Twelve kilometres beyond the turn-off to Baños de San Vicente, the E-40 hits the little town of SANTA ELENA, sited on the eponymous peninsula, and recently made the capital of its own little province, also called Santa Elena.

Unremarkable in almost every way, the town’s sole attraction is the fascinating archeological museum of Los Amantes de Sumpa on the western outskirts of town, signposted from the main road a couple of blocks south of the road to Salinas. The museum is built on the site of one of the oldest burial grounds in South America, established from 6000 BC by the ancient Las Vegas culture, one of the first groups on the continent to start shifting from a totally nomadic lifestyle towards semi-permanent settlements. About forty years ago, some two hundred human skeletons were excavated here, including the remains of the lovers of Sumpa – the skeletons of a man and woman, about 25 years old when they died, buried facing each other, the woman with her arm raised over her head, the open-mouthed man with an arm on her waist. Their tomb, on display at the museum, makes an unforgettable sight, and the accompanying displays on the Las Vegas and other coastal cultures are excellent, ranging from funerary offerings such as shells, knives and colourful pebbles to a reconstruction of a typical montuvio house. Santa Elena is served by frequent buses from Guayaquil, and a taxi from the centre out to the museum should cost no more than $1.50. Alternatively, take a Salinas-bound bus and ask the driver to drop you at the turn-off to the museum, a short walk away.

 

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