The Pearl of the Pacific
The largest city of Ecuador cannot be missed on anyone’s trip through this beautiful country. For us, our second base after its impressive capital, Quito; although not for a long visit but for a rather short one. Unfortunately in such trips where we travel that far, we want to include as much as possible and always end up with a huge program to fit in just a few days, still, good enough not to panic nor rushing all around, and after all, very thankful for all the places we’ve managed to put a step on. At less than 1 hour flight from Quito what could dramatically change? The weather and the height. From around 20 degrees to over 30, very humid and tropical, and no height compared to almost 3000 m above sea level where we came from. After all, the truth is that a full day in the city is generally what you need for visiting everything.
Here in Guayaquil all the tourist attractions and sights can be seen in just a day therefore no need to over estimate the time unless of course, you are using it as your base to reach the Pacific. Guayaquil is your perfect gateway to the beaches at less than 2 hours, from Playas at the south to Salinas to the north. Combining the big city with some beach and pool time is a good way to break your trip in Ecuador and enjoy laid back rest. It’s not only the coast, but also your gateway to the Galapagos Islands. All the flights in Ecuador will have a stop over via Guayaquil before continuing to the Galapagos.
As opposed to Quito, Guayaquil is a very modern city with totally different kind of sights. Here do not expect to find such a vast colonial heritage one after another, huge monasteries and richly decorated Baroque churches. Instead, a small historic district in a hill at the north by the river Guayas and surrounded by some elegant late 19th early 20th century buildings along avenues and some towers slowly popping around; with a beautifully landscaped riverside promenade, the Malecon 2000; a project of urban regeneration that has won many awards and prices and given back to the city a prestigious space regarded until the 1980’s a run-down area and one of the unsafest places to be.
The city’s fate is quite unfortunate. What could have been an unique place, so beautiful, so elegant and rare, majority of such glorious past has been destroyed either in fires, earthquakes and storms. The buildings used to be wooden constructions and as such, weak to catastrophes. You can still admire rare pieces here and there along the avenues, to the point of looking odd nowadays in between ugly-ish “newer” constructions, but gladly many more in the now well preserved Las Peñas hill, the historic original city’s settlement.
Coming to the subject on what to eat and where, this is not hard in this city, although prices can strongly vary from one neighbourhood to another. Without any doubt, along the Malecon 2000 and Las Peñas are where you should be more cautious since these are the more trendy areas and so are the higher prices. The usual rule of thumb applies, simply check few places nearby and compare, otherwise, along the parallel streets to the Malecon and Parque Seminario will be your best bet. Nevertheless, for going out and have some drinks, nothing beats the Malecon.
When coming to food, something traditional from Ecuador (and Peru) is ceviche (or cebiche or seviche). This dish is composed of small cuts seafood and fish cooked in lime juice and salt, mixed with onions, tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, and lime juice. The vegetarian variation called cevichocho is very popular in all of Ecuador, and it’s made of chocho beans, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, limes, oranges and tomato sauce generally served with maiz tostado, plantain chips, avocados and hot sauce. Some traditional dishes from Guayaquil could be arroz con menestra y carne asada (rice with lentils and grilled beef). For dessert pan de yuca (bread made of cassava starch and cheese), and for breakfast, patacones o tostones (fried plantain with cheese, then mashed and fried again to make it crunchy). Also note that along the coastal regions dishes include coconut among the ingredients (they call this dishes as “encocado”). Ecuador is not a cheap country, but the opposite, it is way above any expectation, however if you search, you will get great prices for lunch or dinner. They do serve what’s called “almuerzo”, and it’s the very same as “menu del dia” as it is known is Spain. This is a drink, starter, main course and dessert, and will cost you in the range of $2.50 and $3.00. Yes, that’s the price!
Recommending a good traditional Ecuadorian restaurant, you have Lo Nuestro in Calle Victor Emilio Estrada 903 with Calle Higueras. Although not in the city centre, but outside, it’s a short taxi ride away. Fair enough this is a middle to high range in prices, but dishes, quality and value are great. Our friends from Guayaquil took us here and we enjoyed every bit, otherwise we would have never known of this place. Try their empanadas and the fish in coconut sauce or the prawns with coconut and rice, simply delicious.
For more information about Guayaquil check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Ecuador’s currency is the United States Dollar (USD), where the country only mints its own coinage, of the same value as the USD cents. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Guayaquil
In order from north to south, and from central to the west, it is very easy to navigate through the city and visit most of the sights on foot at the exception of the Parque Historico where you will need to get a Metrovia bus as it lies farther and across the Guayas river.
- Parque Historico Built on the banks of the Guayas River from 1997 to 2006 as a historical place showcasing the history of Ecuador, it comprises original colonial buildings taken piece by piece from other locations, gardens, pier, a small zoo and museums.
- Cerro del Carmen The most famous and historic hill in the city, part of the original 15th century settlement and foundation of Guayaquil. The views from the top of the entire metropolis and the River Guayas are the best you will get.
- Las Peñas neighbourhood At the north end of the riverside promenade, side to side with Cerro del Carmen, is the oldest district of Guayaquil, home to the original settlement by the Spanish. Majority of the houses there now date from the beginning of the 1900’s since many fires have destroyed for centuries the older ones, still, the remaining old and “newer” ones are all incredible to see. In a continuous gentrification that has converted most of the historic houses into trendy bars, cafes and art galleries, notoriously along its main street Numa Pompilio Llona.
-Chapel and Lighthouse Both the higher places in Las Peñas with the best views, accessed via 444 steps.
