Canoa: Montañita’s Little Brother to the North
I can’t quite put my finger on what it is about Canoa.
It’s certainly laid back. It’s definitely pretty. And it’s, you know, cheap.
But there’s something about this small coastal fishing village that doesn’t have me itching to go back. It could perhaps be the party-hungry beachfront cabana bars battling to out-blast the next, or the mountain-folk flooding the beach on weekends leaving mountains of diapers, food wrappers and bottles lining the beachfront, or the somewhat snooty surfer dudes taking advantage of the young backpacker chicks passing through town.
I don’t know. Because while I had a great time in Canoa, it wasn’t my favourite.
I loved the scenery and the almost-desolate beach (post cleanup), I loved the Amalur where we stayed, and I loved meeting some great new friends and visiting their farm (twice). I’d certainly recommend a visit, but as the locals in Olón told us, “Ahhhh Canoa… it’s like Montañita, but less people.” That it is.
Except Montañita has Olón. And more food options. And great surfing. So while Canoa is a cool place to hang out for a few days, I have to say I preferred it’s southern counterpart.
That being said, there were a few things I did quite like, so I compiled a list of what to do in Canoa, Ecuador:
1. Great Surfing
The surfing is great most days, especially for beginners, the waves don’t carry too much power and are forgiving when you fall. Surf board rentals are available throughout town and on the beach. We always rented from the Cyber Surf Cafe on the intersection of the two main roads because their boards are good and cost only $3/hour. The best boards in town are found one block from the beach, at the end closest to the river, but rent at $4/hour. We always ask the guys renting them when the best waves are, or else we end up surfing nothing, or being eaten by white-wash. There are also boogie boards available all along the beach if you’re not into surfing, a popular local activity.
2. Beach Bumming
Soft sand, sunny days, and plenty of shade make for great beach days. The water is warm, the waves are fun to swim in, and the undertow isn’t bad. Hanging out on the beach was one of my favourite things to do in Canoa, we would buy cold coconuts and a bottle of $4 rum and sip coco locos beachside. You can take a dip in the river like the locals do, or explore the secluded cliffside area at low-tide or walk for miles without coming to an end.
Did I mention the sunsets?
3. Enjoying the Town’s Scenery
All the hills and cliffs make you want to go explore, we would walk up to the church on the hill to get a nice view over the town and surrounding area.
Or just gander through the streets looking at people’s donkeys and dogs, that’s fun too.
4. Kayaking Caves with Surf Shak
Want to get up close and personal with the rocky cliffs lining the end of the beach? The Surf Shak has a fun little kayaking cave tour you can join to explore the caves nestled amongst them.
Lasting three hours, it’s a fun way to get some exercise and access private beaches tucked away from it all. These seem to be the only kayaks in town, and the guides are fun, friendly and knowledgeable but don’t speak much English so it’s a great opportunity to practise your Spanish skills at the same time. Two birds, one stone.
5. The Best Pizza EVER
There’s an Italian dude in town and every weekend he opens up his second floor open-air restaurant at 6:30pm to bake up some of the most delicious thin-crust pizza I’ve ever had. It was a treat that we anticipated all week and barely missed a weekend pie session. Find him on the main road, one block from the beach, above the green Ecuadorian restaurant. There’s an Italian flag.
6. Scrumptious Seafood
There are three Saboreame restaurants in town. The one you want to go to is on the malecon, very close to hostal Coco Loco. Not the shack on the beach, the actual restaurant. Here you will taste the best Ecuadorian seafood dishes in town. It’s slightly more expensive than other places, but the chef here whisks together rich, creamy sauces that were so good I ate way beyond the point of full every time. Try the ‘encocados’ or ‘bistec de mariscos’ and you will not be disappointed. Her young son serves and seems to hate his job (can you blame him, he’s like 9?) but beyond the service the food is impeccable.
7. Visiting Rural Rio Muchacho
You’ll see a little shop on the main road running to the beach offering tours of the Rio Muchacho Organic Farm. While the farm is beautiful, Rio Muchacho is actually the name of the small agricultural community in which it resides, only a few kilometres North of Canoa.
Our friends own a farm in Rio Muchacho which we visited twice, and the green transitional jungle was a welcome change from the sandy beaches we’d been bumming at since our arrival in coastal Ecuador. Here there are thousands of bananas, papayas, coffee and cacao growing feverishly and lots of livestock looming around.
Of course, you shouldn’t go traipsing across people’s land without permission, but if you’re up for a hike you can access waterfalls without joining a tour. It’s some of the most fun I had during my stay in Canoa, we’re already plotting a return visit on our way out of Ecuador (even though it’s not really on the way at all).
There’s plenty more to do; visiting calm, crystal clear waters and white sands at El Matal, paragliding over town, hiking the hills in Bahia and visiting the mangroves at Isla Corazon are all suggested activities which we never got around to. So while it turns pretty ghostly in May when high season comes to an end, there are still many things to do in Canoa.
It just doesn’t have that same charm that Olón held for us. Coupled with the mountain of food and shopping options in Montañita and convenience of being so close to Guayaquil, Olón still holds the top stop in my heart if I had to choose.
Have you been to Canoa? Do you want to go?