The Gringos Are Coming, The Gringos Are Coming…

I’m in a great mood right now, so allow me to share the joy with you.

Montanita, Ecuador is dying a slow, ugly death.

Like a cancer, this death takes years to grow, fester, and destroy. The cancer that is killing Montanita is called progress, and it manifests itself in the form of investment capital.

We’ve seen a lot of beach towns in our drive down the Pacific coast from Washington state to Ecuador. From that experience we’ve witnessed the cancer of progress first hand, many times.

Beautiful beaches in Latin America are being bought up by white people, and transformed into affluent tourist destinations which rarely benefit the local inhabitants.

From Cabo to Mazatlan to Puerta Vallarta to Cancun to Costa Rica to the once remote southern coast of Nicaragua, real estate investments by both private and corporate gringos are changing the landscapes of these once pristine coastlines.

One only needs to look as far a Sayulita, Mexico for a prime example of the finished product. Twenty or so years ago Americans started buying up property there. Today it is a tourist destination with prices on par with the U.S.  Houses on the hill range from $250,000-$350,000! Locals were forced to move out of the area. The once beautiful jungle-covered landscape is now covered with large vacation homes on what has come to be known as “Gringo Hill.”

Without fail, after the investment capital has flowed in, these once pristine locations look like this…

Now don’t get me wrong. If you’re one of the people from the U.S. or Europe going on vacation to these built up beach towns it’s great. Who wouldn’t want to leave the “cold north” to enjoy a little sun and fun with a few thousand of your closest pals?  Stevie and I enjoyed the pampering of a resort in Cozumel just a few months ago. Yeah, it was F’in great.

Cozumel Arrival – remember it here

Cozumel Highlights – remember it here

While on one hand I’ve enjoyed those luxury resorts, on the other I’m torn apart by what is lost. Places like Montanita are dying. Places where you can still walk on the beach without tripping over your neighbor. Places where the locals still live in the town, still own the town. Places where you see beach bungalows instead of skyscrapers, chlorine pools, and golf courses.

When I was flying back from the U.S. I sat next to a woman from California who was on her way to Ecuador. She informed me that she had already bought one property on the coast and was heading back to buy a second. She told me Ecuador was the new Costa Rica. Wow. I was shocked.

A friend of mine in Hood River recently bragged to me that Nicaragua was the new Costa Rica. He had bought 8 lots on the coast and was selling them for $80,000 each. I made a mental note to email him with the breaking news that Ecuador was actually the new Costa Rica, not Nicaragua. He’s gonna be so bummed.

Anyway, I fear it is too late for Montanita. Construction of new luxury hotels are already underway.

This is the new face of Montanita. She’s an ugly bitch.
For me, I’ll take a pass. Not even at 3am, not even after a bottle of Tequila.

I’ve heard there will alway be places that are remote and beautiful and raw and locally owned… right? Like the majestic Pacifico of Colombia, one of my favorite places on earth. No road in, no luxury hotels, no golf courses or highrises. (Remember the visit here).

Personally, I think that is a crock of shit. That’s why I’m out here seeing as much as I can now, why it’s still there. Think I’m crazy? Yeah, maybe. Do you think it will always be there? It won’t.

Over the last decade, the Pacifico region has been the target of ambitious plans– known collectively as the Plan Pacifico— to tap its resources and to pry open what one former president called the country’s “money box”. But, for the majority of Black and Indigenous peoples who have inhabited the region since Spanish colonialism, the increasing pace of “discovery” threatens their communities and environment with “ethnocide” and “ecocide.” Indiscriminate logging and mining have already caused widespread damage in the area, and the encroachment of colonizers has fuelled sharp conflict over control of land.

The billboard below announces the new road that is under construction from Medellin to the Pacifico in Colombia.

Once that road is finished the Pacifico will be forever changed.

But progress and a better life is on the way. The locals must be thrilled right?  The translation of the spray paint on the billboard says it all:


As for the people who live in Montanita, their time has come and gone. They had better start looking for new homes. It’s time for them to move inland.

