Visit Canoa: The Best Backpacking Hub on Ecuador’s Coast

A row of colorful canopies provide shade on the beach.

On the beach at Canoa, Ecuador. Photo © Meredith Cook, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

Canoa is rapidly turning into the resort of choice for backpackers and surfers who want a more chill alternative to crowded Montañita. Canoa’s central location means it’s farther from Quito than Atacames and farther from Guayaquil than Montañita, and therefore quieter. At present, Canoa is probably the most pleasant backpacking hub on the entire coast, along with Puerto López, but with the new bridge in nearby Bahía it’s expanding fast, so only time will tell if that will remain the case.

Canoa is one of the few coastal towns that actually benefitted from the 1997–1998 El Niño climate pattern, which expanded the beach. It is a dramatic setting with waves crashing on long stretches of sand overlooked by cliffs and caves to the north. These caves are inhabited by bats and can be explored. The surf is consistently good here, and waves commonly reach around two meters.

Entertainment and Events

There are several surfing contests in the high season (Nov.–Apr.), the biggest of which is in November. Nightlife in Canoa is very seasonal. In low season and during the week, it’s very quiet, but on high-season weekends it can get very busy, with partying spilling onto the beach and the main street. Several restaurants double as good bars for a drink, including Surf Shak (Malecón, tel. 9/033-6870, 8 a.m.–11 p.m. Wed.–Mon.) on the beachfront. For dancing on weekends, head to Coco Bar (Javier Santos and 30 de Noviembre, tel. 9/957-4189, 6 p.m.– midnight Mon.–Thurs., 6 p.m.–2 a.m. Fri.–Sat.) on the main street, one block in from the beach.

Accommodations

Canoa has plenty of accommodations, but things fill up fast in high season, when prices rise between 25 and 50 percent. To the right of the main junction with the seafront is the firm backpacker favorite Hotel Bambu (Malecón, tel. 8/926-5225 or 9/926- 3365, dorm $8 pp, $10–22 s, $15–22 d). It has a wide range of options, from camping ($3.50 pp) to dorms and guest rooms ranging from quite basic to mid-range comfort with sea views. The restaurant-bar is a good place to hang out, with happy hour daily, and the crepes are particularly popular. Along the beach to the left, there is a string of mainly budget hotels. American-owned Coco Loco (Malecón, tel. 9/243-6508, dorm $6 pp, $13 s, $15–21 d) is a popular option with simple but clean guest rooms, shared or private baths, and a laid-back outdoor lounge area. Next door, La Vista (Malecón, tel. 8/647-0222, $16 s, $24 d) is a step up, with higher-quality guest rooms but rather sketchy service. Farther along is Posada Olmito (Malecón, tel. 9/553-3341, $7–10 pp), an endearing Dutch-owned place with basic guest rooms in an intricately constructed wooden building with coconut trees and statues in the garden.

Two blocks inland from Hotel Bambu is a very popular hotel, Pais Libre (Filomeno Hernández and San Andrés, tel. 5/261-6387, dorm $6 pp, rooms $7–10 pp), run by friendly local surfer Fabio Coello. Guest rooms are well kept, and the hotel is decorated with artwork. There’s a disco-bar next door as well as a small pool set in leafy gardens. Some guest rooms have air-conditioning. Inland, next to the soccer pitch, Spanish-owned Amalur (San Andrés, tel. 8/303-5039, $10 pp) is one of the best deals in town, with brand-new colorful guest rooms. If your budget stretches farther, one of the best places to stay is Hotel Canoa’s Wonderland (Malecón, tel. 5/261-6363, low season $35 s, $50 d, high season $55 s, $90 d), at the far south end of the malecón. The hotel has its own generator, so the water and electricity problems that plague the rest of town are not an issue. Guest rooms are very comfortable with hot water, private balconies, and air-conditioning, and there’s a pleasant terrace with a pool.

Food

The most renowned of the many seafood restaurants in Canoa is Cevichería Saboreame (Malecón, tel. 9/225-5319, lunch and dinner daily, entrées $3–4), which serves up a great selection of soups and entrées. The encocado is delicious. If you’re missing American food, head to the friendly hub of Canoa’s social scene, Surf Shak (Malecón, tel. 9/033-6870, 8 a.m.–11 p.m. Wed.–Mon., entrées $3–6). They serve big breakfasts, fresh coffee, pizzas, and burgers, and Pete, the owner, is full of useful travel advice. Happy hour is popular in the early evening. Next door, a new international restaurant was under construction at the time of writing; Nirvana aims to serve an eclectic menu, and there will be a sports bar, El Caracol, downstairs.

A block inland from Coco Loco near the soccer pitch is Café Flor (Bahía de Caráquez, tel. 8/546-2568, 9 a.m.–3 p.m. and 6–9:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., entrées $5–10), which has vegetarian specials and the best pizza and Mexican food in town. Homemade ale is available in high season. Nearby is a delightful little Spanish restaurant, Amalur (San Andrés, tel. 8/303-5039, breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, entrées $5–6), serving tapas and specialties such as meatballs, grilled pork, and octopus.

Information and Services

A small tourist information office (Av 3 de Noviembre and Javier Santos, tel. 5/261- 6384 or 9/147-9849), one block inland, is well stocked with leaflets and maps and offers tours to Río Muchacho Organic Farm, an eco-city tour of Bahía de Caráquez, and tours of Isla Corazón and the mangroves. Surf Shak (tel. 8/101-1471, pete@canoathrills.com), on the beachfront to the left, is the best place to organize surf lessons (from $15 pp) and rentals. They also offer kayaking trips ($20 pp) to the caves north of town, paragliding, and tours inland to the tropical dry forest at Bosque Seco Lalo.

Note that there is no bank in Canoa, so you need to take a bus to San Vicente (30 minutes) for an ATM, or go to the banks in Bahía de Caráquez. There are several phone centers and an Internet café on the main street.

Getting There

Buses between San Vicente and Pedernales ($0.40) come through every half hour. Reina del Camino operates an early morning and late night bus to Quito (6 hours, $8). If you miss the direct bus from Quito, take a bus either to Pedernales or Bahía de Caráquez and change. From Guayaquil, travel via Bahía de Caráquez and either take the boat across to San Vicente ($0.30) and take a bus from there, or take a direct bus across the new bridge.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Ecuador.

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