West of Guayaquil, the busy E-40 highway heads to the westernmost tip of the mainland, marked by the Santa Elena Peninsula. It’s an especially crowded route on Friday evenings when droves of Guayaquileños flee the uncomfortable heat of the city for the cooling breezes of the Pacific. Just fifteen minutes down the road, the highway provides access to a couple of enjoyable attractions that you could take in en route to the coast, or as a day-trip from Guayaquil, including the Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco, a small, well-managed forest reserve, and Puerto Hondo, a little village perched by a mangrove swamp that you can explore by boat. A further 45km west, a side road branches south to the easy-going, somewhat shabby little town of Playas, the closest beach resort to Guayaquil and always heaving with visitors on summer weekends (Dec–April).
Continuing west along the main road, you enter increasingly dry and scrubby terrain as you approach the Santa Elena Peninsula, the site of three towns – Santa Elena, La Libertad and Salinas – merging into one other almost seamlessly. The peninsula is of great archeological interest, as it was originally occupied by the country’s most ancient cultures, such as the Las Vegas and the Valdivia. Some of the most important archeological sites have impressive museums attached to them, including the fabulous Amantes de Sumpa, near Santa Elena, sporting the tomb of two eight-thousand-year-old skeletons locked in an embrace. However, the peninsula is best known for its beaches, in particular the glitzy and often crowded resort of Salinas. A few quieter, calmer alternatives are Ballenito and Punta Carnero, and the small inland attraction of the thermal baths of San Vicente.