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.
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
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
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.
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 PenasLas 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.