I’ll keep this post relatively short, but not so sweet. Montañita can be chalked up as possibly the most disappointing destination of South America so although I normally only blog about the places we enjoyed, I can’t sweep this one under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen. Some places just need to be ranted about!!
We showed up tired and grumpy after a long bus journey from Quito. The weather was overcast and frankly a lot colder than we expected, so we crossed our fingers and hoped that it would improve the following day along with our moods. It didn’t.
On our first walk around the town we were surprised to see how many roads were dug up, how dirty everywhere seemed and how many stray dogs were running around. The beach looked good from a distance, but up close had all sorts of rubbish washed up on shore including (but not limited to) a dead possum and a dead stingray. You couldn’t walk more than a block without being offered drugs, or occasionally prostitutes too. To be perfectly honest the whole town was a sh!thole.
We had three reasons for going to Montañita: sunbathing, surfing and whales. Thanks to the awful weather (apparently normal for “low season” despite how close it is to the equator) and presence of dead things, lying on the beach was out of the picture straight away. Martin enquired at surf shops and the cost of board rental was ridiculously prohibitive, so that was out too. We booked onto a whale watching tour (to include snorkelling & lunch too) through our hostel hoping this would be the saving grace of our visit. It wasn’t.
When we arrived for the tour it was as if no one was expecting us – none of the snorkelling kit was ready and it took forever for them to dig out flippers & life vests and start fitting us. The masks we were given were in terrible condition and covered in mould, they clearly hadn’t been cleaned (possibly ever). The mouthpieces were so disgusting there was no way we could use them. A few of us complained and asked for new masks and we were shrugged at, then ignored as they loaded the dirty masks onto the boat anyway so we would have no choice but to use them.
At around midday, our 10.30am tour was ready to begin. The two men who were apparently taking us out didn’t even speak to us or introduce themselves, just pointed at us all to wade out into the sea, knee-deep, and jump onto the boat. I started to feel a bit nervous at this point as the boat was WAY smaller than I had expected to be going so far out into the Pacific. It was also beginning to be apparent this this was in no way a professional organisation. But against better judgement, we headed off, out of the bay and into the ocean. The second we reached open water another boat started speeding towards us – it was the Coast Guard. One officer jumped aboard and there was a lot of arguing & talking in Spanish that we didn’t fully understand. After 10 mins or so we realised what was going on – the guys didn’t have a licence, so the Coast Guard had us turn around and head back to shore. I felt a huge wave of relief – I had started to feel panic setting in and wanted off that boat instantly.
By the time we reached the beach we were done with the complete lack of professionalism or concern for safety that the company had displayed, so four of us refused to go back out. The staff didn’t even seem to care and there was no apology for the Coast Guard situation at all. No effort to reassure us that it was safe or licensed / legal either.
When we returned to our hostel we were given an apology, an explanation that this was the first time they had used that particular company, and our money back (obviously). They also offered to take all of us out the following day for free on another (safer) whale watching tour, from a different location, as further compensation for our time. I thought this was an amazing way to apologise and happily took them up on the offer…only to be told at 10pm later that night that they couldn’t do it anymore. Apparently it was an empty offer that they hoped we wouldn’t actually agree to. We left town the following day very angry and without seeing any whales.
The only positive of our entire stay in Montañita – we met the awesome Nat & Steve from Montréal and all four of us decided to head for the waaaaay better beach town of Mancora in northern Peru instead. But more on that later…