The gringos are coming. The gringos are coming.


TREE – The Half Gringo


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  1. Note, there are stand out Gringos who go south and instead of just buying a vacation home that sits vacant 10 months a year, they actually assimilate into the community. They live there full time. They give back and contribute to the locals and their way of life. One such stand out is our friend Travis Bays in Uvita Costa Rica. He is a great example, and I give him mad props…

  2. well said and sad to boot

  3. Good write up.
    Blame it on the European Governments and the American Government – with all the monies they are pumping into the world, it has to go somewhere.
    They can build all they want, but it will eventually end up like Dubai or Chine – ghost towns.
    Look at the unemployment in the USA and Europe. It ain’t going to get any better in my lifetime.
    People think land will always go up – but they do come down – like in Panama City – lots of vacant houses.
    People do not believe it will get worse – but who are you going to argue with?
    The governments make the money easy to get, therefore they spend on construction.
    “tis a shame, and it ain’t progress.
    Just greed with a capital G. And no common sense when it comes to dealing with local people – in Ecuador or in the USA or in Spain.
    Be safe you two.
    John D. Wilson

  4. Was that actually a photo of Sayulita–or were you deceiving us.

    Also, it’s kinda hypocritical to complain about the progress when in your last post you were hoping for an invitation to the elegant home on the hill–which is probably owned by white people.

    • Hey Anonymous – I never claimed that beach was Sayulita. Sorry if that was confusing. Ne deceit meant, it was just the flow of the post to put that picture next . As the caption above it says, this is what all beaches look like after they’ve been played out with investment capital. I could tell you about how they completely relocated the entire village of Punta Mita off the prime location of the point just to build a private gated mega resort if you want? That’s right next to Sayulita BWT.

      As for the previous post, you clearly don’t get the meaning of the entire “Slim Shady” spin. It wasn’t meant for everyone, both when the album came out and when I wrote the post.


      LATER -Tree

      • Yeah, I saw Punta Mita before and after and spent quite a bit of time in Cozumel before Cancun was even dreamed of. Even years after Cancun was developed Playa del Carmen was a small village with one hotel–now there’s more than 100 hotels there, they even have a Walmart and their own international airport.

        However I don’t really think that this is one of the world’s great pressing problems. Thousands dying of starvation in Africa when we have the technology to feed the world is much more lamentable.

        As far as Montanita goes, YOU are the rich gringos who are feeding the tourist industry there.

        • It sounds like you’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico and have seen the landscape change quite a bit. I do appreciate your insight.

          As for us in Montanita, yes, we are the rich tourist gingos here. you are correct on that. I should clarify that I do not have a problem with sustainable tourism that considers the best interests of the local people. Stevie and I stay in locally owned hostels and home stays and shop at local markets. Our friend Travis up in CR owns a Surf School and is super involved in the community. Our other friends own a kayak company here in Ecuador and they hire locals and are active in the community. This I support.

          For me the problem is when huge corporations come in with big money and buy everything up and displace the local people to build mega resorts, or exploit mineral and timber resources. Or when rich people come down from the states and buy 8 prime lots on the coast and then sell them for astronomical profits to other people from the States who will build a huge house which they only spend 2-3 weeks a year at. I don’t dig that. Not at all.

          Those guys are NOT the real Slim Shady, they’re just imitating! 🙂

          Anyway, thanks again for your comments.

          • Hey Tree
            Wise words,, about how in some way we can support our community, my hostel has just local people, and now i will comeback i will training in computing ansd stuff, but you know what , that is nothing
            15 years ago when i came, i could convince World Tech Org, to send volunteers , it was not easy, but we work hard and the community answered in good way, the shchoo, was totally difrente, i have pictures and documents, and becasue i was high exectuive for a telecom company so i used to tak with owner of big companies ( paint, concret) the made donations, and the community works, BUT the think is not just GIVE THEM candies, or money or stuff like thta, WE WORK in LEARNING, how to treat the people, how to deal with those companies, in order to get more dontions every tow years, how to be thankful, how to do business, that kind of thin i was more involved, like a COACH, that was more valueable that give just a THING, Nowdays the President of the comunity is differente ( more expirience) that we met us 10 years ago, and we talkn about how to face a problem, i just transmit my professional expirience about lidership to them,.
            Thank good i have 2 Certificate from the Town, one is from the Directo of th local schoool whre 200 children has got benefit about our work with them, and the second certificate sign for all menber of the community board about who i am,,
            i THINk NO BODY has those 2 letter, Every BODY IN The twon can say what the want BUT I HAVE PROVE FROM THE TOWN about what i have did, and what they think about me ,becasue beside my personal interest, i have been working for 12 years with them,, i thnk in the enviroment where my place is , I AM NOT STUPID , I respect them , they give me the chance to stay here, i have learned from them and they have let me teach them, they just want respect.
            and i insist you can get money but in sustainable tourism. everybody could win.
            Sorry to write things,but is glad to read my same thoughts
            okey no more comments now

  5. Good post tree,
    We all see this happening and at a worrisome pace. Although local job creation from massive construction projects and then future jobs get government approvals quite easily, already governments can easily see they are ruining what everyone originally came for.

    That’s what I like about big ridiculous cruise ships. Once the fad is over they can be cut up and recycled into beer cans or whatever.

    BTW, love the photography of the adventures and places (even with you in the photos) BUT your photos of beaches, jungles, rivers and dogs is much improved if Stevie coincidentally appears in them .

    Cheers, Rick

  6. Linked to this post from a friend’s site. Development is such an interesting dilemma – there are studies that go both ways on whether a society is better off after development. I think most will agree that there are always cultural losses. But the influx of money can lead to great benefits – better roads (ability to transport field crops to other towns), more opportunities for women and better schooling for girls who are able to work outside the home, better medical services, etc. I was introduced by Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” in college and have found it to be true in my travels to developing countries. The theory goes that you take care of the needs on the bottom of the pyramid first – food, air, water, etc. – and that once those needs are taken care of, you move to the next level. Only at the highest level of “development” do you get to aesthetic needs and self-actualization. In some of the poorest areas of the world there is no appreciation for the “beauty” an empty beach, waterfall, rainbow – it’s just something that exists as people are trying to survive. Of course, as someone who wasn’t forced into marriage at 12, is a female who went to college “just because,” isn’t worried about feeding children (and drought, loss of crops, etc.), getting medication for children with malaria, etc., I was able to appreciate it all. You may run across the same experiences in your travels – just another perspective.

    • Hi Anonymous. You definitely have a point. Development does pose an interesting dilemma. Too little and too much appear to be problems. I think the first thing we need to do is define development and determine to what end this development is happening. Are the roads being built so foreign mining companies can come in and rape and pollute the land for their own financial gain, or are they being built to facilitate the transportation of local grown crops between villages? Are modern hospitals and schools being built, or are skyscraper hotels being built on beachfront property and driving the locals out of their own town? As far as tourism goes, there’s no doubt that the influx of foreign money can help an area, but I think the industry needs to be sustainable, meaning that it benefits and strengthens the land and community as opposed to destroying it. So, the questions is how to find this balance. I’m not sure, but I think about it often. Giant luxury resorts are probably not on my list, but local owned/operated small businesses (restaurants, hostels, surf schools, tour guides)seem beneficial, and maybe Casa Particulars (rooms rented in local homes) like they have in Cuba would be a great way for visitors to contribute financially to a community while learning about it as well. I definitely think that we, as tourists and maybe even as expats living in a foreign community, need to be conscious of our impact and do what we can to respect and nurture our surroundings.

      Thank you so much for your comment! I love hearing opinions/solutions on this issue. It’s definitely a topic of concern for us since we obviously have a moral obligation to live right by those around us in our travels.

