When I first arrived in Ecuador in 2001, a local friend told me that “money is made in Guayaquil and spent in Quito”: Guayaquil being the commercial center of Ecuador and Quito the country’s governmental center.
Political and economic differences aside, I’m a wholehearted fan of the city of Quito, often called “South America’s most beautiful city.” I’d argue that anyone who travels in and out of Quito without stopping for a day or two to explore its Old Town or while away a few hours at an outdoor cafe in Plaza Foch is doing themselves a disservice.
But I’d never given Guayaquil the same attention. Like many who transit through Ecuador’s largest city, I didn’t see much use for the frenzy and chaos of this bustling metropolis. I’d always viewed Guayaquil, home to one of two of Ecuador’s international airports, as a place to fly in and out of…never stopping for a second glance.
I admit it: I hadn’t given Guayaquil a fair shake…so I decided to return to take another look.
A big steamy city on the bank of the Guayas River that flows furiously westward to the Pacific Ocean, Guayaquil is home to Ecuador’s most important and busiest seaport. Every day, millions of dollars worth of inventory is pumped in and out of this port, the basis for Guayaquil’s strong economy.
Flying into Guayaquil from Quito, you can’t help but be impressed by the sprawl of the city below…and by the size of some of the homes (many with swimming pools).
A friend who’s building a home in an exclusive neighborhood called Samborondon enjoys his life there. He has instant access to every amenity he could wish for, including wonderful restaurants, upscale shopping malls, movie theaters, fitness centers, medical care, and more.
I’d planned to stay in Guayaquil proper, however, and my 15-minute taxi ride from the airport to my hotel overlooking Parque de las Iguanas cost all of $5. (And yes, the park is aptly named. Iguanas of all sizes roam freely and, it seems, love to pose for photographs.)
Just before sunset, a stroll on the malecon, the wide boardwalk that borders the river, was in order, along with a stop for a cold drink and some people-watching: lovers strolling hand-in-hand…families with little ones in strollers…business sorts on their way home from a day at the office…
As night fell, friends and I found ourselves at the north end of the malecon, at the foot of the looming Cerro Santa Ana mountain in the picturesque barrio of Las Peñas. From there, 444 steps take you straight up the hillside, past restaurants and bars, and brightly painted homes, built in the 18th and 19th centuries—thick stone walls and tile roofs, some with balconies and windows flung open, curtains billowing in the breeze.
Up, up, up we climbed, stopping every 120 steps or so for a cold Pilsener or a peek into a souvenir or art shop.
Finally at the top, beneath an imposing lighthouse and next to ancient cannons and remnants of Fort San Carlos, built in 1629 to defend the city from pirate attacks, we gazed out over the twinkling lights of the city below and agreed the hike had been worth the effort.
So I confess I may have been too hasty… If I hadn’t stopped to take a second look, I’d have missed all that Guayaquil has to offer.
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