Malecón Simon Bolivar
This is the most attractive place to walk in Guayaquil, a wide waterfront park running alongside the River Guayas for 2km. It was extensively updated for the new millennium and features restaurants, shops, monuments and great views. In the south the old market was prefabricated by Eiffel and inaugurated in 1907. You then pass the exclusive Club de la Union and a statue of the poet, Jose Joaquin de Olmedo who is cast in bronze, seated, surrounded by water.
Under the ramp at the end of the Bahia Malecon mall you can find a pier with access to the Morgan pirate ship, which takes you on a day or night cruise of the river and has a bar. You can also see the clock tower; the clock was bought from England in the 19th century and housed in various locations and structures until the construction of this “Moorish” tower in the early 20th century. From the foot of the tower you have a good view attractive municipal and government palaces. A little bridge leads over the water and enables you to look into the Naval Yacht Club. There is often a naval ship moored here; free tours are given by the helpful sailors.
This is the central part of the malecón and it opens up to become a wide space, with towers you can climb up, steps to sit and watch the river and in the middle, La Rotonda, a statue to mark the meeting between Simon Bolivar and General San Martin in 1822. They look either constipated or displeased to see each other. Flags from all the nations which gained independence from Spain flap above their heads. If you stand at one end of the semi circle and whisper, your voice will travel round the marble surface and can be heard on the other side.
You can exit here onto 9 de Octubre boulevard or follow the malecón. A little further north you can walk through some beautiful gardens which end at a long pool, home to a few well-fed ducks and another café-restaurant. Underneath the walkway there is a car park and a pier from where boats depart for Isla Santay and Isla Puná. Further on is a large round building - the IMAX cinema, and beyond this a cultural centre with a bookshop, library, arts cinema and the interesting MAAC museum of anthropology and contemporary art.
At the north end of the malecón is Cerro Santa Ana, site of the first residential neighbourhood of Guayaquil, called Las Peñas. By the 1990s it had become a poor, rundown area of ramshackle structures. Then it was regenerated at the time of the millennium. Now you can walk up a set of steps past cafes, bars, art galleries and many people trying to sell a few things from the front of their house. At the top of the stairs there is a lighthouse which you can climb up to the platform to enjoy the ultimate view of the river and surrounding city and also a charming little chapel.
Numa Pompillo Lloma street runs around the bottom of the hill. Along this cobbled street you can admire the best examples of wooden buildings whose facades have been largely restored with timber frame windows, balconies and bright colours. Hanging baskets sway above the narrow pavement.
At the end street a ramp leads down to Puerto Santa Ana. This used to be the site of the Pilsener brewery and was granted to the city by the company when they moved. Several buildings have been converted and others constructed to create a mix of apartments, offices, museums and an extension of the public space with a walkway along the river.
Malecon del Salado
This riverside park runs from the state university, passing attractive gardens, crossing the 9 de Octubre boulevard via a footbridge continuing south past mangroves and monuments to Guayaquileño literary greats to arrive at a food court where you sit at a pool of wooden tables while four restaurants vie for your custom. This is a great place to come and eat seafood or just drink at night. There is a play area for kids. Unfortunately there is also karaoke at weekends.
On the other side of the estuary is the Ferroviária district (many years ago the train used to run from here to the Santa Elena peninsula). You can follow the waterfront on this side to the next bridge which is designed to look like a sail and illuminated in garish colours at night. There is a nice bar and a great park for kids in this sector.
In 2011 a new water attraction opened on the Estero Salado. A line of fountains shoot water high into the air. The fountain operates from Tuesday to Thursday at 12pm and Friday to Saturday from 12pm through the afternoon. In the week they turn the lights on from 7pm to 9pm. At weekends you get the full show at 7pm – a 30 minute show with lasers and classical music. You can see photos on my blog.
You can also walk along a few different walkways and tree-lined paths further along the Estero Salado in both directions
For me, the most attractive church is Santo Domingo, close to Santa Ana hill. As the name suggests, it was founded by the Dominicans in 1548 although the original church was sacked and burned by pirates in 1624. It was rebuilt in wood and then again in concrete in 1938. It has a classical style and an elegant interior which is gradually being painted and restored.
Other churches worth visiting are San Francisco, which has a restored colonial interior, and La Merced. Both are very central.
The cathedral was also originally wooden but the current classical Gothic building was started in 1924 and finished in the fifties. You can enter during the morning by a door at the side if it is closed at the front.
In front of the cathedral is a park, named Parque Seminario but also known as Parque Bolívar, for its statue of El Libertador on horseback, or Parque de las Iguanas because it is teeming with tame iguanas which hang out on the grass or up the trees (look carefully, you will be amazed by how many you can find). There are also some turtles in the pool and some squirrels, who don’t get on too well with the iguanas. This park is a favourite of old men who sit and chat or read the newspaper. Occasionally a brass band plays on the bandstand.
