Located just south of Volcano Chimborazo, Salinas de Guaranda is definitely worth a visit. I’ve been hearing about this place for the past three years and FINALLY made my way down from Quito to spend a couple of nights…
The trip from Quito took approximately 6 hours by bus to Guaranda + another 30 minutes in a shared camioneta winding up, up, up into Salinas
The “de Guaranda” part of the name is simply to differentiate this Salinas from the one on the coast
The elevation here is 11,600ft. Be prepared for cold…especially at night
This began as a salt mining town but has since developed into a town of co-ops…story to follow…
If you were to flashback to Salinas de Guaranda in the 1960s, you would witness an entirely different town. Back then, the best hope of making a bit of money was to work as a salt miner filtering salt from hillside deposits by running water down the hill for many hours each day then taking another couple of hours to cook out the water and dry out the salt. This tiny town was just like hundreds of other tiny towns in the Sierra region at the time: impoverished with no easy access to medical care, schools, etc. And then a gentelman from Italy came to stay…Father Antonio Polo quickly got to work organizing folks and helped create a community co-operative inspiring enterprise and entrepreneurship. With both banking and production co-operatives, Salinas de Guaranda went about opening their very first factory: CHEESE! Using milk delivered fresh daily from surrounding communities (usually by llama or donkey) and adopting Swiss methods of cheese-making, this factory was up and running in no time.
From that point, Salinas has continued to grow and now boasts factories producing such varied products as sausages, chocolate, wool, essential oils, and soccer balls just to name a few! Everyone I talked to in town was very excited and proud to tell me how wonderful their community is and how well the co-operative system is working for them. The co-operative community actually encompasses the areas surrounding Salinas in the canton of Guaranda. The canton spans a great range of elevations from sub-tropical to over 13,000ft so the products they have access to include coffee, sugar cane, cacao, bananas, corn, beans, potatoes, cattle, llamas, alpacas, and fresh, fresh milk. With everyone working together for shared industry and income, the sense of community and air of welcome is even stronger here than elsewhere in Ecuador. Amazing.
The brand for products coming from this community is “El Salinerito” which literally means “the little person from Salinas.” I gotta tell you…there surely wasn’t anything “little” about their spirit or hospitality!
Things to Note:
Stay: There are really only 2 hostels in town. The quality of the rooms is similar…peeling paint, cold, basic…so set your expectations accordingly. The better location and price of La Minga weigh in to give this hostal the win for our recommendation over the cooperatively owned Refugio Hotel. Neither include breakfast but the water is nice and hot! La Minga Hostal is located in the main square next to Pizzaria Casa Nostra.
Get There: Buses run sporadically throughout the day from Quito’s Quitumbe bus station in the south heading to Guaranda. From the final stop in Guaranda, you’ll need to cross the street and go uphill just a bit until you see the camionetas (truck taxis with a green stripe) heading towards Salinas. You can take a shared ride for $1 (which might involve riding in the back with 9 other folks and some grain sacks) or take a private ride for $15-20.
Do: At the tourist information office in the main square, schedule a guide the day before you plan to visit the co-operatives and ask start your tour at 8am. Afternoon mists and clouds tend to roll in dropping temperatures and sometimes bringing a cold drizzle so you’ll want to do as much touring as you can in the morning. There are also a few hikes and horseback rides you can take in the area as well as overnight trips to neighboring towns rarely visited by tourists. Make sure to climb the trail behind the essential oils factory up to the cross overlooking Salinas for some lovely views.