Guayaquil – Ecuador’s largest city is hot and humid.
The sprawling city boasts a tropical, savanna climate. I have always visited during the first half of the year, when afternoon rain is common and daytime highs approach the mid-30’s (90’s f). Much hotter when humidity is factored in.
Guayaquil has long had a reputation as a distinctly unsafe city. Yet in recent years it has cleaned up it’s long waterfront and is now genuinely worth visiting for at least a couple of days.
The locals are extremely friendly and fun, the food is fresh and the environment appealing – as long as one has access to a pool and a cold beer!
The city is located on the west bank of the massive, tidal Guayas river (from which the province derives its name) and the greater population is creeping up towards 4 million people.
Much of the economy remains informal, but the city serves as Ecuador’s largest port and became rich by exporting bananas and cacao. Guayaquil was regularly looted by British and French pirates, yet historically the greatest risk to longevity was malaria and yellow fever – a principal reason why the capitals such as Quito and Bogotá are located so high up in the mountains.
Nevertheless, Guayaquil is historically important and was famously the meeting point between Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin in 1822, where the two generals finalized the de-colonization of South America. I’m already planning a trip in October 2020 to celebrate the city’s 200 years of independence. I have no doubt the Guayaqueños will put on quite a party.
The city’s ethnic mix is wonderfully representative of Ecuador. People of indigenous heritage make up a substantial portion of the population and those from the highlands still wear the traditional clothes one expects more in Quito or Cuenca.
There is also an important Afro-Ecuadorian population and many more people of mixed heritage, or other ethnic groups – typical of a port city. Everyone is universally friendly and as the waterfront (Malecón) has become the centre of most social activity, Guayaquil’s mosaic is always on parade.
During the last 20 years, local and national governments have united to finance the redevelopment of the waterfront. Malecón 2000 has proven a wonderful success. Appealing walkways, shops, parks, boat trips – even amusement rides, have brought life to a once derelict port. Security is ubiquitous and the lack of graffiti is refreshing. The new food halls are deliciously excellent!
To the Northeast is Barrio de las Peñas – this historic neighbourhood was once decrepit and crime ridden, yet its architecture harkens back 400 years. With vision and respect (so I am told), title was given to the locals and the area cleaned up. It is now a centre of art and morning exercise! We love to run up the 400+ steps to the lighthouse – but never in the midday heat.
Many of the important historic buildings in the city centre have also been restored and the economy seems to be growing.
Guayaquil’s clean and modern airport and central bus station are located minutes from the city centre and taxi’s are affordable and everywhere (always good to negotiate a price in advance – $5 max from the either).
Visiting the city
Obviously Guayaquil did not earn its rather negative reputation by accident. Since my first visit in 2013, I feel much safer walking the city now than even 5 years ago.
Tourism – when done properly – provides a language of development and urban renewal. Much as Barrio 13 in Medellín has transformed from the most dangerous place in the Americas to one of Colombia’s top tourist attractions, Guayaquil has breathed life into it’s historic Bohemian district. I enjoy it as a tourist and locals now have a lovely, cultural environment and much more security.
To that end, I am happy to promote and celebrate coastal Ecuador.
I was recently in Guayaquil with a tour group, almost totally by accident – see the tour blog here. Flying back from Galapagos we were delayed by several hours but I was happy to show off this fine city. Now with my family, we decided to escape April’s rain in the mountains and enjoy a few hot days.
Every visit to Guayaquil must include a visit to the Iguana Park (or Seminary Park) and (I suppose) the cathedral across the street. A city park full of Iguanas is reason enough to visit any city! If one is into ornate Catholic architecture and particularly gory images of Christ, the Basilica is your place…
Watch your belongings when walking the many public markets, but don’t be afraid to explore. Once at the waterfront, the area is gated and very safe. Locals outnumber visitors by at least 20-1, they are friendly and welcoming. Coastal Ecuadorians are known to be outgoing and lively.
Two full days exploring the Malecon and city centre is well worth the effort. The new food halls are outstanding – best empanadas so far ($1.30 each). Of course in terms of food, Ecuador’s coast is a seafood paradise and a major shrimping region. I love the shrimp ceviche!
There are many green areas around Guayaquil – and it is only 4 hours up to Cuenca in the highlands. Naturally from the city one travels west to the beaches.
Salinas is a developed resort area about 2 hours from the city (other beaches are closer). We are always inclined to travel further up the coast to beautiful surfing beaches and funky, hippie towns such as Montanita.
*For what it is worth, from Guayaquil traveling north up the coast one can find almost all the same bird and marine life that one discovers on the Galapagos, (and at a fraction of the cost).
One day, should I live in Ecuador (at least part time), I will continue to promote Guayaquil as a hot city getaway. Now back in the rainy highlands, I am missing the tropics …