Gateway to the Galápagos Islands, the revitalized riverfront port of Guayaquil is Ecuador's largest city — beating out its political and cultural rival, Quito — and the country's economic engine. For years, it was plagued by rampant crime, but a series of public safety campaigns and impressive urban renewal projects have cleaned up the city. Long just a necessary layover en route to the Galápagos, vibrant Guayaquil now gives travelers plenty of reasons to stick around and explore.
What We Love
Parque Seminario: This leafy 19th-century square is anchored by a monument to Simón Bolívar and faces the pretty, twin-spired Guayaquil Metropolitan Cathedral. It is also home to a curious congregation of giant green iguanas, easily spotted as they laze about.
Museo Antropológico y Arte Contemporáneo (MAAC): Dedicated to anthropology and contemporary art, this impressive museum is well worth popping into to check out Ecuadorian (and greater Latin American) art and artifacts spanning pre-Columbian to contemporary periods.
Best Known For
Malecón 2000: A pleasant place for a stroll, Guayaquil's main riverfront promenade, or malecón, is a 1.5-mile pedestrian zone along the Guayas River. It's fronted by an array of shops and al fresco eateries, cultural institutions, and an IMAX theater, as well as playgrounds, sculptures, ponds, and gardens.
Las Peñas and Cerro Santa Ana: Located at the north end of Malecón 2000 and at the foot of Cerro Santa Ana (Santa Ana Hill), the revitalized and picturesque Las Peñas neighborhood features historic cobblestone streets, colorful wooden houses, and art galleries. Cerro Santa Ana, once a seedy no-go zone, is now filled with brightly painted bars, shops, restaurants, and residences that flank the 400-plus steps leading to the viewpoint, chapel, and lighthouse at the summit.
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Who It's Best For
City Slickers: Urban explorers who enjoy a bit of off-the-beaten-path adventure will appreciate Guayaquil's vibrant culture and colorful quarters.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Expect to Be Time-Pressed: Only a handful of South American sailings actually embark from Guayaquil; it's primarily used as a jumping-off point for cruisers flying out to meet ships in the Galápagos Islands. As such, you may only have a short time to explore — make the most of it by connecting with a reputable local tour company.
Elissa Garay is a Brooklyn-based contributor to ShermansCruise who also writes for Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure.