgiving to the beginner surfer, There’s a few schools offering lessons, and they’re mostly located near the drive. If you are a beginner, I would suggest hiring a guide, as tides can be tricky and rip currents can be strong and unpredictable. You can also check nearby spots such as Birdrock at north PB, as well as La Jolla shores.
Food and Drink
PB attracts, mostly for the abundance of food and drink establishments. Whether you are looking for a fine dining restaurant, fast food, or a bar, they’re all here. Start your day off with coffee on the boardwalk by Garnet ave. and watch the sunset with a cup in hand. Follow that with some breakfast tacos as you roll down to PB Drive where you can enjoy breakfast as the sun rises and the crowd slowly picks up. By noon, you can do some hiking at Sunset Cliffs, or check out nearby La Jolla where you can catch the sea lions by the cove. For dinner there’s Oscar’s seafood- a long-time favorite of local PB residents that serves amazing fish tacos. This place gets really busy so be sure to get there early before the dinner rush hits around 7pm. Finally, top off your day by hitting the bars near Grand ave. There’s the PB Shoreclub and the PB Alehouse, located right on the beach at Grand. Every Tuesday evening, you can check out the Backyard Kitchen and Tap on Garnet ave. The crowd picks up around 10 and it fills up pretty quick. With the number of english schools catering to international students, the parties here are never dry.
Costs and Getting Around
San Diego is on the pricey side. A cheap place to stay for the night is easily in the $40-$50 range. Airbnb is a decent alternative and for that, expect around $100/night if you are right near the beach. A hotel on average costs around $150 or so per night, and could extend further based on the quality of amenities, location, and ratings. Needless to say, a budget of $300 per day for 2 people, will suffice for all your needs. The best recommendation for transportation is Uber or Lyft. If you would like to rent a car to do some more travels outside of Pacific Beach, it costs around $40 for a daily rate.
There’s a diverse range of bars and restaurants to choose from around Grand avenue and Garnet. For a unique accommodation experience, check out Crystal Pier Hotel. Located right on Crystal Pier, you’ll have the chance to sleep right above the water and wake up to amazing sunrises right from your own New England-inspired cottages. The Tower23 Hotel is also a great option for accommodation, with its beach front location, modern American cuisine, and outdoor lounge overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Although there’s no shortage of nightlife options in Pacific Beach, for gay bars, head over to the gay district of Hillcrest where you can bar hop into the wee hours of the morning. From PB, it’s only a 20 minute Uber away. Gossip Grill and the SRO Lounge are 2 bars you’re going to want to check out. For something a little different there’s Urban Mo’s – a bar and grill with themed festivities, an outdoor patio, and a very well-known weekly show – the Dreamgirls Revue.
Siargao Island, Philippines
For something raw, nondescript, off-the-beaten-path, and up and coming in the surfing scene, check out Siargao Island. Siargao is located in the Southeastern region of the Philippines. Waves are consistent year-round with spots for all types of surfers. Generally, because most surf spots are reef-breaks, it’s always a safe idea to first explore spots with guides. Surfing can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing and are surfing in unfamiliar spots. What makes Siargao Island special is the raw natural beauty of the place. Littered with what looks like a million coconut trees from a far, Siargao is still pristine and untouched by major real estate developments. Let’s hope it stays that way.
The most famous spot on the island is Cloud Nine- a hollow, barrelling A-Frame, that can be ridden left or right. The right is more prominent, more hollow, but the left can also offer cavernous tubes. There’s more than a dozen known surf spots in the island, and perhaps many more to be explored, which makes this island a perfect breeding ground for surf explorers. Other notable spots in the main town of General Luna include Tuason point and Cemeteries. The waves are fast, hardcore, and steep. If you are a beginner, go to a mellow surf spot like Jacking Horse, where you can practice on lighter, smaller waves.
Food and Accommodation
Prices in the Philippines, in general, are about 50-60% cheaper than America or Europe. In Siargao for instance, a basic bunk bed for a budget backpacker hostel costs about $7/night. A single room costs $20/night, and a stay at a resort can be had for $50/night. Some notable resorts include Buddha, Kermit’s, and Harana.
The food in the island ranges from the typical Filipino roadside grill to upscale Italian specialties and Pizza. Kermit’s and Kalinaw resort offer amazing Italian cuisine, while Harana has the best Filipino inspired cuisine. If you want something basic, check out Mama’s grill, where you can have a meal for under $4, which include chicken, rice, and veggies on a stick.
It can get a little bit tricky getting into the island. The easiest way is to fly directly from Manila via Skyjet. Another option is to take a flight into from Manila – Surigao city, and from there, take a 4 hour ferry to the island. Another option is Manila-Cebu-Siargao. Once in the island, there’s only a handful of options for transportation, be careful of cunning drivers who want to swindle unsuspecting foreigners. The going rate for transportation from the port or airport to the main town of General Luna is Php 300 or $6.
The best attraction of Siargao is the atmosphere and the places at which you can explore. With a size of 420 square kilometers, there is so much to explore in the island. The best thing to do is to rent a motorbike, go for a cruise, and explore as far as your bike can take you. The magic that this place has to offer can be unforgettable, and at the end of the day, the simplest things in life are best, and free!
Siargao island and the Philippines, in general, is one of the most open-minded and welcoming countries in South East Asia. While the LGBTQ community is not very prevalent as the island is mellow, quiet, and tranquil compared to other surf destinations, there’s still presence from the gay and transgender community, albeit more low key. For nightlife options, check out Hotspot near the Cloud Nine surfing area. On Fridays, there’s Viento Del Mar – a beach house that hosts Ibiza style parties. And if you’re looking for something local and rustic, go to Jungle bar, every Tuesday or Friday night, where drinks are dirt cheap, and the crowd can gets sloppy and rowdy towards the wee hours of the morning.