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The beachfront village of Montañita is a party place with a surfing problem. There's a steady stream of cosmopolitan backpackers, with as many South Americans as gringos. Cheap digs and a relaxed vibe mean some travelers put down temporary roots, paying their way by hair braiding, jewelry-making or working in guesthouses. Montañita is ideal for the kind of person who, regardless of age, balks at the typical restaurant dress code: bare feet and no shirt is practically de rigueur here.

A rabbit warren of stalls crowd the center, which feels as much a Middle Eastern market as a Pacific beach town; the influence of Argentine, Peruvian and Israeli cultures is strong. The itinerant vendors never took to a riverside site set up by the government, which remains abandoned. As this miniature Babylon builds up and up (three to four stories) it feels like it's reached its breaking point, almost literally.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Montañita.