We now journeyed to Salinas de Guaranda, a fascinating, entrepreneurial village high up in the Andes Mountains. The town had their own communal cheese and chocolate factories, which were both delicious! Plus we visited other sites in the town.
After leaving Baños en route to Salinas de Guaranda , we skirted the north and western side of Chimborazo Volcano, the tallest point in Ecuador.
The town of Salinas de Guaranda is sometimes confused with a bigger city named Salinas on the coast. The small town is on the western edge of the Andes mountains, near Chimborazo volcano.
There are maybe 2000 residents in this small village at 11,650 feet above sea level. It is famous for being a model of economic solidarity. I learned about it in my Ecuadorian culture class as being an example of community-run sustainable tourism.
History of this small town
In the 1970s, the town of Salinas was even smaller. People lived in small huts with thatched roofs, and they made their living extracting salt from the deposits in the mountainside.
The name Salinas means “place with salt (sal)” in Spanish. People have harvested salt here for hundreds of years.
In 1971, a Catholic priest of the Salesian order named Father Antonio Polo came to Salinas. His efforts and vision along with the hard work of the residents of Salinas and many volunteers through the years have combined to create almost 100 businesses in this town.
When we first arrived to town, we climbed up to a cross and overlook of the town. The views were fantastic. Salinas sure has changed in the 40 years that the picture above was taken.
Behind the town, you can go rock climbing and rappelling on these cliffs.
We didn’t take advantage of the outdoor activities in Salinas. We were all really feeling the high elevation. Ali unfortunately got a bit of altitude sickness, so we limited our stay to one night.
Guided Tour of Salinas
On our second day in Salinas, we hired a local guide to give us a tour of the factories and some of the many businesses in Salinas. He explained their model of Economic Solidarity, how everyone in town benefits from the profits made from the local businesses and that profits are reinvested in the town and businesses.
Our first stop was the cheese factory. Salinerito brand cheese is sold all over the country. They make all kinds… queso fresco, andino, tilst, dambo, raquelet (3 which I’ve yet to try), gruyere, and gouda in addition to yogurts and butter. We have discovered our new favorite cheese here in Ecuador, their queso andino (Andean cheese). We buy it at our local grocery store and at the Salinerito store in Cuenca. The Cuenca store is on Av. Remigio Crespo two blocks from Av. Solano, if you happen to be looking for it.
The cheese production started here thanks to a volunteer from Switzerland. He trained locals how to make different kinds of cheese from the huge quantity of milk produced in the area. Apparently, he returns from time to time for more training and to teach the locals how to make more kinds of cheese.
This particular building is new since they outgrew their last facility. Guess what shape the building is?
We visited the factory first thing in the morning. How impressive! Every morning after milking their cows, local farmers load up the fresh milk to take to the cheese factory.
It arrives atop donkeys, horses, llamas, and trucks.
The milk is weighed and checked for bacteria before it is used to make cheese. There is a also an area where the milk containers are cleaned and sanitized before they are used for the next day’s milk.
We toured the inside of the factory and learned more about the process of the cheese production. And of course we bought a snack for later.
Our next stop was the chocolate factory. Salinerito chocolates are also sold all around the country. The milk used for the chocolate comes from nearby producers, but the cacao beans come from other areas of Ecuador. The high plains of Ecuador don’t have the weather for growing cacao.
Then we visited the place where they sell essential oils and teas made here in town.
Later, we stopped by someone’s shop where they make soccer balls.
From my understanding, volunteers come from all over the world and spend a year or more here. They create economic development projects in Salinas, and if they are viable, locals then take the business over.
Of course we also visited the salt mines of Salinas. Only one family still harvests the salt from this mine.
We passed by the last remaining thatched hut in Salinas, which is also where they do one part of the salt processing.
Our last stop on the tour was the wool factory. They buy raw sheep and llama wool from nearby provinces and spin it into skeins that are then sold all over the country.
The women in town also run a cooperative where they sell all kinds of goods that they weave from the wool. Here’s Serena sporting her new handmade wool sweater and her hiking “badge” necklace. The astute readers will notice this picture was actually taken later when we were back in Cuenca.
In addition to the sweater, cheese, and chocolate, we brought back so many fun memories from our tour of Salinas de Guaranda.
After our visit to Salinas, we took a bus back to Guaranda and then on to Riobamba. We spent the night in Riobamba and then took the 6 hour bus ride back to Cuenca where we relaxed for the last couple of days of Nancy and Tom’s visit.