Go There: Central Ecuador

When the crowds are thin, you get your choice of the primo set waves. Scotty Hammonds takes full advantage.

Get muy tranquillo in South America.

Photos and words by Carl Steindler

Where: Literally smack dab on the middle of planet Earth, Ecuador is directly on the equator in the northwestern part of South America. It's nestled between Colombia to the north and Peru to the east and south, leaving the whole west open to the mighty Pacific Ocean.

What: A South American diamond in the rough, Ecuador's wave variety is only rivaled by its cultural diversity. The beach towns are mellow, while the city of Guayaquil boasts modern skyscrapers, a myriad of restaurants and clubs, as well as very clean and up-to-date hospitals. Life on the equator is lived with a vibe reminiscent of that found in the Caribbean, and if you can handle the sun, then you will have a wonderful getaway filled with fun waves and relaxation that only a tropical destination can provide.

Cory Arrambide enjoying some of the rights that Ecuador has to offer.

When: You can find surf here year round, but it's usually bigger between January and May when the north swells rumble through and light up all northern facing beaches (and even some of the south facing ones). Accompanied by south winds, during this time you will find offshore perfection with few surfers. If you are a summertime traveler, and want to visit between June and September, then don't be discouraged; just remember that this is Ecuador's cold season and also corresponding tourist season, so crowds will be heavier and waves generally less consistent.

Why: Ecuador has been commonly bypassed by traveling surfers mainly due to the allure of neighbors like Peru, Chile, and Argentina. However, there are tons of reefs, points, and beachbreaks scattered within a 120 kilometer radius to satisfy any wave craving you may have, and the water is very warm, so you can wear trunks year round. Add all that to the mellow crowd levels, and you've got a winning combo.

Central Ecuador is open to both south and north swells, which makes it a consistent destination. Scotty Hammonds.

How: Tickets to Guayaquil (GYE) range from $500 to $800 from most major U.S. international airports, and going with a Latin American carrier like COPA (copaair.com) or TACA (taca.com) is recommended, as the board fees are lower. However, if you need to use up those credit card miles then American Airlines is your cheapest domestic bet. Once in Guayaquil, head out of the city and drive two to five hours to the coast, depending on if you are staying in Playas (one and a half hours), Salinas (two hours), Montanita (two and half hours) or the Esmeraldas (five hours) area. Make sure that you bring somebody along who is proficient in map reading, as it's extremely tricky navigating your way out of Guayaquil. Once out, congratulate yourself and relax, as the ride to the coast is a straight shot with only the occasional pothole and crazy pedestrian to dodge.

Places to stay: Depending on your budget, you can find rooms ranging from $5 to $35 a night with warm water and a private bathroom commonly the norm. In Ayampe, try Cuatro's Estrellas (593-8-628-8720) which is right in front of the break and under the care of a family who takes great pride in their hotel, and with a $5 a night price tag and warm water, this place is a steal. In Montanita, check out Hostal de Ricky ($10 night) or Baja Montanita ($35 night, 593-4-256-8840) right on the point and in front of the action. At Baja Montanita you will be treated like royalty as you lounge poolside and enjoy a cerveza at the best hotel in the area. In Esmeraldas, go to Las Pigualas where you will be as close as you can get to Mompiche without the risk of getting stranded due to inclement weather or road conditions. Salinas has many upscale hotels, and if you have the cash then check out the Hilton.

Places to eat: There's no shortage of great places to eat in Ecuador and you can find anything from pizza to cheeseburgers to corviche (local dish) to the best ceviche ever. The seafood here is extremely fresh and if the $3 shrimp scampi is too steep for you, then you can always buy your own and cook it for half the price. In Montanita, check out Marea where you will find the best pizza and pasta around. Or, if you want some tasty local cuisine then visit the Happy Donkey. In Ayampe, be sure to head to La Cabana del Corviche for a great lunch. Food here is rarely more than $5 a plate.

Dudes and babes: Unless you speak Spanish, your chances of hooking up with an Ecuadorian princess are rather slim. But, there may be some hope for you. Head into Montanita where European tourists flock. Check out the bar GIO at night when you are ready to go clubbing, and make sure to stop by Local Point where you can conduct your pre-game festivities while watching surf videos and archival footage of many of Ecuador's top spots going off. In the city of Guayaquil the most modern of nightclubs can be found, but who wants to be two and half hours away from the surf just to party?

Crowd factor: Depending on where you decide to surf and if you have a car or not, crowds can sometimes have a negative effect on your sessions. The point breaks of Playas can get crowded, but with more than seven of them in a row you can always find a place to paddle out. The point at Montanita is another place where the locals enjoy a surf, but if you go during the week and avoid it on weekends then you'll get plenty of good waves. In Ayampe, at the powerful beachbreaks you are guaranteed to be surfing alone and the same goes for Mompiche, if you can find it.

Stuff to bring: Trunks, sunscreen, and a Spanish-English dictionary are a good start. For boards, your two best short boards and a step up are all that's necessary. A wetsuit jacket or spring suit can also be a good idea during the cold season, but not necessary. Surf shops are pretty much non-existent so bring a ding-repair kit and plenty of warm-water wax, as well as a good attitude and you will be sure to score.

If the surf is flat: The fishing is good, so that's always an option. You can also go inland and visit the bustling city of Guayaquil. Or be baffled by the volcano Tungurahua, which has a continuous lava flow, and you might even feel a tremor or two from all the magma movement.

More information: Visit surfinecuador.com and check out the The World Stormrider Guides, Volumes One and Two, along with Lonely Planet's Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands travel book. Only a handful of hotels and restaurants take credit cards, so be sure to have American currency (Ecuador's national currency as well). The international telephone country code for calling to and within Ecuador is +593. Don't forget about the $28 exit tax charged at the airport, and a guide can also come in very handy the further north you decide to travel.

Your itinerary: get a few barrels, take a siesta under the shack, and repeat.