While visitors flock to Ecuador for treks up towering volcanoes, boat rides deep into the Amazon, and close encounters with the world-famous wildlife of the Galápagos Islands, this small South American country has one more trick up its sleeve: The beaches.
Within easy striking range of the capital, Quito, with its Spanish-era architecture and Indigenous Andean culture, lie some of the most wonderful but least celebrated beaches in South America. Lined with fine sand and washed by highly surfable waves, these scenic coves could give Brazil's Atlantic coast a run for its money, and in most places, you won't have to share the sand with enormous crowds.
Alongside trips to volcanic peaks and wildlife-filled national parks, build in some time to explore Ecuador's 2237km (1390-mile) Pacific coastline. The villages, towns and low-key traveler hubs here offer everything from mangrove boat trips and whale watching to water sports, surf breaks and yoga on the sand. Here's a guide to exploring Ecuador's best beaches.
When to hit the beach in Ecuador
Situated right on the equator, Ecuador is warm year-round, but the time to hit the beach is – surprisingly – during the rainy season from December to May, when showers clear the air and quickly give way to sunshine. Come in the dry season and the coast can be uncomfortably muggy.
You’ll get a real taste of Ecuadorian life at the water’s edge too – at weekends and on national holidays, the low-key villages and towns along the Pacific seaboard swell with local families flocking to la costa, for sun, fun and seafood.
Choosing a beach in Ecuador
When it comes to la playa, the Galápagos Islands are Ecuador’s most glittering attraction, with white sands and sparkling turquoise waters to rival any of the world’s most famous paradise strands. But even on the mainland, there are inviting, beach-rimmed coastal resorts – easily reached from Quito or Cuenca, and serving up a giddy mix of surfing, nightlife, watery activities and close encounters with wildlife, both on and offshore.
One great way to explore the Ecuadorian coast is to drive the Ruta Spondylus right down the Pacific Coast, from Esmeraldas to Huaquillas on the border with Peru. The route is named for the sea shell once used as currency in Ecuador in pre-Columbian times, and it daisy-chains past surf towns, party resorts and quiet beach escapes.
Start in Esmeraldas and follow the route as far south as possible, perhaps to the very southern tip of the Santa Elena peninsula, where a drier climate contrasts with the humidity elsewhere on the coast. To give you a head start on the best places to stop, here is our pick of the best beaches in Ecuador.
Best beach close to Quito
North of Quito sits the region of Esmeraldas, home to the coastal city of the same name – a busy air and sea hub for international travel, and a good starting point for exploring the region's beaches. Wetter and wilder than the beach towns in the south, Esmeraldas is a thriving hub for Afro-Ecuadorian culture, and its beaches are relatively close together for easy exploring.
A short hop southwest from Esmeraldas, Tonsupa is one of the region’s most popular coastal towns and a good option for trips out of the capital, Quito. The strip here is larger than at nearby Same, but less frenetic than in its southerly neighbor Atacames. The long, clean strand is backed by hotels and apartments that overlook the ocean and Tonsupa has a great range of places to eat and drink. Relax and watch the sun dip into the ocean with a plate of shrimp ceviche and a Pilsner beer.
Planning tip: Tonsupa is an easy bus ride from Esmeraldas, with a change at Atacames. Visit from June to October and you can take whale watching boat trips right from the beach.
2. Súa beach
Best family-friendly beach
Atacames is the closest beach to Quito and a bit of a built-up party place, but head south and you’ll find the serene and family-friendly beach and fishing village at Súa. With its calm waters and lush green backdrop, it's a great place for swimming with little ones, and it's possible to go humpback whale watching in July and August.
Ecuador’s coastal lowlands are dotted with rock formations, islets that jut out from the sea and coastal mountains and the emerald-topped cliffs at Súa provide a cinematic background for memorable family photographs. Families aren't the only ones who flock here – abundant seabirds and other creatures make a home in this natural haven, adding wildlife spotting to the list of family activities.
3. Mompiche beach
Best beach for a laid-back vibe
A hinterland of lush, tropical rainforest makes Mompiche the perfect antidote to any busy inland itinerary, and this small fishing village has just enough amenities for the traveler in need of creature comforts. South of the Esmeraldas region, Mompiche offers quiet beaches and small accommodations and cabanas to rent, appealing to backpackers and surfers on a budget.
