Planning a Trip
By Plane -- There's a small airport in Salinas (airport code: SNC) at the very tip of the Santa Elena peninsula. VIP (tel. 1800/237-6425 toll free nationwide; www.vipec.com) flies there from Quito on Wednesday and Friday at 6:35pm, and on Sunday at 5:45pm. Return flights leave Salinas Wednesday and Friday at 7:55pm, and Sunday at 7:30pm. These flights stop in Guayaquil to pick up and drop off passengers in each direction. The fare is $92 (£61) each way.
Many people fly into Guayaquil and continue on to Salinas by car, bus, or taxi.
By Bus -- Buses regularly leave Guayaquil's main bus terminal for Salinas between 3am and 11pm every day. During busy daytime hours, a bus leaves nearly every 5 minutes. The schedule is somewhat reduced during off hours, but there are still frequent buses. Two companies run this route, Costa Azul (tel. 04/2781-416) and Libertad Peninsular (CLP; tel. 04/2140-975). The 2 1/2-hour ride costs about $3.50 (2.35).
Transesmeraldas (tel. 04/2786-670 in Salinas, or 02/2505-099 in Quito) has three daily direct buses between Quito and Salinas. The ride takes 11 1/2 hours, and the fare is $10 (£6.65).
The bus station in Salinas is beside the main market, 1 block in from the Malecón.
As an alternative, Turismo Ruta del Sol (tel. 04/2302-984) runs hourly minivan service between Guayaquil and Salinas. The fare is $10 (£6.65).
By Car -- Salinas and the Santa Elena Peninsula are connected to Guayaquil by a well-traveled and -marked highway. (Though calling it a highway may seem like a misnomer.) The road is only two lanes wide in many points, and passes directly through a string of small towns and villages, where you may have to slow down for a stop sign, speed bump, or passing cow. As mentioned, though, the route is well marked, heading out of Guayaquil to the west. Salinas is 163km (101 miles) from Guayaquil. The ride takes about 2 hours.
Local buses run continuously along the main route that connects Salinas, Santa Elena, La Libertad, and Ballenita. Fares cost from 30¢ to 60¢ (20p-40p), depending on how long your ride is.
This route is also covered by so-called taxi rutas, which are taxis that operate almost like the buses, following the same set route and picking up and discharging passengers. But with a maximum of five passengers, these tend to be much faster, as they make fewer stops.
Traditional taxis are also abundant -- flag one down on the street or call Taxis Ruta del Sol (tel. 04/2770-358). A taxi between Salinas and La Libertad should cost no more than $3 (£2), and a ride around either town should be under $2 (£1.35).
As you drive from Guayaquil toward the coast, you will arrive at the town of Santa Elena, considered Km 0 on the highway (E15) that runs in both directions along the coastline -- and which should not be confused with the highway to the coast (called carretera a la costa) that runs from Guayaquil to Santa Elena (E70). Santa Elena sits on a small rise above the ocean. The beach and tiny town just below it are called Ballenita. Located at the western tip of the Santa Elena peninsula, 13km (8 miles) west of Santa Elena and Ballenita, is Salinas. La Libertad lies about halfway between Ballenita and Salinas. As this area develops, the distinctions may start to fade and the resorts will start to flow one into the next, but for now there is still some separation between these beach towns, although the distances are quite short.
Heading farther east and then north up the coast, the beach stretches for kilometers and kilometers almost uninterrupted -- except for the odd rocky point and headlands -- with only a few small fishing villages, tiny towns, and the periodic isolated beach hotel. Beach towns along this coast include Punta Blanca, Montañita, and Olón.
The beach in Salinas itself is divided almost perfectly in half by the jetty and docks of the Salinas Yacht Club. One block inland from the jetty is the town's main plaza and its pretty Catholic church.
Fast Facts -- To reach the police, dial tel. 101 in an emergency, or 04/2775-813. The Hospital Alcivar (tel. 04/2778-807; www.hospitalalcivar.com) in La Libertad is the most modern and best-equipped facility on this coast. It has 24-hour emergency services, as well as a 24-hour pharmacy.
The post office (tel. 04/2770-097) is on the Malecón and Calle 2, next to the Barceló Miramar Colón hotel. There are several banks and even more ATMs along the Malecón in Salinas and in La Libertad. Banco de Guayaquil has branches at Malecón 417 and Avenida Bolívar in Salinas (tel. 04/2772-552); and at the Paseo Shopping complex in La Libertad (tel. 04/2785-892). Banco Pichincha has branches in Salinas on the Malecón, between calles 29 and 30 (tel. 04/2772-468); and in La Libertad at Av. 4 and Calle 23 (tel. 04/2782-294). You'll find a number of Internet cafes all along the Malecón and on the calles and avenidas just inland.