Travel Guide – The Best of Guayaquil

April 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

Traveling to Latin America each country has it’s own gateway or point of entry from where you begin your trip – for Peru you fly into Lima, Argentina it’s Buenos Aires, in Costa Rica it’s San Jose in Ecuador you have your choice of either Quito or Guayaquil.  

Having the option of two cities in which to arrive normally brings out the question of which city to arrive.  Quito, a beautiful city located high in the Andes is a UNESCO world heritage site, rich in culture and history.  Quito’s cobblestone streets of the old city, plazas and surrounding gilded churches make it the best preserved colonial city in Latin America, it’s easy to spend a day or two exploring the old city and getting lost in time.  However it is located at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet elevation making it less desirable for older travelers or those who suffer from heart or altitude problems.

Guayaquil by contrast is a bustling, coastal city much of its colonial history has been swept away in the many pirate attacks and fires that make up the cities colorful history.  However, in the last decade Guayaquil has undergone a metamorphosis changing it’s overall flavor from a dirty and dangerous port city to a modern city with new hotels, shopping centers, and new airport all waiting to invite foreign tourists and investors.  

Spending an extra day in Guayaquil, people want to do the “tour of Guayaquil” expecting like many Latin American countries a well defined tour of historic buildings and churches.  However in Guayaquil the best outing combines the historic Las Peñas neighborhood, the Malecon 2000 and surrounding area with a cruise on Guayas River.

Built on Santa Ana Hill Las Peñas is a colonial neighborhood, which has been built and rebuilt several times.  This brightly painted neighborhood has been home to many of Ecuador’s historic figures including presidents and poets alike. Today many of the houses have been converted to a number of small restaurants, bars, and boutiques, all which can be reached by climbing a series of steps traveling up the hillside.  Near the top you can visit the Fortín del Cerro (‘Fort of the Hill’), cannons from the fort were used to protect the city from pirates or reaching the top the lighthouse offers a phenomenal 360-degree view of the river and Guayaquil.

Lying at the base of Las Peñas in complete contrast is the Malecon 2000.  A restoration project of the Simon Bolivar Pier, the Malecon 2000 is modern in design and a popular destination for both locals and international travelers.  This 1.5 mile walk (for pedestrians only) along the Guayas River offers a variety of shopping and dinning experiences mixed together with family friendly activities including remote control boats, playgrounds, exercise areas. 

The botanical garden is home to over 320 plant species from the coast, 70 bird species and 60 butterfly species.  The flowering plants mixed with the bromeliads make this a peaceful rest stop.   The Malecon is home to Ecuador’s only IMAX theatre, and a series of Museums, statues and monuments that include the the Moorish Clock Tower, Olmedo monument and the Rotunda depicting the famous meeting between the two great liberators San Martin and Bolivar who met in Guayaquil in 1822 to discuss South America’s freedom from Spain, the Museum of Anthropology and Contemporary Art, Municipal Museum and Museo Nahim Iscias.  The Museo Nahim Iscias houses articles artifacts including gold jewelry, jugs, pottery and colonial art dating back to 4200 BC

If you continue to the end of the Malecon 2000 you will reach the Mercado Sur (the large ornate iron building was designed by Gustave Eiffel) and the artisan market with handicrafts from all over the country.

Just across the street near the middle of the Malecon you’ll find the ornate grey Palacio Municipal and just beyond the Parque Bolivar known locally as “iguana park” for the many green iguanas that can be seen in trees, on benches, in the grass and just about everywhere in the park.  Flanking Bolivar Park is the restored Cathedral, which reflects both the colonial and ethnic influences of the country.

 With all this history and shopping around my favorite activity in Guayaquil departs from Malecon 2000.  Named for a character from Guayaquil’s past the Captain Morgan departs from the middle of the Malecon and takes guests on an hour long cruise along the Guayas River in a “pirate boat”. The cruise provides the traditional view, how visitors have first seen Guayaquil for centuries via the Guayas River.  The views from the river pass the Malecon, Las Peñas and Santa Ana continuing up the river you may pass fishermen in long thin boats while heads of river lettuce bobbing along in the current.  Cruising past the neighboring towns you can catch a glimpse of life outside the big city.  If you plan your trip for 6pm you can watch as day gives way to night and the lights of the city guide your way back.  The Captain Morgan plays music along the way and offers drinks and snacks– at late night atmosphere changes becoming a more festive party cruise.

Guayaquil’s restoration efforts are impressive and the overall change in the city of the last decade has created a lovely and welcoming city worthy of spending an extra day exploring the mix of traditional and modern that give Guayaquil a flavor of its own.

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