I love Santa Elena. This province along the Ecuadorian Pacific Coast has it all: wildlife, archeology sites, a fairly large city, several towns, and even more small fishing villages, rocky coast, and miles upon miles of sandy beaches. Although we never plan on retiring in Ecuador, if we did, Santa Elena would likely make our short list.
We have been fortunate to take several trips to the region. Salinas makes a great home base. It’s a large enough city to have a choice in accommodations and restaurants but small enough that the beaches are quiet on most weekdays. Local, family run establishments all have their versions of my favorite breakfast, tigrillo, and fresh ceviche can be found from morning ’til late afternoon at the seafood market in Libertad. Some of the best birdwatching on the coast can actually be found on the outskirts of the city in the old salt pools at Ecuasal. Flamingos are a regular sighting, their bright orange-red tail feathers contrasting with the paler pink of their main plumage. Tons of other shore birds flock to the pools.
Just down the road, a short taxi ride away, is the spit of Ecuadorian mainland that lies furthest out into the Pacific Ocean, La Chocolatera. This rocky outcropping is a popular place to visit, if just for the geography lesson. Right next door, in walking distance for those up for a small hike, is La Loberia, the southern-most colony of California sea lions and one of the best surfing breaks in the region. Be warned, the undertow makes this an unsafe place for children to play in the water. And for the best views around, don’t miss the Mirador Puntilla de Santa Elena. Keep your eyes open for tiny, flitting hummingbirds in the bushes and potentially three different kinds of soaring vultures overhead.
Heading north, there are several stretches of sandy beaches that make perfect places to spot birds on quiet weekdays. Our favorite is near Pungay. Then comes Valdivia with its museums full of archeology treasures, poorly presented but interesting nonetheless. In Manglar Alto, artists carve vegetable ivory, called tagua, and you can find some unique pieces not sold in the regular artisans’ markets. Surfers love to visit the famous beaches of Montañita. It makes for an okay day trip but the happy hours at the many restaurants selling American and European-style dishes are a sign that the touristy nightlife makes for loud nights and hungover daytime crowds. We prefer the quieter beach at Olon.
All in all, I hope these few photos encourage you to make your own explorations of the Santa Elena Province. Make sure to share your photos with us on Facebook.