Guayaquil is located in the south of Ecuador and has the second busiest airport, with the only port for the Galapagos Islands (which everyone dreams of visiting) and the main stop for travelers, which beautifully lies between Ecuador and Peru. It is about 4 hours by minivan from the border with Peru to Guayaquil and costs $12.5USD. For this reason, Guayaquil is often the place where travelers stay in Ecuador. It is also 3 and a half hours to Cuenca and approx. 7hrs to Quito by bus overnight. Guayaquil has developed incredibly in the last 10 years. They have built very creative buildings (physically stunning), a giant Ferris wheel called “La Perla” literally on the river Guayas, opened many stylish entertainment venues, including the recently renovated railway line, and offer several new travel plans, all in such a short time for which, Guayaquil is the most known and loved for today. From what I can see they are about to open a cable car connecting many parts of the city and the views will be amazing, cheap and a faster form to visit different parts of the city as the traffic here can be quite hectic and take time.
The Simon Bolivar promenade, is a waterfront which stretches along the banks of the Guayas River. This promenade houses the La Rotonda monument (where there is a statue of Simon Bolivar and José de San Martin having a conversation, which apparently took place there during the war of Independence, see pic above). Towards the northern parts of the city, there is Las Pena’s, a neighborhood that is packed with brightly coloured buildings.
Leading up towards the Santa Ana hill are numbered stairs (about 400) that are spotted with art galleries as well as cafes. On top of the hill, there is a Chapel. It also hosts a lighthouse and offers amazing views of the city.
I would recommend going here at night time for 2 reasons, the first, is that the city especially at Christmas time, which is when I wrote this article, is lit up beautifully, regardless the view of the city at night is very beautiful. Secondly, Guayaquil can be very hot and tiring, so at night time, it gets a bit windy and is great relief from the sun and heat. You will see many locals sitting outside their houses or businesses with fellow neighbours playing bingo or board games and bonding together.
A brief history of Guayaquil
Officially known as Santiago de Guayaquil, it is the second largest city in Ecuador. Guayaquil is also home to the main port of Ecuador. The city was founded by Francisco Orellana, a Spanish conqueror on July 25, 1538. During the colonial dominance of Spain, Guayaquil was used as the primary shipyard for the Spaniards in the Pacific. Due to its proximity and conducive access to the Pacific Ocean, Guayaquil was used as a shipyard for berthing and later evolved into a port. A lot of international exports and imports are passed through the Gulf of Guayaquil with numerous industries situated either within the city or in the outskirts.
The official food of Guayaquil
If I am honest I do not like the food very much. You get next to nothing on the plate and it is quite basic. I live in Peru, which has one of the best gastronomy in the world, and I also studied with a chef 1 on 1 for 4 months daily and I am disappointed with Guayaquil being so close to Peru, that there standard is very low. However, typical dishes are ceviche and encebollado. Ceviche in Peru is very different as the fish is raw and then marinated in lemon. In Ecuador, they cook the fish first, so not sure what to think about that. Encebollado is a type of fish soup with yam puree and a lot of onion, hence Encebollado, cebolla being onion. The locals seem to love it, but it is not my cup of tea.
For breakfast, Bolon de Verde and Patacones, which is fried plantain plus cheese which have been mashed up to produce a round shape, are a big staple. Pan de yuca is an important snack of choice for numerous inhabitants of Guayaquil. Primarily, the local dish is largely affected by Guayaquil’s largely diverse ethnic groups that typically includes Spanish, Italian as well as West African influences.
The tourist attractions of Guayaquil
As mentioned above La Perla! “The Pearl,” as it means in English, was finished in 2015, turning out to be what is touted as the best Ferris wheel in South America. La Perla is 57m (187 feet) high, with a beautiful view of some of the city and river Guayas! Which is enough for you to get a pretty view of the town. It only costs $3.50USD to go up and takes 12mins to do a full loop. I have a drone and wanted to take some stunning pics but from what I can see, the airplanes go directly over that part of the city and it is prohibited, the pics would have been amazing.
