Sun, Sand and Good Living in Ecuador’s Top Beach Town

Outside the window of the condo I was renting, two huge pelicans sat nodding in the sun. Or so it seemed. Because in an instant, and in perfect synchronicity, they leapt from their perch, pulled in their wings, and dove headfirst to the emerald water below.

No small feat since we were 20 floors up.

Hmm, I wondered, what’s for dinner? Because, as the pelicans know, these waters are rich with a choice of seafood or every kind.

$2 or $3 at a local restaurant will buy a healthy portion of fresh ceviche or grilled shrimp or fish. It’s hard to go hungry here.

I had arrived in Salinas, arguably Ecuador’s best-known beach resort town, on the Sunday of a holiday weekend. And while there were still plenty of people enjoying the pretty beach, it wasn’t the throngs you can expect during holidays such as Semana Santa (the week before Easter), Christmas, New Year, and Carnaval.

Ecuadorians are a very social lot and on those occasions, I’m told, you won’t be able to find a sliver of sand to stake a claim nor will you be able to drive along the malecon road, it will be so jam-packed with beach-goers. But on this day, the level of activity was just about perfect…a steady hum of friendly energy.

The social scene, as well as its near-perfect weather (daytime temperatures average 75 to 85 degrees year-round) have enticed a good number of expats to live in Salinas and in the adjacent Chipipe Beach and the nearby communities of La Libertad, Ballenitas, Santa Elena, Punta Carnero, and so on. It doesn’t hurt that the cost of living is low overall (a couple can live on as little as $1,500 a month).

Real estate prices are low, too. You can buy a new two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo with ocean views in Santa Elena for as little as $77,000. And that’s in a complex with a pool, gym, and more—and with direct access to the beach. (You can rent in this same complex for $650 to $900 a month.) On the Salinas malecon, a three-bedroom, two-bathroom condo with wall-to-wall windows and amazing views can be had for $155,000. And here’s a tip: go one block back from the beach and prices drop dramatically.

Expats I chatted with tell me they’re loving life here and that the expat community is actively involved in many charitable and community betterment activities.

Two that I met had even managed to bring a little bit of America to Ecuador. A couple of transplanted Texans, Gary and Kathryn Kelly, have opened a real Texas barbecue restaurant front and center on the malecon at Calle 24 de Mayo. Called Smokin’, it’s the place to go in Salinas to get American favorites: pulled pork sandwiches, hamburgers, barbecued ribs, and steaks cut U.S.-style (like rib eyes)… and coleslaw, baked beans and hand-cut fries…

And not just that. With Gary manning the smoker, Kathryn bakes delicious cinnamon rolls, cheesecake, cobbler, chocolate cake, carrot cake, sourdough bread, and more. (Hell if you’re on a diet and pure heaven if you’re not. But who comes to Ecuador to diet?)

Smokin’ is attracting a serious fan club, and not just gringos. The Kellys are going all out to make sure Ecuadorians enjoy Smokin’, too. During the last Ecuadorian futbol (that’s soccer to us) game, they had a standing-room-only crowd of locals, buying food and drinks. (You’ll find your favorite American sports on the big screen here, too. And on occasion there is live music or other fun events.)

Despite the lead of the pelicans and the plethora of seafood in Salinas, this taste of home was something this Nebraska girl just couldn’t pass up. And I can’t wait to get back for more…

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