Ecuadorian coastline is really amazing - long and wide stretches of scarcely populated beaches and the beauty of Pacific ocean come together to form an absolutely idyllic atmosphere. Some beach towns are busy and perform the role of ports/larger docks, but most of the places are still very rustic, sleepy and relaxed.
We visited only a couple of them, but the best thing to do would be to go really slow - moving from one village to the next along the coast - hidden gems are guaranteed.
Casablanca is a small isolated area in Esmeraldas province that hosts weekend beach villas of the more affluent Ecuadorian families. It's a strip of hotels on the beach and private villas on the hills overlooking the ocean. Due to some interesting circumstances we were able to tag along and stay at one of those villas for a couple of nights with our friend, Abdul, and his Ecuadorian friends. It was great - very different universe of course, but fun nonetheless. We hanged out on the beach watching the guys kitesurf, played board games ("Mexican train" - really fun game), had a party at the villa, and just chilled a lot.
After the luxury oasis of Casablanca we caught a bus to Mompiche - a tiny sleepy village 10km off the coastal road. Mompiche is one of those places where you feel nothing will change for a long while - it's just a fishing village stretched on the long and wide beach. In the winter it gets pretty crowded as it's the popular season, that's when it hosts all those super chill parties. Off the season there's nothing much to do in Mompiche - chilling, taking long walks along the beach, horseback riding on the beach, getting to know random people who came and never left Mompiche. Other than that you will surely enjoy spending time at one of Mompiche's landmarks - bamboo hostels - one of the cutest and most crafty structures I've ever seen. If you're looking for budget accommodation options in Mompiche - walk to the beach, turn right and find a nice little lady in the second house off the main street - her rooms go for $6 per person.
Canoa is another little coastal village about 4-5 hrs South of Mompiche. It's an absolutely amazing place - slightly larger and a bit more lively than Mompiche. On weekends it turns into a very fun place with a lot of young (and not so young) expats meeting each other and hanging out at the main beach street cafes and bars or going to home parties around the town. The expat community is really quite big for a small place like that - people just come and never leave. The atmosphere is very chill, rustic, friendly and easy going. Food choices are good, there is no market, but you can also buy fresh stuff in tiendas around the main streets. We especially liked eating at Upishum (2 blocks from the beach, excellent curry), pizza/panini place on the second floor terrace 1 block from the beach - really good paninis, local eateries along the main town street. Accommodation options vary, but they are plenty - we stayed at Iguana camping 1 block from the beach - absolutely amazing, homelike place where you can camp on beach sand ($3 per person), sleep in dorms ($5 per person) or have a private room ($7 per person) - there is kitchen, wifi, hangout area, not loud, and the owner lady is very sweet. The closest ATM is in San Vicente, about 20 minutes away by bus, so take enough cash with you. Week days are quiet and you can enjoy some real coastal rustic & slow atmosphere in between party time. We got stuck here for 2 weeks :)
Canoa is also where we learned surfing - the Pacific in Canoa was great for that. You can go with an instructor 1-2 times, and then you can just practice yourself. Body boarding is also fun in Canoa - the waves are really good for that. Traditionally people go to Montañita to surf and learn surfing, but it's way more pleasant in Canoa - no crowds, no all day/all night long party, the atmosphere is much more rustic, personal and less commercialized. Loved it! You can also learn paragliding here, and as with most places that are expat favorites - you can easily find yoga classes and Spanish language schools as well.
We also visited Montañita - it's a bit larger than Canoa and is famous for wild parties and surfing. As mentioned before, it's much more commercialized and designed quiet artificially to cater to foreigners. Prices are very steep in comparison to Canoa, but you can still find affordable breakfasts, eat set daily menu lunches for $3 or cook at your hostel. We stayed over the bridge from the party area - it's much quieter and cheaper there.
We didn't have enough time to visit more, but we were highly recommended to visit Los Frailes beach in the coastal national park - long stretches of beautiful wild sand beaches.
In general, we fell in love with Ecuadorian coast and its rustic charm. You can definitely get stuck in one of its villages for a while.