Visiting Guayaquil on a Galapagos Vacation
The only flights to the Galapagos Islands depart from either Guayaquil or Quito, so you might as well spend some time getting to know Ecuador’s mainland with a few days in Guayaquil! With a population even larger than Ecuador’s capital city of Quito and an ever-expanding suburban landscape, the coastal town of Guayaquil is the country’s main port city.
In the past 10 years, what was once merely an industrial city home to Ecuador’s major ports, Guayaquil has stepped into the 21st century with great strides, combining its historic past with a progressive eye towards the future. Thanks to huge urban development projects, there are now many tourist activities here to enjoy before departing on a Galapagos cruise.
What to do in Guayaquil
- Parque de las Iguanas (Seminary Park) – A fun activity for the whole family, this tiny park (just one city block) is home to hundreds of iguanas and a healthy turtle population in the pond. These green iguanas are native to the Ecuadorian coast and are very used to the crowds that visit this park. In fact, if you bring a banana or a small bag of lettuce, you can get great pictures with iguanas crawling right into your lap. Try to avoid standing under them in the trees (for the same reason you shouldn’t stand under birds). And just be careful if feeding them, because they can’t always tell the difference between a banana and a finger!
- Guayaquil Cathedral – Across the street from Seminary Park is the city’s main Catholic cathedral, definitely worth a visit.
- Malecon Simon Bolivar (Boardwalk) – Undoubtedly the touristic center of the city, this 2-mile boardwalk stretches along the Rio Guayas and is chock full of attractions, including:
- South America’s first Imax movie theater.
- A museum of history.
- A modern shopping mall.
- Jungle gyms, rides, and attractions for kids.
- Lookout towers.
- Boats & an authentic sailing schooner that offer short river cruises.
- Restaurants serving delicious, freshly caught seafood.
- Coffeeshops and ice cream stands.
- A brand new ferris wheel called “The Pearl” in honor of Guayaquil’s nickname: The Pearl of the Pacific.
- Las Peñas – During the day, you can make the climb up more than 400 steps to this panoramic overlook of the city, crowned by a lighthouse and a small chapel. One street here has been restored to its original colonial appearance as well, and the houses that cling to the side of this hill are painted a rainbow of colors, making it a popular photo spot. Once the sun sets, the neighborhood takes on a different vibe as the “discotecas” (dance clubs) invite locals and travelers to enjoy an upbeat night of salsa.
- La Zona Rosa – If you’ve danced your way up and down Las Peñas and still want more, then check out the nightclubs just a few blocks away in La Zona Rosa.
What to do around Guayaquil
- Tren Crucero – In the neighboring town of Duran is the southern terminal station of the renowned cruise train, which zigzags from the lush coast straight into the highlands. There are day trips and weeklong extensions too for trips of any length.
- Cerro Blanco Protected Dry Forest – On the eastern side of the Andes, you’ll find the lush rainforest. On Ecuador’s arid coast is a lesser-known phenomenon: the dry forest, where many primates, birds, and reptiles that are also native to the jungle can be seen in a much drier environment.
- Parque Historico – Across the river from urban Guayaquil is the residential neighborhood of Via Samborondon. Here, a free zoo and historic center is home to many of Ecuador’s endangered and admired species, like sloths, condors, monkeys, and others. There’s also a small area after the zoo where houses reminiscent of Guayaquil’s colonial past have been constructed or restored to offer a look into the city’s historic past.
- Teatro Sanchez Aguilar – If you really want to put your Spanish to the test and enjoy some local culture, visit this theatre, which hosts Spanish adaptations of plays like Romeo & Juliet, Les Miserables, many others, and a mix of locally written and produced works.
- Beaches! Although there aren’t any beaches in Guayaquil, a short 1.5 hour drive will take you to La Ruta del Sol or the Sun Road, which takes you to many different beaches, including a few that are home to the only populations of blue-footed boobies outside of the Galapagos, outlooks for migratory whales, and small sea lion colonies. If you can’t make it to any of the mainland beaches, don’t worry – your Galapagos cruise won’t disappoint!
Cuisine: While on the coast, make sure not to miss out on the seafood, especially the Creole crab and the countless different recipes for fish!