The Vía a la Costa is a dual carriageway running between Guayaquil and Salinas , connecting with the Ruta del Sol and to all places in the Santa Elena peninsula . It was completed in late 2006 but due to third world quality tarmac it is already deteriorating. There are also lots of transit cops with speed cameras which is probably a good thing as there are too many dangerous bends and ancient, pedestrian pick-ups hanging out in the outside lane to be able to go over the limit of 100km/h. In the beach season there will also be lots of powerful SUVs racing to Salinas, weaving from lane to lane. Along the way there are some interesting places to stop but not much to see from the road.
Buses leave from the terminal in Guayaquil and follow the perimetral (ring road), circumnavigating the north of the city before heading west. This can be a tortuous experience which adds an unnecessary hour to your journey time, as the bus stops repeatedly to let passengers on, or if there are no passengers waiting, to hang around in a lay by until some appear. Then there always seems to be a stop to negotiate with a transit cop in relation to some minor infraction.
The positives of getting on at the terminal is you are guaranteed a seat and you get to see the poorer, sprawling residential zones to the north of the city where much of the population live and which can otherwise pass you by completely. In many cases people living here have arrived from other parts of the country, invading the land and building up their basic breeze block one storey house, which always has a TV well before it sees any plaster.
However at quieter times (weekdays outside rush hour periods and Sundays) you should consider catching a taxi or city bus to Puerto Azul. This is a large residential development on the Via a la Costa. You can wait on the opposite side and hail a passing bus. From here on they don’t hang about and you can be in Playas in 30 minutes or Salinas in an hour.
As you leave the city behind you will see many new residential developments, mostly on the south side of the road. Many people are choosing to live here for the security (guards bar access to each estate), space (each plot has a garden), facilities (a central leisure area with football pitch and maybe swimming pool and tennis courts) and easy access to get to the beach, despite being totally isolated from other services and communities.
On the north side of the road there are a few small settlements before you pass a long entrance which leads to the cement works. You can see the hillside which has been carved away and transplanted into the concrete jungle that is Guayaquil. The company has sought to balance the degradation by setting aside an area of land as protected forest. This is named Cerro Blanco.
Two kilometres further on, the entrance to Puerto Hondo is on the south side of the road. Adjacent to the road is a parade of units all selling much the same types of fried snacks – plantain with huge lumps of cheese, or humitas.
Continuing west the road passes the settlement of Chongón. Red buses travel between here and the city centre – an option if you want to avoid the bus station. Vehicles then pass through a toll booth (25c for cars). 300m on a turning to the right leads to El Parque del Lago. The highway now winds past haciendas and a landscape dotted with trees and bushes and getting ever drier.
Buses call into the little village of Cerecita, although the main highway bypasses it. Side roads lead off to semi-interesting oasis’ as well as reservoirs and shrimp farms, but are not well signed. Almost everyone just ploughs on until they reach a long, flat straight where a sign by a petrol station inexplicably orders you to slow down to 50 km /h. About 2km on you reach a speed bump and a roundabout. The highway heads straight on towards Salinas. A road to the south leads through Progreso to Playas. If you’re travelling from Playas to continue further along the Ruta del Sol you can change buses here.
From here the road is pretty straight and boring. You pass a few little villages. You can stop off to eat in a restaurant called El Chivo Erotico (erotic goat) near the village of Buenos Aires. Turn-offs lead to the archaeological site at Chanduy, the furniture making village of Atahualpa, the ghost town of Ancon, the thermal baths at San Vicente and the Ruta del Sol until finally you reach the town of Santa Elena. This runs into La Libertad which runs into Salinas . If you’re taking a bus up the Ruta del Sol the quickest solution is to jump off in Santa Elena (tell the ticket collector and he will help you) and wait at a junction for the frequent passing buses).