Welcome to the next stop in the Exploring Ecuador series – the beach resorts of Salinas and Chipipe, on the Santa Elena peninsula. The Santa Elena peninsula is one of the two largest concentrations of expats on the coast, the other being the Manta region. As such, many people are interested in what is is like to live there. It is a large area, with several different types of lifestyles possible, so I will be breaking it into sections to discuss. We’re starting off with the two more “touristy” type of places, Salinas and Chipipe. Full disclosure – I live in Salinas, right on the malecon, but I will try to give you a balanced picture. Rita and I love it here, but the whole raison d’être of the Exploring Ecuador series is the understanding that people are looking for a variety of things from their potential home overseas, and it is important to have as much information as possible to choose what is right for you.
So, as usual, let’s start with a map or two!
This is the Santa Elena peninsula. As you can see, it covers a pretty good-sized area, and while the various towns and villages share some common features, they also have some important differences. Overall, the peninsula is home to over 160,000 people, and as much as 4 or 5 times that amount on holidays. That’s why I am going to take them in sections. The following map shows where Salinas and Chipipe are located.
Salinas and Chipipe are on the north-facing shore of the peninsula, which gives them moderate to light waves for the most part, as the prevailing winds are from the south. This of course is part of the reason they are so popular with tourists. The two beaches are separated by the Salinas Yacht Club. The beach at Chipipe is larger, with softer sand and a lot of room for sunbathers. The Salinas beaches have more access to vendors, restaurants, bars, tiendas, and so on.
I’d like to address three common myths that I hear and read all of the time, mostly perpetuated by people who do not live here.
Myth #1 – It is hot and humid on the coast, with lots of bugs
Myth #2 – It is cloudy and cool half the year.
Myth #3 – Everything close during off season
Let’s start with the first two weather-related myths. The climate here is very dry, with average rainfall of less than 5″ per year. In three years, I could count the number of times it has rained hard enough to make puddles on one hand. So while it is more humid than the Andes, where the air is too thin to support much moisture anyway, it is usually not that humid. We tend to be between 60-80%, and there is almost always a cool breeze coming off the ocean. This kind of very dry weather, combined with our lack of vegetation, does not support a lot of bugs. There are of course some, especially after a shower, but this is not a big issue.
Our warmest time of the year, between late December and early April, it is usually in the 80’s during the day, with it peaking in the low nineties during the peak of the season. In the evenings during that season, it will be in the upper 70’s or low 80’s. Between August-late November we have are cooler and cloudier season. Highs tend to be in the upper 70’s, peaking in the low 80’s, and the lower 70’s at night. In the three years we have lived here, according to our outdoor thermometer we have had a high of 98 and a low of 66 – and those were the extremes. It is cloudier on average during the cooler part of the year (that’s why it is cooler, that and the Humboldt Current), but not unbroken clouds for days or weeks at a time. We do sometimes have a day or two of all clouds, but most typically we have mostly cloudy days, with a few hours of sun at some point.
As for everything closing down during low season, that is just not true. Remember, there is a permanent population of over 160,000 people on the peninsula. Granted, some restaurants may close Monday and/or Tuesday during low season, but they are the exceptions rather than the rule. You can generally do your shopping and eating at the same places during the low season as you did during high season – just without the crowds.
Salinas is the most popular beach resort in Ecuador. It sits about 2 hours from Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, and has a small airport with service to and from Quito two days a week. It also draws a lot of people from the Cuenca area, especially during their rainy season.
Anyone considering a move to Salinas should keep this in mind – it is a resort, so there are sometimes very large crowds. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for expats who come here and then complain about the tourists – it’s like buying a home in Orlando and then bitching about all the people wearing mouse ears.
That said, it is not always crowded in Salinas. The two biggest holidays are by far Año Viejo, when a hundred thousand or more hit the beach to burn monogotes in bonfires and to shoot off fireworks for ten or twelve hours (video of part of this year’s fun below), and then a few months later the Carnival celebrations.
The high season runs from late December to the beginning of May, and during that time you can expect large crowds on the weekends (Friday-Sunday), but things are pretty calm Monday through Thursday. Low season is much quieter, but weekends can still produce decent sized crowds. There are also a few other holidays sprinkled throughout the year. However, if you sit down with a calendar and look at the busy days vs quiet days, you will find that about 65% of the time, residents mostly have the town to ourselves.
But I don’t mean to minimize it, just to put it in perspective. The truth is that the Salinas area is LOUD, high season or low season. There is always a party somewhere, car alarms going off, dogs barking, random parades, fireworks, and musica, musica, musica. You get used to it to some extent, but if you are looking for a quiet, peaceful life at the beach, Salinas is not the place to find it.
So why move to Salinas? Well, some like the excitement of the occasional crowds, but a big reason is infrastructure. Salinas is a place where you can get affordable places on or near the beach, and be able to meet all of your needs without having to own a car. There are five bus lines that go through Salinas/Chipipe, and cabs are everywhere. The large Salinas Mercado is just a few blocks back from the ocean, there is a small grocery store in walking distance, the major banks all have branches here, there are tiendas, liquor stores, farmacias, hair dressers and scores of bars and restaurants serving all types of cuisine.