  7. paul lyttle says:

    Right on my brother!!!!! As one of those Gringo assholes in Sayulita it was never my intentions to destroy the locals home town. But none the less we did it, instead of building my own gringo palace, me and everyone else would have better served the locals by just renting a room and moving on. Its all Amanto’s fault……..
    Let me know if you need me to come down and help!
    Peace, paul lyttle

  8. It would be interesting to know what the current migration trail from Peru to the U.S. is. Once we push the indigenous out of thier self sutaining environments where do they go?

  9. Greed. Attachments to our own egos and pleasures. Apathy.
    As usual, your post generates contemplation of our role (we Western Gringo folks) in the degradation of previously pristine locations, and the destruction of cultural identity.. Paving over the beaches and putting in ¨high-priced “developments for our own pleasure is a cultural and ecological sin. Its a dilema, because yes, jobs are created and modernity is brought in (in terms of some opportunity for the locals). But mostly, the jobs are menial, (maids, gardeners, servants in hotels) and locals who previously experienced some cohesion and equality become marginalized in their own pueblos. And is the destruction of natural beauty and tranquility worth it? I think not. Once we run out of pristine anything, that´s it. Good post.

  10. I HATE CATS! We should put our energy into killing stray cats not building hotels.

    Thats right…..I’m a cat hater

  11. Jason McClure says:

    Great article, and good perspective. Could not agree more sometimes it makes seeing a place depressing when you know what is coming. Keep up the good writing!

  12. if it were not for the outsiders to invest in montanita, montanita would not exist as it does and everyone there would still be very poor, living in the worst conditions. no one is allowed to invest in montanita unless they give back to the community, in fact the community will not let anyone one in unless they pay their dues. the picture of the billboard you posted with the apartment project, is a no go and was rejected by the community a few years ago. now we have painted the sign white. your buddy in costa rica that has the surf school is not the only one that has helped their communities, he just happens to makes sure everyone knows. costa rica was lost a long time ago. over priced and over rated.

  13. Hey Guys,
    i read you article, with some mix feelings, becasue you are right, you stayed in my hostel, but i hope you knew my hostel was for 15 year a house, and i just keep the shape of that house, recycling the woods, and beside that i had the money to do monster hostel, i did not do it,

    as you said, white man that DO NOT HAVE ANY IDEA .. about business. People that never been YEARS in Montañitta comes now with a lot OVER EXPECTACTION, thinking the will make just money, and they do dont konw , we are kiling the town, but there is a group ( small but we the whole willing ) to try to stop this,
    People in the town sometimes misunderstand me, with ” dont you want foreigner investmen Wow ” ” you have a hostel and you don´t want more people comes to the town” Wow,! People in montañita do not see beyond the noose, they do not see that could be a boomerang in a short time, this town could death. as other Places.

    I REALLY DONT WANT A COSTA GRINGA, i dont want to sell my property in the next 5 years, becasue maybe i could see is going to the hell this town, i really want to keep it until i died, i wont be rich with that busines but i could life with sustainable businees,

    people in my country are not just simple smart, they are greed, and want to get money fast, and easyly no matter what, the thing is , they are wrong and they won´t get at the end, and in other hand they will make a lot of damage.

    It is nice what i read in your article
    I live in Sweden now, but i will comeback to ecaudor in 2 weeks and stay until March. It is a pitty , we did not meet you guys,

    the view you saw from the terrace i enjoyed for 15 years, saddly i have senn how has change , but belive, i can not tell you more details, but we are not going to jut cross our hands, so in good way , with the law, and with commom sense, we are going to try to stop this deathly possible destiny of the town, the key is explain to those people that are still blind.
    keep in touch.

    • Thank you for the very insightful comment. We really hope that you and your friends are able to preserve Montanita. It is such a beautiful town. And big foreign investment WILL destroy it. I think the key is sustainable tourism that improves the lives of the local people without destroying them.

      Your Hostel was absolutely amazing and is a perfect example of sustainable tourism.

      When we come back to Ecuador we will stay with you again and I hope we are able to meet you.

