The highway ends 5km west of La Libertad and 170km from Guayaquil at SALINAS, Ecuador’s swankiest beach resort. Arriving at its graceful seafront avenue, the Malecón, feels like stepping into another world: gone are the ramshackle streets characteristic of Ecuador’s coastal towns, replaced by a gleaming boulevard lined with glitzy, high-rise condominiums sweeping around a large, beautiful bay. Closer inspection reveals the streets behind the Malecón are as dusty and potholed as anywhere else, but this doesn’t seem to bother anyone – it’s the beach that counts here, with clean, golden sand and warm, calm waters safe for swimming. The best time to enjoy it is December, early January or March, during weekdays. Around Carnaval and on summer weekends it gets unbearably packed, while from April to November it can be overcast and dreary.
Salinas’ main draw is its long, curving, golden beach, and warm(ish) ocean waters, safe for swimming in. Get here soon after breakfast and you’ll have the sand and the sea virtually to yourself – but by afternoon in the high season you’ll be sharing them with droves of vacationing Ecuadorians.
If you need a change of scene, try the Museo Salinas Siglo XXI, on the Malecón and Guayas y Quil. It’s divided into two sections: one giving an excellent overview of pre-Columbian cultures on the peninsula, including some beautifully crafted Guayala and Manteño-Huancavilca ceramics; the other with displays on nautical history, including items recovered from the galleon La Capitana, which sank off the coast near Punta Chanduy in 1654, taking with it more than two thousand silver bars and two hundred chests of coins. The small but captivating Museo de Ballenas (daily 10am–5pm, or when Oystercatcher restaurant is open; ring bell for attention or call t04/2778329; wwww.femm.org; donations welcome), attached to Oystercatcher restaurant on General Enríquez Gallo (a few blocks north of the Barceló Colón Miramar hotel), features a 12-metre skeleton of a humpback whale, skulls and bones of other cetaceans and preserved dolphins, all of which were washed ashore.