This peninsula is located due west of Guayaquil. The town of Salinas is located at the western tip. A four-lane highway (la Vía a la Costa) connects the two. In fact there are three towns, Santa Elena, La Libertad and Salinas, which all merge into one another. From there you can follow the coastal Ruta del Sol / Spondylus north. In the intervening 200m there is a lot of arid, slightly hilly landscape, and a few small villages.
Salinas is the main beach resort in the south of Ecuador but there are some other interesting places to explore before you get there.
At km 109 (about 90 minutes from Guayaquil) a turning off the highway takes you along a straight paved road leading south for 12 kilometres to Chanduy. Before town there is an archaeological site called Real Alto. Evidence of a very old settlement was unearthed here in 1971 and dated to the time of the Valdivia culture (4400 – 1700BC). There isn’t much to see on the site now – in fact just a few ditches from the dig. However the museum was really interesting – with information about the settlement and also about the whole development of life on the peninsula, including a mastodon’s jaw. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 8am – 4pm and costs $1 to enter which includes the guided tour! Tipping is discretionary. Spanish only.
Continue straight on and you come to the fishing port where there are a few simple restaurants. A turning to the left takes you round the estuary and over a bridge into the main town which is pretty small and sleepy. It has a beach. Read my trip report here and consult the Real Alto page here
A few kilometres further on along the main highway is the turning for the village of Atahualpa where many people are dedicated to furniture-making, using strong woods such as guayacan. The artesans can make you a bed or a dining table very cheaply and the quality is good.
Baños de San Vicente
Further on you see signs for the Baños de San Vicente where you can bathe in mud, thermal waters and also enjoy a massage or the steam room.
There is not much to see in the town of Santa Elena apart from the interesting museum dedicated to Los Amantes de Sumpa. On the site, the remains of a couple were discovered. They were buried with their bodies intertwined. You can also see other findings from the burial site and visit a typical rural house and an exhibition about the culture of the area. Interesting and free to enter. If you are just going to one museum (and I don´t think both are necessary in one trip) then this just edges Real Alto for me for the love story. Also you can get off a bus and walk from the highway – the museum is signed two blocks south in the part where Santa Elena merges into La Libertad. It is open Tuesday to Sunday from 8am – 4pm. Guides are available – tipping is discretionary. Spanish only. The government have set up a a rather snazzy website for the museum.
From Santa Elena you can drive south to Ancon. This was the first place where oil was discovered in Ecuador and there is still a little bit to exploit so you can see the pumps dotted around. Near to the cliffs there is a sector which was populated by the British who came to work in the oilfield in the early 20th century. Their wooden houses remain but unfortunately the area feels run-down now. This area reminds me of visiting a Pontins holiday camp out of season except Ancon is always out of season.
A paved road connects Ancon with Punta Carnero (via Anconcito). There are great ocean views (try to ignore the rubbish in the first part). The road eventually leads into Salinas. There is quite a nice hotel overlooking the sea at Punta Carnero and the fish in the restaurant is good. There is a long stretch of beach but the waves are very fierce – more suited for surfing than bathing.
For a coastal town La Libertad is quite clean and organized, at least along the main street (not the Salinas highway). There is a nice church and the local council have done a good job of making the malecón more pedestrian friendly. With benches, plants and lovely views it´s pleasant to walk along on a sunny day. Unfortunately there is not really a beach, although engineering works have been carried out to create an inlet protected by boulders and in a few more years we´ll see how it works.
A little further north is Ballenita which can be considered the first stop along the Ruta del Sol, although you have to turn off slightly. There is a beach here and it´s quite a nice spot with places to eat and sleep.
Where to Stay
The peninsula can be visited in a day trip before heading back to Guayaquil or up the coast. If you wish to stay in the area there are lots of hotels in Salinas, some basic options in La Libertad and one good option in Punta Carnero and Ballenita. Find more details in the accommodation listing.
Where to Eat
You can find good restaurants in Salinas and the nice hotels but there are some simple options in all towns. The museums have cafés but don´t offer lunch. Generally fish and seafood are the order of the day around here. Find more details in the restaurant listing
The easiest way to get to all the locations described is with your own vehicle. It is possible to do it in a day trip from Guayaquil if you´re prepared to return in the dark. The main highway is good quality and the side roads are acceptable (and with little traffic).
Buses run regularly between Salinas and Guayaquil and stop at La Libertad and Santa Elena. You can get off and usually hail one at other points along the highway. Note in peak season they may be returning full. The companies are Costa Azul, Co-operativa Libertad Peninsula (CLP). Infrequent local services connect the other towns around the peninsula or you could try hitching.
Read more about the route from Guayaquil to Salinas here.
Read more about the route up the Ruta del Sol here