Friends and family are sometimes surprised to hear me say it, but the truth is that life in Salinas on the Pacific coast of southern Ecuador is not for everyone. “Aren’t you happy there?” they ask. Yes, my wife and I have lived right on the Salinas malecón (boardwalk) for three years this January, and we love it more than ever. But that doesn’t mean we are wearing blinders—or even rose colored glasses. So in the interest of full disclosure, let’s take a look at some of the things you need to deal with to live in this place we are happy to call home.
1. It can get Noisy
Ecuadorians love to celebrate life. This is one of the things that make them such wonderful people to get to know. However, when they choose to celebrate life at 3 a.m. with karaoke or fireworks, it can be less charming. Loud car alarms at random intervals are also a way of life—so much so, that locals call the car alarm the “Ecuadorian Lullaby.”
2. It can get Crowded
Salinas is a resort community, and one of the most popular destinations for Ecuadorians to vacation. Add to that North Americans fleeing winter, and you get high-season weekends with large crowds on the beach and malecón. Throw in a festival like Carnival or New Year’s, and crowds can swell to three times or more the normal population of the peninsula. This can make simple things like going to the grocery store a major effort, and some visitors are not too concerned about where they throw their trash.
3. It can get Hot
This is not as regular a problem as you might think, because the Humboldt Current is the biggest factor in our weather, giving us cool breezes even on the hottest summer days. We generally only have a few days each summer that get into the 90s, and humidity is usually not a problem, but you will have some days where you definitely appreciate air conditioning. Even if it is not hot, like everywhere else in Ecuador, you have to respect the sun this close to the equator.
4. It Hardly Ever Rains
I know, this sounds like a good thing, and for the most part it is. But the fact is, the Santa Elena peninsula is technically a desert. We get less than five inches of rain a year, about the same as Las Vegas. While that is great for outdoor activities, it also means that there is only greenery where someone is watering plants regularly. So if you were looking for a lush, tropical setting, you will not find that in Salinas.
5. Don’t Drink the Water
Another problem with living in a desert region is that our water is piped in from a lake outside of Guayaquil. There are no local water treatment facilities. This means buildings have cisterns, and their water is delivered via trucks. While Ecuadorians seem to be fine with this system, most expats are not able to handle the local microbes and amoebas. The safest thing to do is use tap water for washing and bathing only, and bottled water for drinking and cooking. It is also a good idea to avoid ice in your drinks, unless you know the restaurant uses pure ice.
6. It is Expensive
Well, expensive for Ecuador. Ecuador’s coast is still one of the least expensive places in the world if you want to live on the ocean. But compared to the interior of the country, we pay more to purchase or rent a home in Salinas than the average prices in Ecuador. Also, always remember that Salinas is a resort. That means some of the restaurants are geared toward collecting tourist dollars, with some charging higher prices just because of their view. During high season, even cab drivers start charging a little more, because they know the tourists will pay. We get great bargains on seafood of course, but since most produce is trucked in from miles away, we tend to pay more at the local mercados.
So there you have it, a half dozen reasons why Salinas might not be right for you. My wife and I are happy with our choice, but we have made adjustments. The truth is, there really is no “perfect” place for everyone, and it is always a compromise between pluses and minuses. For us, the pluses greatly outweigh the minuses.
We really don’t notice the noise or crowds most of the time anymore, and between low season and weekdays, more than half of the year it isn’t a big issue. We like the warm weather, using our air conditioning about seven months of the year, and keep windows open to the breezes the other five months. When we need a “green fix,” we can always travel up the coast or into the Andes, and as for the water—in our home town in the U.S, the water pipes were put in place about the time of the civil war—so we were used bottled water there, anyway.
Rita and I have been lucky enough to be able to travel and explore this beautiful country, and we’ve seen a lot of places that we really admire. There is a lot to choose from, whether you like cities or villages, mountains or beaches, or anything in between. So while I do admit freely that Salinas is not for everyone, I also have to confess that it’s just right for us.
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