Mompiche’s thatched beach huts add to the uncrowded and laid-back vibe, and sometimes the only sound is the surf rolling in. Get out and about and take a dolphin spotting tour or travel the short distance by boat to Portete Island for even quieter beaches, palm trees, and homestay-style accommodations. Wherever you stay, make time for meals such as camarones apanados (breaded shrimp) or biche de pescado (fish soup).
Planning tip: November through February sees the best surf – for the rest of the year, the waves are pretty flat, but you can take treks and horse-riding trips inland, or boat trips to islands and mangroves along the shoreline.
4. Playa Escondida
Best beach for isolation and nature
If getting away from it all is high on your agenda, you couldn’t find a more secluded retreat than Playa Escondida. Hidden away as its name suggests, this ecological reserve is harder to reach than most of Ecuador’s beaches, but you can get here using the reliable national bus system, even if you do have to time your arrival and departure carefully.
The beach area is home to myriad wildlife species, and accommodations meld into the natural background leaving you feeling that you’re miles away from anywhere – a great option if hammock time is just what the doctor ordered after too many late nights in Esmeraldas’ party resorts.
Best beach for parties and surfing
If it’s a party you’re after, you can’t go wrong with Montañita. A longtime favorite for surfers and backpackers, this hedonistic town in Santa Elena province is about 175km (110 miles) from Guayaquil, and you can almost hear the party from there. While the shoreline pulsates with the tunes that flow out of beach bars and restaurants, Montañita is also a great location for a yoga session before the party gets going, and it's renowned as one of Latin America’s top surfing spots.
Planning tip: If you’re in search of serenity or a little calm after the night before, get to the sands early and do your salutations to the sun before the decks spin up again for yet another busy night.
6. San Lorenzo beach
Best beach for water sports
San Lorenzo is one of the best-known beaches in Salinas, part of the largest cluster of beach resorts in the Santa Elena region. It’s a great spot for surfing and watersports like wakeboarding, while further up the coast are the resorts of Santa Marianita and Crucita, both hubs for kitesurfing and paragliding.
In San Lorenzo, there's a yacht club, you can take deep sea fishing trips, and the beach has a great area for swimming that’s protected from the wind and currents. After a day on the beach, be sure to try the local arroz marinero (seafood rice) and other local treats from the sea.
Planning tip: For a calmer beach experience, head a little further west to nearby Chipipe and you’ll discover a quieter, more family-orientated beach where you can while away an afternoon with a book or a bucket and spade.
7. Canoa beach
Best beach to chill and unwind on
Canoa might just be Ecuador’s most chilled hangout and it's definitely one for the yoga and hippy set, with dream catchers hanging from wooden street stalls and traveler vans loaded with surfboards, ready to move on if the waves are better elsewhere on the coast.
Located in the Manabí area, Canoa is about 15km (9 miles) north of San Vicente on a long, languorous beach, and the coast produces excellent thermals for paragliding, with local hotels offering tandem flights with an instructor or equipment rental for experienced solo fliers.
8. Los Frailes
Most beautiful beach in Ecuador
One of Ecuador’s most beautiful beaches, Los Frailes in Machalilla National Park is a sweeping horseshoe curve of a bay, its blue waters ringed by yellow sand and set off by the lush greenery of the forested national park behind it. Most visitors arrive here by tuk-tuk on the dirt road from the national park ranger station, but you can also walk in, with views of craggy rock formations as you trek through the forest.
This is one of the few protected coastal areas in Ecuador, and the lack of development makes Los Failes beautifully unspoiled and secluded, but you’ll need to take everything you need with you, and plan for pick-ups and drop-offs.
Planning tip: Combine a visit to Machalilla National Park with a trip offshore to Isla de la Plata, with its frigate birds and colony of sea lions. Accessible by boat from Puerto López, the island is often described as "the poor man’s Galápagos" and it's certainly more accessible and cheaper to visit than that legendary archipelago.
9. Tortuga Bay
Best beach on the Galápagos Islands
No list of Ecuador’s best beaches would be complete without a mention of the Galápagos Islands. Though visitors come here primarily for the wildlife – from marine iguana to blue- and orange-painted Sally Lightfoot crabs – these islands have been almost untouched by humanity since Darwin recorded their rich biodiversity, and their shores are dotted with some of the most picture-perfect beaches you’ll encounter anywhere.
With white sand and aquamarine shallows, it's no surprise that Tortuga Bay on Isla Santa Cruz regularly makes it onto lists of the world’s best beaches. One of the most perfect strands in all of South America, the beach can be found at the end of a 1.5-mile (2.5km) paved walkway outside the town of Puerto Ayora, and marine iguanas and other wildlife frequent its shores.