After our busy itinerary in the Galápagos Islands last year, we headed to Salinas, Ecuador for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Our research suggested that this would be one of the best places to ring in the new year. However, we had also read extremely mixed reviews. People either love it or hate it. For months each year, it is apparently grey, overcast and a virtual ghost town.
It turns out we loved it! It’s not dripping in history and culture like Quito or Cuenca but it has some of the best of Ecuador beaches (on the mainland anyway) and one of the best outdoor lifestyles we’ve found. We loved it so much, in fact, we decided to return this year and settle in for two full months! It turns out living in Salinas, Ecuador just might be for us…
Why is living in Salinas, Ecuador so great?
Salinas is a great spot to relax. Being stuck out on the Santa Elena peninsula, it isn’t the most accessible for the rest of Ecuador. We wouldn’t really recommend it for people just visiting Ecuador for a short vacation (unless they wanted a few beach days to finish off their travels).
Working as digital nomads the past couple of years means that the internet is a major concern for us. Salinas has the best internet speeds we’ve discovered in Central or South America. It’s been a great spot for us to sit at our dining table and work while enjoying the views. The rooftop terrace is an even better place to work, or practise guitar!
However, you’re probably wondering just what there is to do besides work. It turns out there are lots of things to do in Salinas but one of the best things is to immerse yourself in local life and create wonderful healthy routines!
Relax (or watersports) on Salinas’ Beach
Ecuador has loads of beach towns to choose from but few can boast beaches as nice as Salinas. There are two main beaches in town that are fairly calm and great for families. One end is filled with vendors, watersports, sports areas and a general lively atmosphere. The far eastern end of San Lorenzo beach is much quieter and has a decent surf break for beginners and intermediates. We really enjoyed both ends of the beach and so did our 8-year-old nephew!
On the other side of the peninsula is Mar Brava. To get here you need a car or be prepared for a long bike ride or a very long walk! However, you will have this long stretch of sand almost entirely to yourself although swimming is not recommended. It’s a great spot for experienced surfers though! This beach is also backed by salt factories so you will also find many pink flamingoes in the salt lagoons.
Jet-skis, banana boats, tubes, pedal boats and Stand Up Paddleboards are all available for rent at the beach in Salinas. There is also good snorkelling around the rocks at the marina and the far end of San Lorenzo near the surf break. We routinely spotted turtles from our building and sometimes eagle rays too.
Ecuador Beaches: Volleyball and other Sports
At the back of the main San Lorenzo beach are a few courts for volleyball, soccer and beach tennis. There are always people playing for fun as well as organized groups, coaching and even tournaments. During our 2 months in Salinas, Ecuador Terry played beach volleyball with a fairly competitive group of locals daily. Not only is it great exercise and fun, but it’s a great way to meet locals and discover the ‘real’ Salinas. We made some great friends through the Salinas Beach Volleyball group and will definitely miss it!
The malecon, or boardwalk, follows along the length of San Lorenzo beach with a bike path. It is a popular spot for locals, expats and tourists alike to walk, bike or run, making it a safe place to be day and night.
Surfing in Salinas
There is a surf break for everyone in Salinas. On San Lorenzo, there is a good surf break for beginners or intermediates. It’s also really conveniently located right in town. For the more experienced surfers, La Lobería offers world-class surfing conditions. The only real issue is that it’s not so easy to rent a board in Salinas. There is a new surf shop in the Local’s Point complex but the prices aren’t the best. If you can, bring your own board.
Yoga Classes with the Locals
While Terry was blowing up the volleyball court, I joined a local yoga studio called Bhakti Yoga. I really like yoga but I’m picky and can find it boring if it’s too slow paced. This was not only some of my favourite yoga classes I’ve taken it was also definitely the cheapest. As an added bonus, I was the only non-local for the majority of classes and everyone sat around for a while after classes chatting and drinking tea. What a great environment to relax, meet people, practise my Spanish AND maintain a healthy lifestyle! She also runs a healthy vegan restaurant in her front courtyard and the food looks delicious – definitely check it out if you’re in Salinas.
