As well as the gateway to the Galapagos Islands, Guayaquil is also a vibrant city that more than rewards visitors who stay a while. It was once a small coastal village whose name came from a mythological love story between the tribal chief "Guayas" and his wife "Quil", but when the Spanish arrived in 1538 they gave it the rather grand title of **Muy Noble y Muy Ciudad de Santiago de Guayaquil. For three hundred years the city's history was turbulent, with English and French pirate attacks occurring frequently. Then, in October 1820 a group of civilians and local soldiers rose up and overthrew the Spanish authorities, declaring independence. Today Guayaquil is the commercial heart and main seaport of Ecuador and a place with a warm welcome for visitors.
Recent years have seen a massive investment in the infrastructure and attractions of Guayaquil. Parks and squares have been revitalised, the riverfront has been given a facelift and the nightlife and cultural scene are definitely buzzing. The city skyline is a mix of modern buildings and sprawling, colourful homes, but it's the new riverfront area that's fast becoming the social hub of the city. This is overlooked by the pretty district of Las Peñas with its historic buildings while Avenida 9 de Octubre is the place to go for shopping, restaurants and cafés. Attractions abound in the city from museums and restored colonial buildings to tropical gardens and covered markets while on the doorstep are natural parks covering mangrove swamps and long stretches of glorious coastline.
Holidays and festivals in Ecuador and Guayaquil focus strongly on the Catholic religious calendar and the years of Spanish colonisation, but many of these have been blended with indigenous traditions of myth and folklore from centuries past. Other important public holidays commemorate the country's hard battle to win independence from Spain and are celebrated with typical Latin-American exuberance. As the locals take their celebrations so seriously expect many of the shops and services in Guayaquil to be closed on these days. This doesn't matter though, simply go with the flow and join in with the colourful fun.
Things to Do
The historic heart and riverside areas of Guayaquil are easy and safe to explore and with the modern rapid bus transit system, the rest of the city is never more than a few minutes away. The perfect place to start your visit is at Malecón 2000, a gem in the urban-renewal programmes of not just the country but South America itself. Playgrounds, ponds, gardens and sculptures make up a park area that spreads alongside the River Guayas. Enjoy a coffee and a spot of people watching here during the day and return for the lively party atmosphere at sunset and beyond.
Top of the museum choices
The MAAC or Museum of Anthropology and Contemporary Art is as extensive in its collections as its name suggests. Housed in a stunning modern building, the museum displays permanent exhibits of pre-Colombian pieces and changing exhibitions of contemporary Ecuadorean art as well as hosting plays, films and concerts.
From tropical trees to chocolate bars
The Parque Histórico has something for everyone from animal and history lovers to chocoholics. The small zoo sits alongside old country haciendas that have been saved and rebuilt in the park, while the lush gardens are full of tropical fruits as well as coffee, cocoa and sugar plants. The perfect place to find out how your favourite chocolate bar started its life!
Dance the night away
It's impossible to come to Guayaquil and not dip at least a toe into its nightlife. La Zona Rosa, Kennedy North and the Samborondón districts are where the locals go of an evening. An eclectic choice of restaurants along with nightclubs, bars and discos give you plenty of entertainment to choose from.
A shopaholic's delight with an artisanal flavour
The colourful and lively Mercado Artesanal is definitely the place to buy your holiday souvenirs and gifts to take back home. Good buys are alpaca products, leather goods, semi-precious beads and souvenir T-shirts, but don't forget to practise your bartering skills.
Get up close to nature in the fabulous Galapagos Islands
Guayaquil is probably best known as the gateway to the Galapagos Islands. Making a day trip to them introduces you to their natural and human history as well as providing fantastic photo opportunities and letting you get up close to penguins and sea lions.
Calendar of Events
Parades, dancing in the street and defiantly loud music are all part and parcel of Guayaquil when it's party time. Energy is provided with vast helpings of food including fresh fish, seafood and local delicacies all washed down with aguardiente, the country's famous sugarcane spirit. Sip it sparingly; as the name suggests, it's surprisingly strong!
Paseo del Niño Children's Parade. Christmas is special in the city and on December 25th children dress up as characters from the Nativity and parade through the streets carrying statues of baby Jesus. Over the Christmas period, these statues have an honoured place in their homes.
New Year's Eve. Aim to spend New Year's Eve in the 6 de Marzo area of town. The street is lined with cleverly made Años Viejos or papier-maché figures that range in size from the tiny to the gigantic and resemble film and cartoon characters or satirical recreations of political figures in the news.
Carnival. Carnival in Guayaquil marks the start of Lent, with enough food and drink consumed during the week to keep everyone going during the fasting that leads up to Easter. Throwing water balloons is a carnival tradition so be prepared to get wet!
Guayaquil Independence Day. Held on October 9th every year, this important day celebrates the city's independence from Spanish rule in 1820, an event that paved the way for the whole country's break from Spain two years later. The day is marked with military and carnival-style parades.