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Guayaquil, Ecuador

Things to Do and See while on a South American or Galapagos Cruise


Guayaquil is Ecuador's largest city, and is found on the South Coast of the country. This city of over 2 million residents is also Ecuador's most important port and is located on the Guayas River.

The city's name is familiar to travelers as the gateway to the Galapagos since most of the flights to the islands either originate or stopover in Guayaquil, which is only two hours away and has the closest international airport. In addition, cruise ships sailing along the western coast of South America often include Guayaquil as a port of call. Cruise lines operating world-wide like Crystal, Oceania, Ponant, Princess, and Regent Seven Seas all have included Guayaquil as a port of call in the past or have cruises currently scheduled to stopover in the city.

Those curious about city names might be interested to know how Guayaquil got its name. Guayas was a famous Puna Indian chief who fought against both the Incas and the Spanish. He reportedly killed his wife Quill and himself rather than be taken captive by the Spanish Conquistadors. The province and river bear his name, and Guayaquil, the capital of the Guayas Province, is a combination of Guayas and Quill.

I passed through the Guayaquil Airport on the way to a memorable Galapagos cruise on the Quasar Expeditions' Evolution small expedition yacht, and then spent the night in Guayaquil at the pleasant downtown Hampton Inn on the way home. I was a little surprised by the things to do and see in Guayaquil, some of which are described below by the area where they are located. To learn more about travel to Ecuador, check out the Ecuador & Galapagos Ministry of Tourism.

Malecon 2000

Guayaquil Clock Tower on the Malecon 2000
Guayaquil Clock Tower on the Malecon 2000 (c) Linda Garrison
Malecon 2000 is Guayaquil's boardwalk along the Guayas River. The wide walkway stretches about 1.5 miles along the river and has been significantly renovated over the past several years. The Malecon is one of the most visited places in the city, and it features several museums, an IMAX theater, and planetarium. The Museum of Anthropology and Contemporary Art and Marine and Naval Museum Center are found on Malecon 2000.

Many people just come to Malecon 2000 to sit in the spacious, plazas, watch the many water fountains, or view the interesting monuments to the elements, the clock tower, or La Rotonda.

Parque Bolivar Area

Parque Bolivar and the Metropolitan Cathedral
Parque Bolivar and the Metropolitan Cathedral in Guayaquil (c) Linda Garrison
The Parque Bolivar is found in downtown Guayaquil and many people call it the "iguanas park" for the many land iguanas who live there. This park is small but has nice ornamental plants and lovely trees. The park is worth a visit just to see the iguanas, even for those who have been to the Galapagos.

Across the street from the park is the Metropolitan Cathedral. A church has been on this site since 1547, but the current cathedral was completed in 1948. The cathedral has some beautiful stained glass windows inside.

The Municipal Museum and library are a block from Parque Bolivar. This museum has many archaeological artifacts from the Inca and pre-Inca periods, and also includes some pieces from Ecuador's oldest civilization, the Valdivia. One popular exhibit in the museum is the collection of shrunken heads from the Jivaros. This Amazon tribe beheaded their victims, shrunk their heads down to doll-size, and kept them as trophies. It sounds macabre, and the details of their process are lost.

Guayaquil Historical Park

Hospice of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the Guayaquil Historical Park
Guayaquil Historical Park (c) Linda Garrison
The 20-acre Guayaquil Historical Park opened in about 1999, and is found on the east side of the Daule River. It's a nice day trip for both adults and children. The park is divided into three distinct zones--wildlife, urban architecture, and traditional. The 20-acre Guayaquil Historical Park opened in about 1999, and is found on the east side of the Daule River. It's a nice day trip for both adults and children. The park is divided into three distinct zones--wildlife, urban architecture, and traditional.

The Wildlife Zone is a zoo of four different Ecuadorian ecosystems, with over 50 birds, mammals, and reptiles, plus many insects and plants. Visitors can see animals like tapirs and monkeys while walking on wooden walkways built over the park to protect the vegetation.

The Urban Architecture Zone contains historical buildings transported to the park from their original locations. After being re-located the buildings were reconstructed and restored.

The Traditional Zone is dedicated to the agricultural and rural lifestyle and culture of the Ecuadorian coast. Old cocoa plantation homes, tenat farmer homes on stilts, and mini-plots of crops grown in Ecuador present a nice picture of life in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Twice each day at the park are entertaining theatrical productions set in the 19th century. These are presented in Spanish, but are fun to watch, even if you don't speak Spanish. With families and groups of all ages, the people watching is fantastic.

Downtown Guayaquil

Colonial building in downtown Guayaquil
Colonial building in downtown Guayaquil (c) Linda Garrison
The downtown area of Guayaquil is a mixture of lovely old colonial buildings and utilitarian boxy structures dating back to the 1960's-1970's. I thought it was interesting to walk around, and the area has several parks and plazas other than the Parque Bolivar.

In addition to government, retail, and commercial buildings, downtown Guayaquil also has several churches and an archaeological museum dedicated to 5000 years of the development of coastal cultures in Ecuador.

Las Penas

Las Penas is the Guayaquil neighborhood located at the far northern end of Malecon 2000. The city was founded here in the 16th century, and the neighborhood stretches from the riverbank up the Santa Anna Hill to a lighthouse.

At one time, this area was unsafe, but the government has helped to renovate Las Penas and like at Malecon 2000, you will see many security guards. Today it is home to colorful residences and businesses, handicraft shops, and restaurants and bars. One narrow, winding cobbled street at the bottom of the hill, Calle Numa Pompillo, is one of the most historic (and expensive) street addresses in Guayaquil. Several past presidents and famous Ecuadorians live (or lived) in colonial-style homes on this street, and some of the old homes have been converted into expensive boutique hotels.

Those who like a challenge should climb the 444 steps up to the lighthouse. The stairway is lined with art galleries and dining/drinking establishments, so there's plenty of chances to rest on the way up. The views from the top are spectacular.

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