      Best wishes,

      • thank you for your worrds, i go in 2 weeks to Ecuador, becasue i am builidning a beach house near to montañitata, in that place, where i used to escape from the holiday days in montañita, it was coming in my car from that place on the way to montañita in the middle of the road ( literally) i met my girlfriend, and look at me now( ( my histori is in my website in spanish version),
        so i took her to this town ( we were anything for that time) and she fellt in love 1st in that place than me haha, there was our 1st kiss watching the sunsent and the 1st ” i love you” flying a Kite, i came to sweden beacues we have 2 yeaasr, and she became Doctor ( medicine) in May and need to do her intership , but we are planing spent 3-4 months at year in ecuador,

        So now our beach house ( with of course typical design) is made by a Arquitect, he is surfer and ecuadorrian and i demanding to hire ALL PEOPLE from LAS TUNAS, i did this condition to make the business , So we have dreams in las tunas, about edicine, there is a swedish organization , thank good 2 volunteers is going in the next 2 weeks there also, =0),
        when i wrote down this my memories from Montañita is coming with nostalgic .
        Yestarday, my girfriend ( she is swedish and sometimes so latina and sometimes so sweidh) said ” how do you know the people our new town don´t see us as your millonare neighbor),, made me feel sad, she is doubting about it. but any way, Actions talk more than 1000000000 words.
        sorry i dont say the name of the town, actually i am not telling even my friends, becasue i dont want the especulation like “ohh jorge is doing a house there, soo lets go theere,, “, nop,ei really want to work the comunity, it is good foregirner people can go to a place, but pepole with a HUGE HEART, people that respect the place wherre they will be, people that is ready to teach, to trainging , to help to impove the local people lives,, i am not talking about give money to the people, i am against to do that, i never did it,
        So lets see what is happen, and if one day you come to montañita you will be the results there and in my beach town also, i am dreaming with my love to do lots thing, and living in sweden , we have the oportunity. i will tell you a situation that happened here,, i am looking fo make some sustainale tourism in Ecuador with swedish people, so they 1st people i met , it was the surfer community here in sweden, so i contact 2 or 3 surf companies who promote surf trip, the owner of one of them told me ” what about have a co-property “,, so i told him ” listen, i don´t want a fucking costa rica, where you and the rest or thswedish surfer go, and dont give a shit about the people there ” ” if someone of you is going to my counry and is trying to do something like this, i swear, i will be there, and i know how to manage that ” i was so angry about it, and sadly i realize that where ever you are people want to make money no matter waht, i want to be rich!! of coure yes,, i want to do nothing and get money easyly haha, but i know , as a good business man i was before in my professional career, It is possible do that and at the same time do social labor, helping the people around you. call, espiritual, karma, god´s help, but its work, okey i dont boher more about it Tree, nice to meet you Jorge Moran FB

  14. Ive been in and out of Montanita for 5 years now and I can honestly tell you a lot of money has come in because there is a lot of money flowing through Montanita on a weekly basis.. money always attracts money, thats just how it goes, but if you compare the Montanita now to the MOntanita even of 3 yrs ago youll see it is MUCH better… before there was MUD streets , and nasty mud, filled with mosquitos… now its all paved.

    If you want the off the beaten path typical Ecuadorian fishing village put down your Lonely Planet a minute and go to the neighboring towns, like Manglaralto… there you’ll see things havent changed much over the last 10 years even… its always in pockets of development, even in long discovered Mexico.
    saludos, Dom

  15. Glad your gone. Dont want you to have to deal with those gringos anymore. Where did you go back to? I cant say I remember you. Sound like your one of those Yankees that move to the Florida Keys and bitch about the tourists. Those shitty condos you mentioned are not going to be built. I wish that was the biggest concern. This town will weed out the cowboys who think their going to come down and run this place. It is not for the faint of heart. If you were here over the past 10 days you might actually have a clue about life here. It is still the Wild West and that is not always a good thing. Grab your fanny pack and come see us. I have a lot with your name on it. Hook you up with the non gringo price.

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