Location Canoa Ecuador | Dates July 24-26 | Accommodation Coco Loco
Canoa Ecuador was one of my favorite destinations, both because I love the beach and because it was an amazing beach. Located at around the midway point of Ecuador’s coast, Canoa is an increasingly popular destination for travellers but still retains much of its small-town fishing village vibe. It’s way less crazier than hotspots like Montanita, yet offers beachfront accommodations, restaurants, and surfing. Known for its iconic cloth beach tents of varying colors, Canoa is a perfect paradise for those looking for enough people to not be secluded but not so many to feel you’ve fallen into another tourist trap. It is also, apparently, a hot retirement spot.
After 3 buses and a lengthy stop in Jama (transport details below, as always), we arrived and were thrilled to see that, finally, the sun was shining! The coast of Ecuador was hit by an earthquake in 2016, so many of the beach towns including Canoa suffered major damage. Canoa put a great deal of effort into rebuilding so the beach was in decent shape, although you can still see the effects of the natural disaster – broken foundations, debris, businesses “permanently closed” – everywhere.
Upon arrival we walked the short distance to our beach hostel, experiencing slight harassment. We quickly changed into swimsuits and practically (literally) ran to the beach. Shortly after arrival a small child approached Sarah and said, “that guy over there wanted me to tell you he is in love with you.” We saw some sad victims of the fishing industry, or dead sea life, washed up on the shores, and ended the evening with an amazing pink sunset over the water as the sun sank into the ocean.
No trip to the beach would be complete without an early morning run/walk/shelling excursion, which at Canoa meant walking south (there is a huge cliff blocking the route to the north). Canoa is known for its iconic brightly colored beach tents, so fo course we felt compelled to rent one for our full day there. Although it was overcast and raining, I still went into the warm ocean briefly. Many people boogie boarded in the waves.
Canoa Ecuador: The Town
The town of Canoa is just the right size — small and not overcrowded, yet big enough there are actually places to go to eat/drink/by water (unlike totally secluded beaches). Buildings are brightly painted and made of wood, no surprises here, and it certainly preserves a “beachy” vibe. For dinner we grabbed a seat at one of the many wooden shacks lining the beach, sitting on yellow benches and enjoying chifles (plantain chips), chicken and rice as we rejected the seafood dishes Canoa has become known for (and I am sure are delicious). At night, a nice reading in the hammock.
Eating and Drinking
Beachfront Food | Many restaurants line the beach road, serving primarily seafood dishes and also some “typical” non-seafood options. While menus are less common here, there were many cheap options available. For breakfast, delicious smoothies ($1).
Happy Hour Drinks | The same stalls also offer drinks – some are dedicated bars – with decent 2×1 prices on happy hour beach-type cocktails. For the more lazy, there are of course vendors circling the beach selling beers.
Canoa Ecuador: Budget & Practicalities
From Mindo | It was not easy to get to Canoa from Mindo. From Quito there’s a direct bus (see below), but from Mindo we had to endure 3 bus changes: Mindo->Los Bancos; Los Bancos -> Santa Domingo; Santa Domingo->Pedernales; Pedernales->Canoa. Things got even more exciting when our taxi driver tried to aggressively swindle us on our way there. “There is an accident and the road is backed up” he said. There was no accident. “The bus takes 4 hours, I can drive you in a quarter the time,” he said. The bus took 1.5 hours. Los Bancos | We took a taxi (20 minutes, $8) to this slightly larger town outside Mindo, as there are more bus options. Shortly after boarding on the side of the road, we were heard the telltale crunching of a car crash. Of course, our bus had backed into an (already damaged) car on the side of the road. We pulled over and watched as the police, driver and car owner argued in the side lot, and some wads of cash changed hands. A furtive man on the bus was overly excited and rushed outside to tell his account of what happened. Then, we were off again. Santa Domingo | We were dropped on the side of the road and had to walk to the station – which looked sketchy. We found the desk to Canoa and they charged us more than the actual price (+ $.50) again. Onboard our second bus, a vendor with a weird square light and another with delicious breads circled. Pedernales | Upon arrival, some aggressive bus guys got onto the bus and yelled for Canoa, grabbing our bags from us before we even knew what was happening. They swindled us for a $3 fare, which was totally obscene. About 1 bumpy hour later, we finally arrived.
From Quito | There is a “direct” bus – Reina del Camino – which goes between Quito and San Viciente (town 20 minutes from Canoa) a few times per day. This nicer bus has air conditioning and “vendors are not allowed onboard.” Except they do come onboard. From San Viciente, it’s a short cab ride (20 minutes) or a collectivo (local bus) ride back to/from Canoa. Obviously, the collectivo is cheaper.
Food | Meals from $3-$6 average, with seafood being slightly more. Smoothies for $1. Tent rentals | $5 for a full day.