La Chocolatera and La Lobería
La Chocolatera and La Loberia are just outside of town, accessed from the far end of Chipipe Beach and through the military base. We took a taxi to La Lobería one morning for $3. This is the place to see sea lions (I know, you’d think we’d have seen enough by now) as well as a great surf spot.
The smell alerted us to the presence of sea lions well before we could see them. It took a moment for our eyes to adjust and then we realized the rocky outcrop we were looking at was actually covered in well-camouflaged creatures. From our distance, they still looked huge so I can only imagine how big they are up close.
This is also a surfing location for experienced surfers who can handle themselves on big waves. Because of the rocky point, the waves break far from shore and we watched a few surfers catch a huge wave and ride it forever!
From here, we walked along the beach path to La Chocolatera. This is the westernmost point of mainland Ecuador. The path between the two spots borders a long, beautiful and empty beach that would make for a great rest stop. It also winds through a protected nature area so keep your eyes open for birds, lizards and other creatures!
At La Chocolatera there is a snack bar and toilets. After a snack, we began the walk back into town. These spots are actually inside an Ecuadorian Military Base so we walked past a rifle range, training centre (that used to be a paintball place) and military school before exiting the base. It was a long walk back.
If you didn’t want to walk back, I would suggest doing this in reverse. There were plenty of taxis dropping people off at La Loberia (you could hop in one to return) but we didn’t see any at La Chocolatera. A more fun, but expensive option, is to take the tourist train that leaves from the malecon and loops around La Chocolatera and La Loberia for $5 per person.
Ecuador, like the rest of Latin America, love to have fun. No matter your age or interests there are plenty of places to check out after the sun sets. From expat hangouts with regular karaoke evenings to weekend nightclubs, it’s impossible not to have fun. There is a decent selection of restaurants too. Luv ‘n’ Oven was highly recommended to us by local volleyball friends. They did not steer us wrong! It was delicious and well-priced. Just about every pizza place in town offers 2 for 1 pizza on Tuesdays but, honestly, it’s just not that great. The best we had was at Mario’s but it’s also the most expensive.
New Year’s Eve in Salinas
Ecuador has many traditions surrounding La Noche Buena, but some of the most fun are burning effigies in the streets and on the beach as well as an abundance of fireworks. For weeks, effigies can be spotted lined up for sale in the streets, in people’s windows and strapped to vehicles. If you’re looking for a fun place to spend the holidays, Salinas Ecuador should be on your list!
Our plans to watch the fireworks from our building’s rooftop terrace changed at the last minute when we decided to head down to the main beach and watch from the middle of the action. We first headed to a restaurant with a balcony overlooking the malecón but after waiting for almost three hours for our meals to show up, we paid for our drinks and went for street food!
Fireworks have been going off steady for days but around 11 pm things really started to pick up. The street and beach were packed with people, vendors and effigies! At 11:30 pm we suddenly caught sight of a huge fire on the beach. As we got closer, we could make out the silhouettes of loads of superheroes and cartoon characters burning and people kept throwing more onto the pile. Looking down the beach, there was one giant fire after another. In the words of Terry: “It’s the f*#^ing LA Street Riots!”
Fireworks, bonfires, Chinese lanterns, open-air stage, and lots and lots of people. There is no big, professional display. Everyone buys fireworks and simply sets them off, often from the middle of the crowd! This was definitely the most fun New Years Eve I’ve had!
Carnival in Salinas, Ecuador
A couple of years ago we were lucky enough to participate in Trinidad‘s world-famous Carnival celebrations. Ecuador doesn’t have anything elaborate or indeed organized. Rather, the locals take it as an opportunity to forget about social norms and manners and just go mental for a few days. Locals had told us it was completely out of control, to stock up on everything you might need and not leave your house for four days. Conveniently (and accidentally) those four days were the exact same ones that we had family visiting from Canada so that wasn’t an option!
