Guayaquil is the biggest city in Ecuador. It’s a major port and commercial centre. It’s busy, it’s hot, in fact sometimes you feel that all the movements going to spark off some self-combustion.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people arrive and hate it. A lot of tourists write it off and don’t give it a chance. So why should you visit Guayaquil?
Firstly, the people are warm and friendly to visitors. From your taxi driver to the man on the street, they will all want to ask you if you like Guayaquil and Ecuador and tell you what food you should eat. Which brings us to food; around the city you can find quality international restaurants and also hundreds of places serving delicious, cheap local dishes with fish, seafood, chicken and almost always rice.
There are some attractive sights, the best of which is the Malecón Simón Bolívar, a 2km stretch of waterfront in the city centre adjacent to the wide River Guayas has been turned into an attractive and colourful place to walk, with monuments, benches, gardens and of course water. At the north end you can walk up through a neighbourhood of colourfully painted houses to a lighthouse with great views at the top.
Another positive is the nightlife. There’s no need to stay in your hotel room here. If you want to eat a proper meal at midnight in Guayaquil you can find somewhere. The shopping malls are open until 9pm and the cinemas inside them until much later. There are several zones with bars, either to sit down for a quiet drink outside or to enter into a loud, lively space where the dance floor is heaving even before the drinks have been poured. There are also lots of discos which play a mix of pop, rock, house, techno, salsa, meringue and reggaetón until the early morning. There are also regular jazz and classical music concerts at several venues in the city.
And don’t bother to bring your coat. For nine months of the year you can guarantee it won’t rain in Guayaquil, and it will always be pleasantly warm at night (albeit swelteringly hot at midday when the sun is out). Even from January to March you simply have to be aware of the potential for an enormous storm and have an exit strategy and an umbrella.
Guayaquil has good infrastructure to help tourists. The airport is conveniently located and has a very modern and efficient terminal. Likewise the bus station, from where you can travel to almost any place in Ecuador as well as to Perú. Taxis are inexpensive and can usually find a way to get to your destination quickly however much traffic there is one the road. A new mass transit bus system is also expanding. There are a number of fine hotels catering for visitors who come on business or simply to enjoy the city as well as some attractive hostels.
Finally there are enough activities in and near to the city to keep you thoroughly entertained for a few days, after which you can depart for the Galápagos, the beaches, the highlands, or home with equal ease.
I’ve written in detail about all the sights and activities on the Guayaquil Info page. However as I live in Guayaquil, I feel I can give you a bit more insight into what is great about this city for me and how you can experience life here beyond the normal tourist experience.
The main thing is that people are happy, and a good way to see this is by observing how people go about being happy. Maybe some of their spirit will rub off on you. You can/ should only go to the richest/poorest areas with someone who invites you, so let’s stick to the middle class areas. Areas where I consider you could walk around fairly safely in the day (or at night once you know what you’re doing) are Urdesa (start from anywhere along Calle Victor Emilio Estrada) Alborada (start from the church) or Garzota (start from the Electricity building). All these areas are in the north of the city.
Urdesa has nicer shops and nicer houses which are more likely to be shut up like fortresses. Alborada and Garzota have more people and are comprised of large blocks called etapas where you can follow the maze of alleys and cul de sacs, hearing music, people sat outside their houses chatting, kids playing in little parks and guys on bikes selling gas and ice cream (not the same guys). You probably need to havea bit more of a purpose than just walking aimlessly so here are some ideas:
Get your laundry done
People in laundries are some of the friendliest I know and incredibly patient and tolerant of foreigners. I especially recommend the Jirex laundry behind the Alborada church.
Go out to eat rice and beans
Preferably not on your own because you’ll stick out as a loser. Try and find some locals who can take you to a residential area where a family are churning out delicious platters with a choice of chicken, pork chop or beef fillet cooked on a BBQ in the patio of what was once and maybe still is a home. (Vegetarians will have to go for a corn on the cob).
Have a beer (or a soft drink) outside a convenience shop
It’ll probably have grates to deter criminals but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be robbed. The owner/employee will be happy to lean on the grate and chat, and if not him all the other locals will want to get to know you.
Buy something obscure from a shop
Shopkeepers love finding what you need and if they don’t have it, they’ll know who might do and by the time you find that place you’ll know the city a lot better. It doesn’t really matter what you look for - a missing button, a new zip for your bag, a notebook that doesn’t have lines.
Teach a conversation class in a high school
Unlike in more developed countries, in Ecuador you can still wander into a public high school, at least if you’re a gringo. Hopefully there are no nutters reading this. Anyway, I don’t mean there’s no control on the entrance, I mean you don’t have to show you’ve got no criminal record to help some kids who want to chat to you in English for an hour. You can arrange this yourself but if you’re interested in the idea, email me and I can help you organize it.
Go for a run
Not only do you keep the thieves away, it’s a great way to see life going or in areas that don’t have sights and might not sustain your interest so long if you’re walking.
Take local buses
Essential to understand the local character and rhythm of life – the noise, the music, the Virgin Mary, the buskers and beggars, the guys selling 5c sweets or a cup of orangeade, the art of getting off. The nagging feeling that this might be your last journey anywhere as the driver lurches across lanes. It’s all part of the Guayaquil bus experience.
Guayaquil is also about heat, urban sprawl, the rich hiding in lush gated communities, the middle classes hiding behind window grates and railings, mainly venturing to the mall or to their favourite local restaurant to eat broasted chicken or rice and beans, the poor doing the same but without the railings, less meals out and more fear of robberies or child snatching. But if you only focus on the negative aspects (and sometimes I do) you’re going to miss out on something special