A 30-cent bus ride (15 cents for seniors) will get you to no less than 4 major grocery chains or a modern mall with movie theaters and a food
court. You have four or more internet options to choose from, two of them fiber optic. There are hospitals, doctors, dentists, and plenty of shopping in nearby La Libertad. You really can find anything and any service you want in the area, and if you want more variety, then Guayaquil is two hours away on a very good road.
There is also a big and growing expat presence in Santa Elena, with various clubs, gatherings, and volunteer groups if that is the kind of thing you are looking for.
Probably the biggest challenge facing Salinas in the coming years is the disappearance of the beach. Since the Yacht Club was built, wave patterns shifted, and parts of the Salinas beach have been getting smaller and smaller. At high tide, some areas disappear completely, and when the waves are big, water coming over the walkway is getting more common. The Mayor’s office recently announced they are running a study to resolve these problems, and a solution is definitely needed.
ChipipeChipipe Beach is quite different from Salinas. For one thing, the beach is much nicer. A wide stretch of soft sand greets you in Chipipe, where much of the Salinas beach can be small rocks and shells. The waves are gentler and there is not a sharp drop-off, so it is very popular with families with small children.
Also, while there are a few restaurants and tiendas in Chipipe, they are focused on serving the beach crowd. So when the sun goes down, almost all of the vendors close up shop. On the plus side, this makes Chipipe a much quieter place at night than Salinas. On the other hand, it also means you need to leave Chipipe if you want to go to a restaurant or do any shopping. While 5 bus lines turn around at the military base in Chipipe, once the crowds leave the number of cabs coming by also drops off.
In the past three years, there has been at least three new high rise buildings constructed in Chipipe, and work on another is about to start. This beach is attracting more attention with expats as a nice compromise between having the great infrastructure that Salinas offers, and still enjoying quieter nights.
Traditionally, Chipipe has been the resort of choice for the wealthier Ecuadorians, and this is reflected in the price of condos on the beach. They tend to be a little bit higher than those in Salinas. While like Salinas, most of the condos have the beach road between them and the sand, there are also a few condos that are directly on the beach.
While both towns have homes and condos off the beach that are more affordable, the neighborhoods in Chipipe tend to be a little nicer and quieter than those in Salinas. Chipipe also has more greenery, with more tended flowerbeds and landscaping.
Time for a look at the main points to consider when looking at Salinas or Chipipe for your home in Ecuador:
- Safety – Whenever you have high tourist areas, you need to watch out for pickpockets and the like, and this area is no exception. You do hear stories of break-ins at some of the single family homes, but almost all of the condos have 24/7 staff and are quite safe. My wife and I walk all over both towns, and we have never even had an uncomfortable moment – however, we do not frequent bars or stay out late. All in all these are family resorts, and violent crime is very rare.
- Shopping – As mentioned, lots of shopping in this area, from modern stores to mercados. La Libertad provides just about any goods or services you may need, and there are major grocery stores.
- Infrastructure – Big plus in this area. No need to own a car as there is an extensive local bus system and plentiful cabs. Slightly harder in the evenings to get a cab in Chipipe. Multiple internet options available, satellite tv and cable tv are also options. Good electrical and utility system, but like many places in Ecuador, I do not recommend drinking the tap water.
- Places to Live – Should be able to find something to fit almost any budget, both on and off the beach. Unlike the US, moving a block or two back from the sand can make a dramatic change in prices for both rentals and sales.
- Health Care – A lot of options to choose from, including two hospitals and many clinics. Farmacias abound, from small walkups to the modern stores at the malls. Guayaquil with it’s world-class hospitals are two hours away.
- Culture – Movie theaters at the mall, usually at least one show in English. There are several museums, and the area is attracting more concerts, art shows, and other special events.
- Expats – Probably the largest concentration of expats on the coast, supplemented during the North American winters by what I call the fauxpats, or snow birds.
Summing it all up:
Salinas and Chipipe are great places to consider if you want reliably warm weather, no storms (in fact, hardly any rain), and good infrastructure to go along with being by the ocean. There are very affordable places, have a good expat community, plenty to do, and good medical care available. It is also very easy to get by without a car.
Things to remember – it will be crowded sometimes, and it will be noisy often. It is a very dry climate, so there is not a lot of greenery around, and some areas as a consequence can be pretty dusty/dirty looking.
Lastly, I do want to mention earthquakes. Since the quake in April of 2016, I’m often asked about that. Most of Ecuador experiences earthquakes from time to time. In general, the southern coast is less active than the northern coast, but of course it is always a possibility. I spoke to many Ecuadorians who have lived in Salinas all of their lives, and all of them told me they have never felt anything here like the April quake. We experienced a lot of shaking, but no loss of life and minimal damage. In fact, we never lost power or any other services. This is the kind of thing where everyone needs to find there own comfort level, but we lived through it, and decided to stay.
Hope you enjoyed this look at Salinas and Chipipe, please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
Next up – a look on the southern side of the peninsula at Punta Carnero.