Foam is the weapon of choice but they also use water, flour, eggs and coffee to throw on anyone that happens to be in the vicinity.
One night we ventured out as a group of 5 – Terry and I, my 60-something parents and our 8-year-old nephew. Each of us was armed with a foam canister but not really sure what to expect. Traffic was at a crawl along the malecon and truckbeds were filled with people along with buckets of water and foam. Those more experienced were also armed with sheets of cardboard to protect themselves from the raw eggs and water bombs being thrown from 5th floor balconies, landing with an almighty crack. Unsurprisingly, people are apparently injured every year during the mayhem.
It didn’t take us long to get sprayed by a passerby and we immediately jumped into action. At least after receiving help from a local teenager who had to show us how to unlock the foam sprayers. We began sheepishly spraying each other but it only took a few moments before we were targeted by strangers and we retaliated while laughing and squealing.
Ethan had a great time – he just walked down the street casually spraying every single person he passed. He even nailed a few elderly ladies and small children. Oops! We escaped the crowds on the street in favour of the quieter beach for a while before returning to our condo. A couple of days later I took the remaining foam to the beach to attack Ethan as he came out of the water. Bodysurfing was his new favourite activity with Uncle Terry.
Aside from the concern of having an egg land on our heads, we had a blast joining in the Carnival madness. It is definitely something worth experiencing while you’re in Ecuador – once!
Day trip to Montañita
Our only big day trip from Salinas was to Ecuador’s backpacker party and surf town, Montañita. We took the city bus to the terminal and hopped on a bus heading north. The two-hour trip cost us less than $2 each!
This is most definitely a backpacker hotspot! For the first time in a while, we weren’t the whitest people around and Terry was no longer one of the tallest. The entire town is row on row of hostels, gift shops and drink carts lining each street. The beach was packed with chairs and umbrellas as well as surfboard rentals and vendors selling anything and everything. Every bar offered various happy hour deals.
We rented a surfboard but the waves weren’t the best. A $2 batido in a beachfront shack was just the ticket after an afternoon in the sun. Surprisingly, despite the heavy tourist traffic, we encountered the cheapest prices we have seen on the Ecuador coast. I guess they know they’re not getting more out of the backpackers!
Where to stay in Salinas, Ecuador
Our first visit had us looking at limited choices and inflated holiday prices, we blew the budget and rented an AirBnB apartment almost on the ocean. If you don’t already use AirBnB, sign up with this code and get $45 off your first booking. With just one row of single-family homes in front of us, the view is pretty darn good!
Our second stay was actually in the building right next door. Paying for two months gets expensive so we saved a few bucks by renting an apartment on the back of the building. However, with a beautiful rooftop terrace including a wet bar and jacuzzi, we didn’t feel too ripped off!
There are many hotels and hostels throughout Salinas, mostly along or very close to the malecon. Barcelo Salinas All Inclusive is the nicest, and most expensive, by far if you are looking to splurge. But you can find something for every budget.
How to get to Salinas, Ecuador
The nearest international airport is Guayaquil. From there, you have a couple of options.
We are fans of saving a few dollars and experiencing public transport when possible. If that’s you, hop in a taxi for less than $5 to the Guayaquil bus terminal (ask for the ‘terminal terrestre‘). Buses leave for Santa Elena regularly throughout the day and you can buy tickets on the ground floor around booth 80 or so. Tickets cost around $3.50 including a fee to enter the platform. Go up two floors (third floor for Americans, second floor in Ecuador) and your bus will leave from around platform 90. Of course, check when you buy the ticket exactly which platform to go to. From the Santa Elena terminal, get in a taxi for a further 20 minutes or so. It should cost around $5, perhaps a little more after dark.
Alternatively, you could take a taxi or private driver for the 2 – 2.5 hour drive to Salinas. This will cost around $60-70. If you arrive late at night this may be your only option besides staying at an airport hotel for the night and getting the bus the following morning. We’ve stayed at DC Suites Aeropuerto twice and definitely recommend it. They even include free airport transfers and charge $5 to take you to the bus station.
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