Half way up the 9 de Octubre boulevard is the Parque Centenario. This is large with nice trees and some grass which no-one can sit on. There are quite a few benches but they fill up. In the centre is a monument to the men who fought for independence (it was erected in 1920 to mark the centenary of Guayaquil’s declaration of independence, hence the name of the park).
The best is the Contemporary Art and Anthropology Museum (MAAC), which is located at the north end of the north end of the Malecón Simon Bolivar and has access to a huge archive of archaeological pieces. It has three large and attractive exhibition halls which currently show a display of Ecuadorian cultures through the ages and some temporary exhibitions.
Other worthwhile museums to consider are:
Nahim Isaías Museum
Presley Norton Museum
El Museo del Bombero (Firefighter’s Museum) – see my blog entry.
The Parque Histórico is a taxi ride from the centre and it’s a great place to escape the hustle and bustle (just ignore those planes overhead). You follow a boardwalk past enclosures where you can see various birds and animals as well as the natural mangrove forest. The trail emerges onto a cobbled street where several wooden buildings have been rescued from the city centre and restored. It is an ongoing process but you can now wander round quite a few. It is possible to get lunch or just a drink in the café 1900 on the corner. The lemonade is freshly squeezed and delicious. Finally in the traditions section you can visit a recreated peasant’s house and a hacienda to get a taste of rural life in the lowlands. The park is open from Wednesday to Sunday and costs $3 for adults, $1.50 for children.
The two major professional teams in Guayaquil are Barcelona and Emelec. Both have a proud history which is lucky because they have been struggling for a number of years. Barcelona have a huge stadium, the Monumental. Emelec play in the Capwell which has the classic four stands close to the pitch. It’s worth going to the Clásico del Astillero (Shipyard Classic) between the two teams, when you can expect either stadium to be full. If you want to play then you’ll find most people get together and pay for an hour or two on an artificial pitch as there aren’t many grass parks.
Horse racing takes place every weekend at the Hipódromo Buijo in Samborondon.
There are two golf courses, both some distance out of the city. Guayaquil Country Club is on the Vía Daule road, at km.22. La Costa Country Club is on the vía a la Costa at km 33 ½. There is also a public access driving range and a pitch and putt course, appropriately named Driving Range. It is located in the area of Samborondón. See my blog entry.
There is an Olympic sized swimming pool tellingly known as the Piscina Olimpica behind the Hotel Oro Verde. Several hotels have pools. In Alborada you can swim at at open air Piscina Jorge Delgado. They take things quite seriously and would like you to wear a hat and skin hugging shorts for men. That said there’s never many people and they’ll usually let you in anyway. It costs $2.50 and is open until 9pm.
This is a favourite weekend activity among many Guayaquil men who congregate at open air courts in neighbourhoods around the city. They usually play 3 v 3. To get a game choose a group who aren’t taking it too seriously (tricky) and ingratiate yourself.
Apart from the malecon, Guayaquil’s pride and joy are its air conditioned malls. Now even the working classes can get a taste of Miami on their doorstep. The malls are nice places to escape the heat or just soak up a bit of comfort and modernity. You won’t find many others in Ecuador outside of Quito. The best are San Marino and Mall del Sol which are both in the north of the city. Many designer names have branches in the malls but don’t expect to find any bargain – they haven’t matched Miami for prices.
Many major stores also have branches in the city centre. They vie for space with smaller, independent shops which tend to congregate in groups. The main handicraft market, where you can find a range of paintings, “panama” hats, wooden carvings, tapestries and clothes is on Loja and Baquerizo Moreno streets,, a few blocks west of the IMAX cinema on the malecón. It’s safe to walk here, just take normal precautions. A smaller market is located at the southern end of the malecón.
Prices are similar to other places around the country, so if you aren’t going to an area which specialises in what you want (Montecristi or Cuenca for a hat, Otavalo for a weaving) it might be just as easy to buy it here. If you want something with a parrot or iguana on it this is definitely the place.
Adjacent to the southern end of the malecón, a huge market is spread across a maze of alleys and streets. Most things here are either Chinese or a pirate copy, or fell off the back of the lorry. You might be able to get things slightly cheaper than the malls but not incredibly cheap. Plus you might get very stressed while looking. However if you want a cheap top to go out and dance, or a fake football shirt, then this is definitely the place.
ACTIVITIES AROUND GUAYAQUIL
There are also a number of activities you can do around Guayaquil although you´ll need some form of private transport to get to these places:
This is a protected forest adjacent to the Holcim cement plant on the road out of the city towards the coast. It costs $4 to enter and then you can do a very short self-guided walk or follow some longer and more interesting guided walks. Take insect repellent.
