Salinas de Guaranda
Also called Salinas de Tomabelas. Famous for its brand of cheeses called Salinerito (considered the country's premium range) as well as wool spinning and dye mills Salinas de Guaranda is just 40 minutes by car from Guaranda. The area is surrounded by interesting salt formations left over from salt mining, in addition, it is also home to a major sweets industry and has beautiful walks and fishing areas along with horse riding facilities. The entry cost into Salinas is US$2.00 and US$5.00 for the various community cooperative based projects accompanied with local guides.
The province of Bolivar is around 60% Subtropical covered by western cloud forest while the lower section is more agricultural producing citrus and sugar cane.
From Guayaquil. The bus ride from Guayaquil into Guaranda is most scenic and you will often see agricultural workers hard at work tilling the fields. You can get it in Bus Station (Av de Las Américas, Guayaquil 090513), you can choose Flota Bolívar, Atenas or San Pedrito lines. Tickets cost about $5.00
From Quito. The bus ride from Quito into Guaranda is most quiet and you will often see a lot of Andean cities. You can get it in starting from Terminal Quitumbe (Av Condor Nan, Quitumbe). Bus companies Flota Bolívar, Atenas or San Pedrito heading to Guaranda will pass Salinas. Tickets cost about $5.50
From Guaranda. The easiest way to Salinas is by camionetas (shared pick-up trucks). They are run by Toursalinerito Pickup Transport Company and are stationed at Parque Echeandia (Av. General Enrique y Selva Alegre). They generally leave to Salinas every 15 minutes or when it is full. The cost per passenger is $1.00. You can also use door-to-door service by calling 0985196031. From Terminal Terrestre de Guaranda, there are two scheduled buses per day at 06:00 and 12:00 by Coop. de Transportes de 10 de Noviembre (updated August 2018).
From Ambato. Take a bus from Cuatro Esquinas, located on the road to Ambato (10 km north from Guaranda). From there, take a pickup to Salinas (20 km). A taxi costs around US$15. To go back to Guaranda take any pickup from Salinas's main plaza (all of them go to Guaranda). From San Luis de Pambil take the ocational ranchero - be warned: these trucks are scarce.
From Riobamba. Take a bus from Terminal Terrestre de Riobamba to Guaranda. Buses to Guaranda start at 07:30. Get off at Plaza Roja. From there, follow the instructions to get a caminseta from Plaza Roja.
Salinas is a small village that is easily walkable. It is located 3,550m above sea level. During the winter (December to May) there is a lot of rain. In the summer (June to November), it can get very windy.
When you arrive to the town, you will be surprised of marvelous Andean landscapes of Salinas. Also you can know a lot old factories, which were created by local people. You can choose between a chocolate factory, a cheese factory, handcrafts, and a thread factory. For more information, please go to the following websites: www.artesalinas.ec, www.tomabelas.com
FEB 2017 Get a guide (about 5 USD if three people) at the tourist office at main plaza. He will take you to visit chocolate factory, threads factory, cheese factory, the salt mines, the oils factory. Takes around 2.5 hours. All places are in short walking distance.
Salinas de Guaranda style of projects acted as a catalyst and spread to other areas during the 1980s through a group from the town who transplanted their ideas to other towns. For example near La Palma in an easterly direction a native cloud forest reserve called Bosque Peña Blanca was procured along with a 300m waterfall, which has a lodge facility with 16 bunk beds, baths and cooking facilities just an hour's walk away in Echeandía (Tel. 03-970307), along with hotels and restaurants.
Visit Samiyaku permaculture farm and tour around to see beautiful abodes made of clay and straw, get a free guided tour from the farm workers to see and learn about permaculture techniques, native Andean medicinal plants, chicken tractor, rain water harvesting etc. There is also options for voluntourism.
Also, of interest is Chimbo 25km from Guaranda which as well as producing guitars and various firework models it posses a Vatican-style square built around a church called, Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Natividad del Guayco which houses interesting pre-Spanish antiquities.
San Miguel further up the road is also worth a visit as is the old colonial town of Santiago which houses some interesting local art paintings in its church. If you continue on you'll pass San José de las Palmas to Bilován there are a set of worthwhile caves to explore called Las Guardias (west) which then leads on to a waterfall and river type beach in Balsapamba. The road then loops back to the aforementioned Babahoyo.
Hike down 3000m into the sub-tropical to the community of Chazojuan. This is an amazing 6h descend from the rim of the paramo at approx. 3700m down to the village of Chazojuan, which is part of the Salinas communities. They produce sugar cane and all kinds of tropical fruit and transport them to Salinas. You walk on the partly still used horse and mule trails through cloudforest passing by a waterfall. Ask for a local guide in the oficina de turismo as the treks are almost impossible to find on your own.
There are a few restaurants around the main plaza. Some of them are communitary run, some are not. One of the places locals opt for a filling almuerzo is Anita Lopez, set in the second floor of the building to the left of the oficina de turismo (where you'll also find a store). In the building left to it is Di Fiorentino - please avoid it: we were ripped off there ($12 for two below average almuerzos).
Great pizzas are made by local Santiago Lopez in his pizzeria "La V-Ka" which is situated just off the main plaza. Using all local ingredients, this is a great place to try the local cheeses and meats. Starting at just $4 for a generous small pizza or $2.50 for a calzone, this place is open every night from about 6.
There is a bar called "Blue Bird" which opens on Friday and Saturday nights.
Salinas is a very small town and feels very safe. You may get altitude sickness, since Salinas is about 3560masl.