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Playas: The Closest Beach to Guayaquil

On weekends and holidays, Guayaquileños (Guayaquil natives) flock to the beach at Playas General Villamil, known as simply Playas. Located 97km (60 miles) south of Guayaquil, this laid-back fishing village has taken its popularity with a sense of indifference, and the town lacks the feel of full-on beach destinations such as Salinas or Atacames. It also lacks the stylish and varied lodging options you can find in those resort towns. The beach itself is long and wide, with a gentle curve and hard-packed, light-colored sand. Still, on weekends and holidays, this place is packed, and the restaurants and bars that line the seafront Malecón bustle and buzz. The beach is popular with surfers, who come for the long line of beach breaks.

Artisans in Playas still produce ancient-style balsa fishing rafts, as well as finely crafted balsa surfboards. The unique fishing rafts are usually made by joining together three long balsa logs, and then fitting them with a triangular sail. Some of the best balsa surfboards in the world are produced here by El Gringo Andres (balsaflite@hotmail.com), a transplanted Californian.

Good lodging options are limited in Playas. The best hotels in town are the beachfront Hostería Bellavista (tel. 04/2760-600; www.hosteriabellavista.net), located toward the quieter eastern end of town; and the Hotel Arena Caliente (tel. 04/2395-566; www.hotel-arenacaliente.com), which is 1 block inland, but near the center of the action. Both of these hotels have air-conditioned rooms and swimming pools -- two very important perks here.

Playas is easily reached by heading out of Guayaquil on the coastal highway and taking the well-marked turnoff for General Villamil. Buses leave Guayaquil's main terminal for Playas roughly every 15 to 20 minutes from 6am to 8pm, with less frequent departures during the hours on either end of that time frame. Cooperativa Villamil (tel. 04/2140-879) is the main operator running this route. The ride takes about 1 1/2 hours, and the fare is around $2 (£1.35).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.