- Malecon 2000 This is the name that receives the riverside promenade after its regeneration program from a dangerous run-down area to a very thriving and lively day and night.
-Cultural Center Libertador Simon Bolivar At the northernmost section of the Malecon, containing the modern art museum, restaurants, playgrounds, cinemas and a panoramic ferris-wheel.
-Wagon Square Towards the north of the promenade where an old Ecuatorian railway has been put in place and adapted as a pavillion for exhibitions.
-Gardens Where a wooden path has been created around to create a circuit to enjoy the different botanic species of Ecuador among fountains and lagoons.
-La Rotonda Monument In the middle section of the Malecon, commemorates the meeting of Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin that took place there.
-University of the Beaux-Arts Few meters ahead of La Rotonda, with a grand arch in its facade.
-Municipal Palace Easy to spot as the largest of all the buildings along the promenade, built in neo-classical style. The pedestrian Calle 5 divides both University and Municipal buildings as it heads towards Parque Seminario behind.
-Moorish Tower Known as Reloj Publico o Torre Moresca, was bought by the rich Spanish merchant Don Manuel Antonio Lizárraga in England, inaugurated on October 1842.
-South Market – Palacio de Cristal The southernmost end of the Malecon is this beautiful iron and glass former market hall converted into an exhibitions space. The Metrovia 1 station Plaza de la Integracion is right behind it.
- Rocafuerte Neighbourhood The central district of Guayaquil, main business and commercial area where most of the sights and main hotels are.
-Parque Seminario The main square known as Parque de las Iguanas because of the iguanas that camp free all around. Some of them are 1.5 meters long! They are harmless so don’t be afraid. Bear in mind feeding them is forbidden, but you can still buy some mango from vendors around and give to them.
-Cathedral Built in the late 19th century in neo-Gothic style, the largest church in the city.
–Simon Bolivar Monument At the centre of the square by the main front of the Cathedral.
-Parque Centenario The largest park within the city centre, crossed at its centre, marked by the Column of the Proceres, by the Boulevard 9 de Octubre.
- Malecon del Salado The next of the great promenades gained after huge investment and regeneration projects. Located at the west of the city (west of Rocafuerte), at the end of Boulevard 9 de Octubre and along the Salado River, includes bridges, landscaped paths, gardens and pavillions of great architectural design.
- Malecon de la 17 Another of the great regeneration projects, the continuation south of Malecon del Salado; providing another beautiful pathway right on top of the Salado river making forms and zig-zags with many piers linking to the neighbourhood.
-El Velero Bridge Connecting both banks of the Salado at the beginning of Malecon 17.
-Plaza de la Musica This square was designed as a giant guitar and is the centrepiece of the regeneration.
- Outside of the city Guayaquil enjoys a great location with plenty of options and countless day trips you could do, being the most popular the beaches at barely 1 hour from the city, and a mangrove tour that takes you down the Guayas river to the many small channels of the mangroves in the south.
-Salinas Probably one of the most famous Ecuadorian resorts along the Pacific coast with long sandy beaches, 130 kilometres west. Buses depart every 15 minutes from the main bus terminal and take 2 hours, costing £2.00 per way.
José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport is located in the north of the city, right in the middle of the new business district. Airports in Ecuador tend to really be inside the city centre, although due to limitations on current trends, security reasons and ever increasing traffic it has been planned for a new one to be build in the near future outside of the city limits, as it has been with the recent case in Quito as example. From the airport, a taxi to a hotel in the north area of Guayaquil is between $3 to $5 while to the south, near the central square and Malecon 2000 is around $6.
Guayaquil airport is your door to the Galapagos islands. The only direct flights from mainland Ecuador depart from here, and if you take a flight in Quito it will have a stop-over in Guayaquil to further pick-up passengers and refuelling. Prices of course are high and something you cannot avoid nor find an alternative. It’s your only option to get there.
Surprisingly, with 3.5 million inhabitants in the city limits and over 5 with its metropolitan area, there is no metro system nor commuter railways. The only public transport are buses, where Rio Daule, the main national/international bus station is just minutes away from the airport. The Metrovia bus network works as if a segregated tram network, with stops towards the centre of avenues where you pay $0.25 per ride and enter through turnstiles to the station. They are fast and reliable since they don’t depend on traffic.
Visiting the downtown and the Malecon 2000 are within a short walking distance. Majority of the sights are around this area and therefore no need for taking any bus elsewhere unless if you would like to go to Parque Historico right in between the rivers Daule and Babahayo where they become the River Guayas.
Being the largest city in the country, and motor of economy and finance the amount of hotels of any kind is quite large, and although prices are still higher than average, these are lower than in Quito. Say it this way, there is a mush better value for money in here. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms, Ebookers or TUI.
Some of the new top hotels have been built along the Guayas riverfront, specially north of Las Peñas and the Malecon 2000, with majority being around Rocafuerte. I would recommend you to stay somewhere in between these areas or nearby so you will not need to take any bus to get to downtown or to the sights.
We stayed at Hotel Oro Verde, in Boulevard 9 de Octubre, just 4 blocks away from Parque Centenario at its east, and the Malecon del Salado at its west 10 minutes walk. A great choice by all means, recently renovated it is now a 5* property. Very friendly and professional in every department and very caring for the guests. The room was great, super comfortable, large and quiet for a great rest; and the breakfast fantastic, with a great choice of everything, rotating daily. The pool although not big was great and so was the whirlpool, sauna and steam bath.