A Lively, Tropical Gateway to the Galápagos – an Expert Guide to Guayaquil

Santa Ana Hill in Guayaquil, Ecuador
Santa Ana Hill in Guayaquil, Ecuador // Photo by Getty Images/Marc Po

by Chris Moss, The Telegraph, March 3, 2020

Why go?

Ecuador’s biggest city is nothing like its Andean capital, Quito. Close to the Pacific coast, Guayaquil is balmy and tropical, with iguanas roaming around the central plaza. Best known as a gateway to the Galápagos Islands, it has a friendly and vivacious vibe of its own. The last cruise major stop before Central America, it’s also an important freight hub.

Cruise port location

The city sits 45 miles inland from the ocean, on the west bank of the mainstream of the Guayas River. Cruise ships – two large vessels or more can be docked, but only 8-10 vessels arrive per season – are moored at the main commercial port and tenders or, more typically, buses transport passengers to the city centre/main boardwalk (Malecón 2000 aka Malecón Simón Bolívar) six miles to the north. Guayaquil is an embarkation/disembarkation port for cruises to/from Valparaíso (eg Silversea), west to the Galápagos Islands (eg UnCruise) and a stop on several Pacific/round-the-world routes (eg Holland America Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises) between October and March.

Can I walk to any places of interest?

There’s little of interest around the port area and walking is not recommended. The city centre is walkable but it can become hot and humid. The closest beach to Guayaquil is Playas in the small town of General Villamil, 56 miles southwest of the city centre.

Getting around

Taxes/private transfers are recommended to tour the wider city and region. Water taxis operate around the Río Guayas but are mainly for local people; some excursions – such as Bird Island – use motor boats.

What to see and do

Guayaquil has two main focal points. The Malecón 2000 (opened for the new millennium) is a riverside promenade dotted with cafés, restaurants and shops, plazas, water fountains, a vintage train and a playground. Las Peñas is well worth seeing for its colourful colonial architecture and outstanding views.

What can I do in four hours or less?

Standard city walking tours – as offered by Regent Seven Seas, among others – take in the Malecón 2000, with guides pointing out the Civic Plaza, the setting for the both Moorish Clock Tower and La Rotonda, a handsome monument commemorating the meeting of the Latin American liberators, Simon Bolívar and José de San Martín.

The Parque Seminario – usually called Parque Bolívar – is three blocks inland, in the city centre, and is famous for its many green iguanas, which wander freely and hang above pedestrian’s heads on the branches of trees. On the west side of the square is a large, white main cathedral, a neo-Gothic confection of spires, arches and tall pointy windows.

Fans of architecture should see the Barrio las Peñas, at the foot of the Santa Ana hill. Recently restored, the area’s colonial architecture is the last remnant of the city’s pre-Republican era (Guayaquil was established in the mid-1500s, but fires and demolition have wiped out most of the past). Council-sponsored paintjob schemes have somewhat manufactured the present-day quaintness, but the wooden houses, plazas and cobblestone alleyways are very photogenic. For a view of the city, hike the 444 steps to reach the hilltop fort, from which cannons were fired to protect Guayaquil from pirates – and are still fired during celebrations.

The city’s excellent Museo Antropológico y de Arte Contemporáneo (MAAC) showcases contemporary art and a good range of Incan and pre-Incan pieces. If you want a psuedo-Incaic knick knack of your own, make a stop at the Mercado Artesanal, an artisans' market that sprawls over an entire block. You'll find handicrafts, ceramics, woollens and Panama hats, which originated in Ecuador.

What can I do in eight hours or less?

Around the city are several one-stop sites for those with special interests. The city’s Parque Histórico – basically, a zoo with (educational) knobs on – has three distinct zones dedicated to flora and fauna, urban architecture and history, and the lives and rituals of rural communities.

Regent and Holland America offer their passengers a Flowers of Guayaquil tour, looking inside the workings of two farms (Ecuagenera Orchid Farm and Magic Flowers) to see how orchids (more than 4,000 are grown in the highlands) and exotic plants are grown for export.

What can I do with a bit longer?

If you’re starting/finising a cruise here, you might want to see the Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco, a tropical dry forest just west of the city, where you can take guided or self-guided walks; continue west to the Salinas beach, where you can swim, surf, do water sports, or go fishing.

Isla de los Pajaros (Bird Island) is a nice day trip from Guayaquil, travelling on a motor boat out of Puerto Morro, south of the city, through mangrove forests to an island to see frigate birds, albatross cormorants, and boobies, plus a colony of bottlenose dolphins.

Further along the Pacific coast, a half-day’s drive north of Guayaquil, is the Isla de la Plata, dubbed the Poor Man’s Galápagos, and Machalilla National Park, which protects wetlands and very rare tropical scrub.

Eat and drink

Seafood is excellent on the coast but Guayaquil’s hinterland is a key cattle-rearing region, so the meat is generally good, too. Spicy chicken, corn humitas (wraps) and rice and beans are staples of the coastal dinner table. For a smart setting, head to one of the 20-odd restaurants at Plaza Lagos, which are set amid palm trees and fountains; across the Río Daule, it’s a 20-minute cab ride from the centre.

Don’t leave the city without...

A Panama Hat – they actually originated in Ecuador (the best come from Montecristi) and while popular with rural Ecuadoreans for centuries they gained global attention in 1906 when President Theodore Roosevelt was photographed wearing one at the construction site of the Panama Canal. Other good buys are embroidered blouses, patterned cotton pants, jewellery made from native seeds and hand-woven baskets.

Need to know

Safety

Guayaquil can be sketchy after dark. The FCO reports that mugging and pickpocketing are quite common, and notes: “In Guayaquil, be particularly careful in Urdesa, Kennedy, Alborada, and the Malecón Simón Bolívar districts (including Cerro Santa Ana) and the bus terminal.”

Best time to go

Cruises operate in the southern summer, docking from October through April. Guayaquil is home to an important carnival – dates vary year to year.

Closures

Museums close Mondays, most shops on Sundays.

 

This article was written by Chris Moss from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

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