Pirate boat and cycling to an island
There is a “Pirate” type ship than offers an hour-long tour along the River Guayas for $7USD. So, if you like boats and rivers and that, go for it. Right over the waterway from the traffic and blaring horns on the bustling lanes of Guayaquil, there lies a serene island that feels universes from the city’s urban spread. It makes for a dramatic departure into nature and that too, so near the city. There is a bridge that links the city and the island, you can either go on foot or rent a bike, we rented a bike for $4USD for 3 hours and had lunch over there too. The island looks like a jungle and has a crocodile sanctuary with 10 crocs, most are about 3m long and eat only once a week, so don’t jump or fall in lol there is no access for cars to the island.
Guayaquil has several attractions and important locations which visitors can enjoy and look out for. The Malecon is a project which seeks to restore the historical Simon Bolivar Pier. It is being redeveloped to be an amazing city centre. The Malecon 2000 is largely a mixture of green areas for lounging, picnicking as well as relaxing. Visitors can also shop at several amazing malls located along the Malecon 2000.
El Barrio las Peñas
As mentioned above Las Peñas is typically a neighbourhood with the best of Ecuadorian art. Numerous buildings of about 400 years old have all been turned into art galleries. Not surprisingly, it is the location of the studios of various artists. Have a beer on the way up to the lighthouse and a chat with the locals who are very friendly people.
Shopping at the Mercado Artesanal
Visitors can shop at the Mercado Artesanal or get some services done while there. El Mercado Artesanal is the biggest market of artisans in Guayaquil. Taking up the full block, the market is comprised of 240 shops all in one building. So, if you are a fan or not, it is worth a look and buying something typical of Guayaquil and Ecuador in general. Most people who visit the city go to have a look.
Visiting the Parque Centenario
The Parque Centenario or the Centenary Park, can be found on the 9th of October Avenue in the city. It is located between Pedro Moncayo and Lorenzo de Garaycoa. It is the biggest park located in the centre of the city, as it takes up four city blocks. Here visitors can appreciate lots of attractive features and especially a Statue of Liberty that stands prominently in the middle of the park. A local told me this place at night is a “red zone”, which In Guayaquil means dangerous, so best to go during the day.
See live Iguanas at the Parque Seminario
The Parque Seminario can also be called the Iguana Park or the Las Iguanas. It houses a fairly large number of Iguanas. Some of these iguanas can be up to 5 feet long. Visitors, locals and tourists seldom feed mango slices to these iguanas. Apart from the iguanas, a horse like statue depicting Simon Bolivar stands out within the central part of the park. The park is officially called the Simon Bolivar Park, but since it houses so many iguanas, people call it el parquet de las iguanas. I was there myself in the morning and the iguanas go to the toilet while lounging up in the trees, be careful as from a distance I could seem pee and other substances coming from the tree lol This park is more central to many of the best hotels and a few blocks from the promenade.
Shop and eat in Urdesa
Urdesa is another spot Guayaquil shopping and dining. With numerous restaurants and stores, visitors have several alternatives as to where they can shop and dine. The best way to get here is by taxi and costs about $4USD, you can get a taxi from the city centre and tell them you want to go to a specific shopping centre or get Uber or InDriver, both are available if you have an account handy. One of the shopping centres I would recommend is called San Marino.
Visiting the Ecuadorian forest reserves
Among the things which visitors can do in Guayaquil, is to visit any one of its numerous forest reserves. Among these forest reserves are popular ones like the Cerro Blanco Forest, which is located close to Parque Lago and has a big lake for practicing Kayaking. Cerro Colorado is another forest reserve and has a botanical garden. There are the Samanes, forest reserve, the Cerro Paraiso forest reserve, the Palo Santo, which is a small park, as well as Bosqueira, Prosperina and Papagayo that are all located at the city’s outskirts.