Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, is a vibrant metropolis, a mix of commercial buildings and baronial mansions situated on the Río Guayas delta, 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Considered the country’s “Pacific Pearl,” it is Ecuador’s main port which receives tropical weather year-round. It is also Ecuador’s wealthiest city, as reflected by the gated residential suburbs found away from the downtown, funded by the port’s major national exports like coffee and bananas. Regarded as one of Ecuador’s most dangerous city for years, a commendable determination on the part of Guayaquil’s government in under the last decade has transformed the aging port, today finding it an exceptional example of positive urban renewal, including the new Metrovía, an urban transportation network, and even a reinvigorated cultural scene for theater, film and the arts.
Perhaps the city’s greatest show of change is Malecón 2000, a waterfront boardwalk spanning 1.6 miles along the river’s banks which boasts restaurants, shops, gardens and parks, a contemporary art museum and the first IMAX theater in South America.
Opposite Malecón is the Palacio Municipal, where you will find the political offices of city and provincial officials considered to be the country’s best show of neoclassical architecture.
In the northeast corner of the city center is the charming, hillside historic district Las Peñas, which is the only neighborhood to have survived the devastating fires of the 20th century. Once home to poets and artists, stroll along the cobbled streets, the many houses which have been beautifully restored in a neoclassical style and the old, untouched wooden houses in various colors, as well as art galleries. Rising just above the district is Cerro Santa Ana, where you can take the 444-step staircase to the hill’s viewpoint. There you will find a colonial-style chapel and lighthouse.
In addition, the city has lively bars, several large universities, and great sport facilities for which it is famous, including one of the world’s largest soccer stadiums. For wildlife lovers, there is Parque Seminario, also known as Iguana Park as it contains loads of them. Iguanas up to 5 feet long lounge and snack around in the decorative gardens, not far from the neo-Gothic Metropolitan Cathedral of Guayaquil. As all flights to the Galápagos Islands either make stop or begin in Guayaquil, it makes for an excellent starting point for a trip to the archipelago.
Though Guayaquil may not garner as much attention as the capital, it certainly proves a modern city with a lot to offer that deserves a closer look.