We arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador from five different U.S. airports, late at night or in the wee hours after midnight. Our first day was scheduled on the mainland in case there were any travel delays. After catching a few hours of sleep and breakfast at the Unipark Hotel, we met our wonderful, local guide, Fernando Icaza, who took us on a walking tour of the lovely city of Guayaquil.
Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador. It is a port city known as the gateway to the Galapagos Islands. It is a vibrant, sprawling city with a beautiful malecon (river walk) along the Guayas River and hillsides dotted with colorful favelas. We happened to be there on the day of Simon Bolivar’s (Ecuador’s liberator from Spain) birthday which is a national day of celebration.
We started off with Fernando, to the “Iguana Park” across from our hotel where there is a large monument to Simon Bolivar. There were iguanas everywhere, up to a meter in length, sunning themselves among the beautiful gardens, statues, and lagoon and existing amiably alongside humans.They gave the park a special ambience! The caretakers of the park feed them lettuce everyday. I night they go up into the trees.
Walking through the city we saw many beautiful sculptures of Ecuador’s freedom fighters, celebrations of democracy and freedom, and depictions of everyday life in Guayaquil.
We continued to the Malecon (Spanish word for water front boulevard)- a wide pedestrian walkway along the expansive Guayas River. Beautiful art, trees, clock tower, fountains, and lots of families enjoying the day. We stopped for a photo on the Hemiciclo la Rotonda- a memorial commemorating the meeting of Simon Bolivar and San Martin to plan Ecuador’s emancipation from Spanish rule.
We walked to the end of the Malecon to the Santa Ana Hill. The Las Penas neighborhood is here- a place of colorful homes, restaurants, bars, and shops built into the steep hillside.
There is a blue and white lighthouse (colors of Guayaquil) at the top accessible only by climbing the steep 444 stairs which are numbered. Here you can get a spectacular 360 view of the city. Several of our group climbed all the way up the 444 steps (I opted for a slow walk 3/4 of the way up and a stop for a refreshing coconut popsicle!).
Next we took a ride in both directions on the Aerovia- over the large estuarine river and through the heart of the city. This 4 km long urban gondola with 5 stations was built to alleviate traffic congestion over the estuary bridge from Duran to Guayaquil and easily move people through the city. it moves 40,000 people a day and only costs &0.70 for a ride! Besides a clever way to deal with urban transport, it is also a fun ride with a spectacular view.
We were especially struck by the huge paintings high up on poles throughout the city thanking first responders of the Covid pandemic.
Then it was off to lunch in a cute open air cafe where we tried some Ecuadorian specialties, including vegan and vegetarian options. We were quite amused watching a man with long dreadlocks on an electric bike with huge handlebars and music playing riding around the plaza area.
Next we walked through the artists’ quarter of Las Penas. There were beautiful homes with colorful flower pots hanging from the balconies and murals painted on the walls. Several art galleries lined the street and boutique hatters selling Ecuador’s famous Panama hats- finally woven from toquilla straw by master weavers. Why are they called Panama hats if made in Ecuador? They got this name when they were made for the workers on the Panama Canal. Joyce bought a beautiful hat- the real thing, a work of art!
After a wonderful day to recoup from the previous long day of travel, a delicious dinner and sangria, we were ready to catch up on our sleep and leave for the Galapagos Islands in the morning.