Living in Salinas, Ecuador

Is it Miami, Fla., or Salinas, Ecuador? Only your wallet knows for sure.

Dateline: Salinas, Ecuador

The votes are in! Ecuador is the expat retirement “flavor of the year.” Hearing the news, the trendy will flock to Cuenca.

Those who prefer the beach environment might choose Salinas. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Miami Beach, Salinas draws expats looking for an affordable alternative to Florida, USA.

In fact, in 2013, Kiplinger, which ranked Salinas as one of 8 Great Places to Retire Abroad, described it as “Miami living without Miami prices.”

Notice, however, that the word “retirement” often appears in articles about Ecuador. Keep this in mind if your interests lie in investment and business development.

About Salinas, Ecuador

Salinas, Ecuador sits within the Santa Elena Province, about 90 minutes from the Guayaquil International Airport.

The area, known as “Puntilla de Santa Elena,” comprises three large cities: Salinas, La Libertad and Santa Elena. Boasting plenty of daylight, its average temperature ranges from 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

People come to Salinas for its 340 days of sunshine, for its year-round low humidity, its affordable housing and its easy access to affordable medical care. The expat community is smaller than what you might find in Cuenca, but it’s a close-knit group of people who support each other and meet on a regular basis.

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Things to do in Salinas

Unlike Cuenca, Salinas is not a haven for cultural mavens, foodies or fashionistas. Water sports are the name of the game.

Salinas served as the host site of the 2009 Quicksilver ISA World Junior Championships. As such, the beach establishments pay special attention to everything a surfer needs.

Many surfers flock to La Chocolatera. Since it’s a naval-base territory, you’ll need permission to enter, but it’s almost always granted.

Other outdoor activities include sport fishing, whale watching and bird watching.

Hector G. Quintana of Escape Artist notes that Salinas, Ecuador has a decent tennis court facility, but describes its golf course as “Playing 9-holes of a sand trap.” This might be a major drawback for the retirement crowd.

The local mall has a movie theater. Half the screens feature movies in English, with Spanish subtitles.

The other half has Spanish dubbed English-language films, with English subtitles.

While there’s some trendy nightlife during high season, Salinas disappoints those in search of 24-hour excitement.

Then, there’s the perennial beach town problem: It’s called the low season!

Is Salinas a seasonal destination?

The City of Salinas, Ecuador has a steady year-round population of about 50,000 inhabitants. Another 30,000 live in the rural area.

An estimated 350 to 500 expats from the USA, Canada, Asia and Europe make up its non-Ecuadorian population.

Given its status as one of Ecuador’s top beach and surfing resorts, the population of Salinas increases 50 to 100 percent during high season.

From a business perspective, one can do well in the high season.

During the off-season, not so much. Businesses that appeal to the US expat crowd can potentially survive year-round.

For example, Texas transplants Gary and Katherine Kelly own Smokin’ BBQ. As its name implies, it serves juicy ribs, gumbo, sausage, corn bread and all of those high cholesterol meals that make people homesick for the good old US of A.

Another expat has had great success with Sin Lounge and Bar. During high season, it’s a lively discotheque. When the crowds go home, it’s the local hangout, “where everyone knows your name.” Many expats hold parties and special events at Sin.

Despite these specialty restaurants, many locals bemoan the lack of off-season activities and conveniences. Others are shocked when they discover that Ecuador is not the Caribbean. While it might not snow during winter, it does get chilly, rainy and overcast.

Salinas detractors

People either love Salinas or they hate it. Jasmine Stephenson, blogger for Jasmine Wanders, belongs to the latter group. Calling Salinas a claustrophobic nightmare, she describes its beaches:

“The first stretch is covered in tiny broken shells, suitable for masochists and avid sea shell collectors. Where the shards give way to a tolerable surface, families occupy every single grain of sand. To walk from the sidewalk to the ocean, you have to bob and weave in a zig-zag fashion in a way Floridian kids are taught to escape an alligator.”

Adding insult to injury, super-sized inflatable advertisements are “a thing” on the beaches of Salinas. Coca Cola has an inflatable ad that floats in the water. For children who think that building sand castles and playing in the waves is boring, Energizer Batteries has an inflatable slide, and a local ice-cream company has an inflatable kiddie playground.

Income disparity

High rise condos dot the Salinas beach front, called the Malecon. Walk a few blocks from the beach, and the neighborhood changes.

This was a deal-breaker for the folks at Discover Ecuador: “Some people may not mind living in a high-rise condo and then walking one block back from their condo to the local grocery store (only one in the area) and seeing garbage all over the streets and poverty all around you.

“The locals can be sitting in their home with no running water or electricity and see the condos on the Malecon. It just doesn’t feel right for us.”

Meanwhile, Quintana warns that “Salinas has been the undisputed premiere resort community for the Ecuadorean elite and middle-class for decades, but “it seems that this positive designation has led to a bit of resting on its laurels, or, at least reputation.”

He blames the past three “non-progressive, non-visionary” mayors of Salinas, who saw their position as the “keepers of the status quo.”

High-speed Internet in Salinas

Internet access is available throughout most of Ecuador, including Salinas.

The availability of high-speed Internet depends on your definition of “high-speed.” What’s acceptable for occasional Facebook posts and emails might be unacceptable for digital nomads working on tight deadlines.

Some expats describe Salinas as having the “outer limits” of what is acceptable connectivity.

The city has a selection of Internet providers, whose performance ranges from pretty good to pretty terrible.

However, the availability of fiber optic cable Internet is a game changer. The initial connection costs $200, and monthly fees start at $150.

Is Salinas, Ecuador right for you? Visit and spend some time before making your decision.

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Lisa Mercer

Lisa Mercer is Nomad Capitalist's contributor on living in South America. As a long-time expat, Lisa has lived in Ecuador and Uruguay and spent substantial time in almost all parts of South America as a perpetual traveler.
Lisa Mercer
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