Surfing in Ecuador
Surfing Mainland Ecuador vs. Galapagos Islands
Ecuador has many beaches to offer quality surfing. I took a trip there a few years ago and—of course–I took my surfboard.
The coast of Ecuador is 2,237 km (1,390 miles) long. Perfect waves are available in Ecuador all year-round, and surfers enjoy the mild year-round weather, especially in the northern region where the weather conditions attract many surfers from all over the world.
Surf tourism is very important to the local economy, and the beaches offer significant enjoyment because of top quality waves combined with affordable prices for lodging and food compared to other surf destinations in South America.
There's also a national marine reserve off the coast, which has a gigantic whale population—whales are cool!
Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands offer contrasting surfing environments. The Galapagos are remote, 563 mi west of continental Ecuador, quite fickle and rocky. It's an island—95% of it is national park.
Whilst mainland Ecuador can be party-mad and offers a multitude of accessible sandy beach barrels through to long points and reefs.
They do however share the same exposure to both north and south swells; both will suffer decay before reaching their shores but what does arrive, as a consequence is of high quality, losing much of the short period associated with locally generated swells.
Best Swell Season
November to March being the primary swell season. Ecuador's surfing is focused around the northern reaches of the country and the famous surf town of Atacames.
Water temperatures between the Galapagos and Ecuador are also divergent, the former being in the path of the Humboldt Current and a good few degrees cooler.
Trade winds blow from a southerly direction all year, swinging more easterly for the Galapagos and westerly for Ecuador, though mornings are typically offshore on the mainland. Ecuador is known primarily known for its right point breaks, but the country has a wide and diverse coastline, offering up hollow beach breaks and reef breaks as well.
Where to surf?
This zone extends from Bahia de Caraquez (about 1 hr north of Manta) through Canoa and north to the Mompiche area in Esmeraldas province.
Bahia is not a major surf town except on giant SW swells when it has one of the best left point breaks in Ecuador.
The Canoa zone contains a series of river mouths and sand points that come alive on NW swells and produce fun rippable waves over a sand bottom that is more forgiving in most areas.
This is a great area for beginners and intermediates. Mompiche is Ecuador’s most famous world class left point break that comes alive on big NW swells which Ecuadorian surfers wait patiently for and then descend on it. Fortunately it is remote enough to still catch it and especially some of the surrounding waves reasonably uncrowded from time to time.
This zone extends from Manta where the coastline faces due North with dead-on exposure to winter Northwest swells at several point and jetty breaks, out to the San Lorenzo Cape, a rugged zone containing a series of remote point and reef breaks which work on a wide variety of swell directions and tides with varying wind protection, and finally to the south facing end of the cape which contains some of Ecuador’s hollowest beach breaks and river mouths.
All in all the Central Zone has Ecuador’s most uncrowded surf. Here on any given day you can regularly expect to surf with almost no one, but this zone also has the most difficult access and hard to read conditions so that you could waste a lot of time here checking spots for nothing, making local knowledge and experience crucial to scoring.
Baja Manabi Zone
This zone is located between the Central and Southern zones on a less populated stretch of the coastline. Wave hunters base camp and bungalows are located here and the break out front is an exposed beach break breaking right and left depending on the swell, offering a wide variety of options for all levels of surfers.
If a dominant North swell is showing, the beach lights up like a point break with rights peeling on the outside for about 200 yards then to an inside section that barrels hard.
If you catch a South or West swell, the conditions will vary depending on tides with many empty left and right peaks to ride, but never the less the waves are rarely flat.
If you are learning with a surf school, they will take you out when the tide is low in the surf and close to shore to judge your ability.
However, if you are an advanced surfer incoming tides always bring bigger surf with an outside peak just a short paddle away. The best part about this beach is the lack of crowds due to our remote location in a very large mountain range. You will surf alone. Our beach breaks year round with little to no crowds.
- There is 1 reef break that is approximately a 15-minute boat ride away. This reef break is a hollow grinding right-hander and breaks over shallow rocks (advanced surfers recommended).
- The 2nd break is a rock point that sits in a bay and is a nice mellow left-hander that can get up to 12 feet and break 200 yards easily. This break has a nice tube section on the inside (Med-Adv surfers recommended).
- The 3rd break is a remote left-hand rock break that is about a 20-minute car ride away with either a hike on foot for 15-minutes or a 25-minute boat ride from the bay (Med-Adv surfers recommended). All 3 of these spots are consistent and pick up swells from most directions.
This zone includes the popular beaches of Las Salinas and Montanita. These breaks are best on SW swells but some also work very good on NW. Las Salinas is the backyard for Guayaquil based surfers who are only 2 hours away.
The coastline around Las Salinas here is indented and contains a variety of points, reefs, jetties, and beach breaks with sometimes restricted access that has to be negotiated. Montanita is a Bohemian surf mecca and party town frequented by international youth and backpackers as well as active lifestyle South Americans.
Some of the more popular spots can still be surfed with reasonable crowd levels very early mornings (when a lot of surfers are hungover or just closing the bars). Surf guides can easily transport you away from the more crowded spots to surf uncrowded waves in and around this zone within a reasonable driving distance while you may enjoy the social atmosphere, beach activities, and nightlife.
Popular Surf Spots
Some of the most popular surfing spots in Ecuador, which also have links to their own Wikipedia pages, include:
Atacames – A beach town located on Ecuador’s Northern Pacific coast.
The Galapagos are an area of volcanic islands distributed around the equator in the Pacific Ocean and are 500 miles from the mainland coast of Ecuador mainland. San Cristobal is a favorite spot in the Galapagos for surfing, where the surf is from both the North and South Pacific, and the “surf season” is from December until May.