More or less opposite Cerro Blanco is the community of Puerto Hondo. It used to be a port. Now you can organize a canoe ride through the mangroves with a guide from the local community. Read my blog entry for more information about this trip.
Parque del Lago
Just past the toll booth at Chongon is a recreational area next to a reservoir with some benches and grass to sit and have a picnic. It´s possible to ride a bike or play with a frisbee or walk around the edge of the lake.
Santiago de Guayaquil was founded in 1535 and was an important port for the Spanish. It was attacked by English pirates during the 16th and 17th centuries and decimated by a series of fires which continued to ravage the city up to the beginning of the last century. It is not a great surprise to find that nothing of the original colonial settlement remains, indeed it is quite impressive that there is a settlement at all, a testament to the resilience of past inhabitants.
Guayquileños don’t expect much from their mayors given that the majority have delivered nothing. Therefore they are incredibly grateful to the last two for regenerating several malecones (waterfronts) and the Las Penas/ Santa Ana area. A new convention centre, airport terminal and bus station have greatly improved the leisure options for both residents and visitors. Numerous streets have received a flat pavement and a central lane of trees, improving their aspect and accessibility greatly. Although there’s a lot more to do, there’s something to be impressed by.
All domestic and international flights leave from the Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport in the north of Guayaquil. More information on the airport on the getting to Ecuador page.
The old bus station was extensively refurbished and re-opened in 2008 as the Terminal Terrestre Jaime Roldós complete with a shopping centre and your usual Ecuadorian mall fast food options in the food court. The ticket desks of the bus companies are laid out in a long line down the length of the building. Shouts of “Riobamba” seem to predominate, even when you are not actually in the Central Andes zone.
When you buy your ticket it includes a small tax but as everything is clean (including the toilets), efficient, and safe this seems justifiable. Arrivals drop you on the ground floor and you must go up to the first floor to take buses anywhere in Guayas province or the second floor for international and national departures. Make sure you ask your andana (number of the bay your bus leaves from) at the ticket office.
On the second (top) floor there is a left luggage office – it is called Guardaequipajes and is open from 8am to 8pm. It costs $4 to leave a big bag for up to 12 hours and $6 for up to 24 hours.
To get from the bus station into the city you have a few options. The easiest is to take a yellow taxi which hover near the exit. It should cost $3 to get into the centre.
You can catch a bus from Guayaquil to just about any town in the country without changing.
WHERE TO STAY
There are many top hotels in Guayaquil offering comfortable accommodation and tasty cuisine. They cater for a lot of business travelers so often offer well-priced weekend rates which visitors can take advantage of. The best hotel is probably the Hilton Colón. A Sheraton is nearby and handy for the airport. In the centre the Oro Verde, Hampton Inn and Continental are other good options.
There are also some decent mid-range ´boutique´ hotels such as Mansión del Río in Las Peñas and Manso on the Malecón Simón Bolívar. A cheaper option in the north of the city is Hostal Macaw.
In recent years several hostels have opened to cater for budget travelers. These include Nuca Pacha which is close to bars and shops in Urdesa and Iguanazu which has a great garden with a pool. You can also sleep in a cheaper shared room in Manso. Finally there is a new hotel called 9 de Octubre (on the boulevard of the same name naturally) which is a bargain but doesn´t accept reservations. It is next to KFC and opposite the Supercines building. Get in early.
You can find specific details about where to stay in Guayaquil in the accommodation listing section.
WHERE TO EAT
There are a huge number of restaurants to choose from in Guayaquil and quite a varied selection of food. It is possible to pay a lot but it is much more common to find a very cheap menu, especially at lunchtime.
There aren´t really many great places to eat in the centre. There are a few Spanish restaurants near the cathedral which open in the evening. The best options are probably the hotels. The Oro Verde has several different restaurants. The Continental has a good breakfast buffet and is open for lunch and dinner.
Elsewhere, in Urdesa along the main street (Estrada) you can find Chinese food, sushi, Mexican, Peruvian, Italian (La Riviera) and steakhouses including Parrillada del Ñato as well as Lo Nuestro which is a lovely restaurant specializing in local food.
There are some good restaurants in the little ´piazzas´ that line the main strip in the Entre Ríos area (also known as Samborondón).
In the centre there are many little vegetarian eateries that do decent set lunches although they often rely on soya as a meat “substitute”. You can find a couple of popular ones near the San Augustín church just off Avenida Quito.
You can find specific details about where to eat in Guayaquil in the restaurant listing section.
The majority of bars and discos are located in several areas in the city:
1 La Zona Rosa, a few blocks west of the malecón between the centre and Las Peñas, where there are also some bars.
2 Within commercial piazzas in Entre Ríos / Samborondon
3. Along the Malecón Salado.