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Most travellers to Ecuador pass through Guayaquil. If you want to go to Galapagos, this is where flights come from. If you come from Peru, it is a convenient stop to break up what would otherwise be an endless bus ride.
So if you have to come here anyway, why not turn this into a sightseeing stop?
With its colonial buildings, the Malecon, the hillside neighbourhoods and a mangrove island just off its coast, Guayaquil is a great place for tourists. There are plenty of things to do in Ecuador’s biggest city. If you are wondering what you shouldn’t miss, here are five of Guayaquil’s highlights:
#1 Enjoy the view from Santa Ana
Located on top of a hill, the neighbourhood of Santa Ana is the one place you should not miss in Guayaquil. If you have limited time, make sure to at least come here.
Santa Ana was named by a Spanish treasure hunter who climbed the hill and planted a cross on top of it, dedicated to Santa Ana. Up here, you will find colourful houses, cafes, the remains of a fort from the 17th century and a lighthouse. It is completely free to climb to the top of the lighthouse and from there, you have a great view of the city.
I hope the weather is better for you than it was for me, but even on a rainy day, I enjoyed looking over the river, downtown and the neighbouring hill with its colourful houses. You will also find a reconstructed pirate ship up here which houses a bar. It wasn’t open when I came here, but if you go in there, let me know what it’s like.
After climbing back down, you could check out the area of Santa Ana’s old port. Here, you can find three museums as well as a couple of cafes and restaurants. Most places here are very fancy, so we didn’t stop here, but I imagine this could be a nice place to go out in the evening.
30min – 1h
#2 Stroll along the Malecon 2000
The Malecon 2000 is one of Guayaquil’s most frequently visited places. It is a pedestrian walkway along the Guayas River with a length of around 2,5km. It is here that you can find the Guayaquil sign that I used up there in my header and it is also here that you can find shops, a cinema (the first IMAX cinema of its kind in South America), a Ferris wheel and boats leaving for river tours.
While the park was a popular meeting point a hundred years ago, it eventually fell into disrepair and became known as an unsafe place, where prostitutes and drug dealers met. Fortunately, a restoration project brought it back to life (and reconstructed the parts that had by then fallen into the river) and these days, it is perfectly safe to walk along here and enjoy the view. You can also find cafes and restaurants along the Malecon, in case you need a break from sightseeing.
30min – 1h
#3 Hit the art galleries in Las Peñas
I am usually not a fan of recommendations that include art galleries and I never thought I would make one myself. But the art galleries in Las Peñas are well worth a visit if only for the beautiful buildings they are located in. This neighbourhood, located just below Santa Ana, is the city’s oldest, so this is where Guayaquil started. Until 1650, the city only had two streets. One of them was the Malecon, the other one was the street going through Las Peñas. It was only in the second half of the century that three more streets were constructed and the city started growing.
These days, you can find cafes and those art galleries I mentioned in old, restored houses. The gallery we went to did not just have nice paintings, it also had wide-open windows with a great view of the river. We even discovered giant iguanas on a nearby tree when looking out of those windows.
30min – 1h
#4 Walk amongst mangroves on Santay Island
If you want to escape the city for a while, go to Santay Island. This island is home to mangroves, a variety of birds, thousands of crabs that try to scuttle away from you during low tide and even some crocodiles. In theory, you could also spot boas, racoons, anteaters and other mammals. While we neither found crocodiles nor anteaters, we had a good time walking over the boardwalks, taking pictures of the mangrove forest and watching bright blue butterflies.
There used to be a bridge connecting downtown Guayaquil with Santay Island. Unfortunately, it collapsed at the end of 2017 so until its reconstruction, you need to take the bridge at the northern tip of the island or a boat. Negotiate hard when asking for a taxi driver to take you there and don’t worry about your way back. Taxis pass by often, you will have no trouble finding one over there.
Also, don’t come too late in the afternoon. The island is way larger than it appears. Make sure you have good walking shoes so you can explore as much as possible. The boardwalks are even, but walking for several hours in horrible shoes gets uncomfortable quickly.
2 – 5h
#5 Search for giant iguanas
Guayaquil is known for its large iguanas. The animals can reach up to 1m in length. A good place to spot them is the Parque de las Iguanas in the city centre. Unfortunately, when we came by, it was raining heavily and instead of iguanas we only fund a group of tourists hiding under umbrellas.
We got a chance to see the iguanas later when visiting the art galleries in Las Peñas. From one of the windows there, we saw a tree with at least ten iguanas sitting on its branches. There were probably way more, at least two or three times as many as we saw, hiding in between the trees. These animals are masters of camouflage and can be very hard to spot.
Just make sure to keep your eyes open while walking through Guayaquil!
depends on your animal-spotting skills
Have you ever been to Guayaquil? Or are you planning on going? I would love to hear what you did and what you enjoyed. Also, if you have any updated information on tourist attractions in Guayaquil or suggestions for new ones to add, please let me know in the comments below.
From Guayaquil, it is very easy to hop on a plane and fly to Galapagos. Check out our guide on how not to break your budget there while still having amazing wildlife encounters. It also includes links on things to do on the three main islands that I recommend you to visit.
If you prefer to stay on dry land, I have written an overview of the top things to do in Ecuador and the food you shouldn’t miss. Also, you will most likely go to Quito, right? So take a look at what to do there.
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