However, people surf all year round in the Galapagos & Ecuador. The Galapagos Islands stand ready, willing and able to funnel NPAC swells into perfect reef surf. Manta made a name for itself in the surfing world in 2004 by hosting the Body boarding World Cup.
Montañita – It is one of the better spots to surf with waves in the months between January to March are as large as 2 meters.
Playas is a coastal city located in the province of Guayas, Ecuador.
Punta Carnero – is a popular surfing location, and the beach been chosen many times for national and international surf competitions.
Salinas was the site of the ISA World Junior Surfing Games Ecuador in 2009.
Ecuador’s prime surf season is from December to April. This is the season of NW swells generated by winter storms in the North Pacific ocean and NW-SW combo swells (or West swells), transitioning into the Southern hemisphere swell season. Winds during this time of year are predominantly glassy to offshore along most of the coast resulting in often good to epic conditions.
During this season Ecuador is a world class surfing destination and one of the most consistent places to score tropical waves during the Northern hemisphere winter. El Nino Years (when the Pacific storm track drops further south) are particularly legendary in Ecuador.
May-November has dominant onshore winds (S-SW) along much of the coastline although mornings can still be glassy. This season is very good especially for beginner to intermediate surfers just looking to enjoy some really fun uncrowded waves off the beaten track, or for someone passing through Ecuador or this part of South America who wants to drop in.
Probabilities for Ecuador to see swell over 3 ft and 13 ft between 280-315 degrees (top graph) and between 200 and 315 degrees (bottom graph). January is the best month to see appreciable NPAC swell in Ecuador.
There are higher chances to see larger, more significant swell from the South Pacific from April through September, but winds aren’t as good then. Average wind speeds (top) and directions by month (bottom) for a point just offshore Montañita, Ecuador.
Notice the speeds diminish and turn more southerly during December through March. This suggests better potential for light offshore to variable winds in the mornings before afternoon sea breezes kick in.
Ecuador has incredible surf variety. There are an equal proportion of rights to lefts, and an equal proportion of points, rock reefs, jetties, river mouths and beach breaks. Some of the breaks, depending on their orientation, work best on north swells, others on south swells and others on combo or “West” swells, making Ecuador a very dynamic surf destination.
In general the breaks are very tide sensitive. An approximately 2 meter(7 foot) tidal range will make or break a lot of the spots. Most spots are also heavily direction sensitive and swell dependent, some being magnets for swell and others needing larger swells to turn on.
Wind is another variable to throw in as some spots are more protected than others. The vast majority of breaks are not visible from the main highways and require turnoffs at unmarked roads and some time to reach, which means you can waste an incredible amount of time looking for surf here if you don’t know where to go and when to go.
The answers to these equations rely on a combination of surf forecasting, years of local knowledge, and cell phone communications with friends (spotters) up and down the coast.
If you have enough time you could always discover many secret and semi-secret spots with no crowd factor. By contrast, if you go to Montanita, Ecuador’s best known surf spot, expect to find a few dozen surfers, mainly locals, hugging a tight take off zone on the point.
Direct flights to Ecuador’s international airports in Quito and Guayaquil depart from a relatively small number of places outside of Latin America. In the United States, regular services leave from Miami, Houston and Atlanta; in Europe, they go from Madrid and Amsterdam.
Higher prices are likely in the July to September high season and during December. Popular combinations are Quito and Lima, or Quito and La Paz, and tickets cost about the same as a normal return.
Ecuador is too small to warrant its own airpass, but is included in larger networks, such as the LAN airlines Airpass , which links LAN destinations and offers further discounts if you have a transatlantic ticket with them.
Flights from the US and Canada
While there are few direct routes to Ecuador, it’s easy to pick up connecting flights to the main hubs. Approximate flying times from the US to Quito without stops are four hours from Miami, and around five hours from Houston and Atlanta.
Quito is about seven and a half hours from Toronto and Montreal, or about ten hours from Calgary and Vancouver. Prices range from around US$450 return from Miami, US$700–900 from Houston and CAN $900 from Toronto, but shop around, as prices can vary greatly.
Flights from the UK and Ireland
There are no direct flights to Ecuador from Britain and Ireland, but there are plenty of indirect flights to both Quito and Guayaquil involving a change of plane in either a European or American city. Typical journey times are between fifteen and seventeen hours, with Iberia and American Airlines offering marginally faster services. You can expect to pay around £550–800 return including tax in the low season and £650–900 in the high.
Flights from Australia and New Zealand
There are no direct flights to Ecuador from Australia or New Zealand, though there are two main indirect routings, one via Santiago in Chile, the other via the US. The most straightforward is the Qantas/Lan Chile route from Sydney to Quito and Guayaquil, stopping in Auckland and changing in Santiago. Typical travel times are around 25 to 40 hours. Expect to pay at least A$1700 from Australia, and NZ$1800 from New Zealand.
Flights from South Africa
To get to Ecuador from South Africa, you’re best off flying to a South American hub, such as São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Santiago or Lima, from where there are ongoing services to Quito. Johannesburg to São Paulo with Varig is a ten-hour flight costing upwards of around ZAR5000. From São Paulo there are direct flights daily to Quito with Taca, which take another eight to nine hours.
Surf camps can offer a variety of accommodation such as apartments, hotels, rooms, camping or dormitories together with food, surf lessons and group activities.
Often included are guided surf tours of the best local spots along with surf hire, videos, photography, professional coaching and even some night life. The prices offered by them are best in South America and it is also quite affordable. Some of the popular surf camps are Waterways, Live the Life, Bungalows La Buena Vida Surf and Stay , Galapago Surf Camp, Balsa Surf Camp.