One Day in Guayaquil, Ecuador
For many years, I’ve longed to travel to South America. My mother and her family actually lived in Bolivia for a while, and she even went to high school there for a year or two. One of my favorite photos growing up was of my grandmother riding a donkey on the Inca Trail, smiling at the camera over a green canyon in the Andes. I need to learn more of the back story, but I believe she took a small vacation alone to explore the trail outside of La Paz.
This Christmas, I finally got my chance to visit South America. The stars aligned with a slow period at work and with my friend Jason already planning a trip. A few days before Christmas, we set off for Guayaquil to begin our journey, which will take us from Guayaquil to northern Colombia over the course of 16 days.
Guayaquil is quite a big city, the second largest in Ecuador behind Quito. That said, I am not sure I could recommend spending more than day or two here. I found a hostel called Casa Romero in the downtown area called La Bahia, and this seemed like a good starting point. We had been told to be careful of non-metered taxis in Guayaquil, but at the airport there was a taxi desk which quickly pointed us to a reputable (looking) taxi.
It cost $5 for a lift to Casa Romero which took 10 minutes or so. I had been in contact with Samanta at the hostel, and she assured me that someone would be there when we arrived at 4AM, and thankfully she was correct. We had to press a buzzer a few times, probably to wake the poor dude up, but a guy came downstairs and showed us to our room. They were fairly spartan, but they were clean and had decent beds, so we passed out until noon or so. Samanta and Andrea were the ladies manning the front desk, and they did a great job giving us recommendations on food and things to do.
We spent our first morning walking to the cathedral and the park nearby – I can’t remember the name now, but everyone calls it El Parque de Las Iguanas because, sure enough, there are Iguanas crawling all over the place. Jason tried to ride on one, and it buckled under his massive 200 lb frame. We ran away as quickly as possible.
From there we set off to Malecon 2000, the waterfront area which has been developed by Guayaquil as a tourist draw. There are numerous stores and small parks to check out, as well as restaurants and a really nice arboretum. We were told not to stay too far from the Malecon area at night, but it was very safe during the day. There were numerous security guards and police patrolling, and I figured my odds of being sold into the booming gringo slave market down there were pretty low.
At the northern end of the Malecon is a beautiful, colorful “old town” neighborhood with cobblestones called Las Peñas, and there is an old light house at the top called Cerro Santa Ana. The path into the neighborhood is well marked, but we wandered along the coastal path instead of venturing upward right away. We eventually reached a series of apartment complexes and decided to turn back, but we saw a series of stairs on the north side of Cerro Santa Ana which appeared to go straight upward.
We eagerly started jogging up the stairs, ignoring graffiti which undoubtedly told us we weren’t welcome in this part of the neighboorhood. We walked past a small food stand with little kids, and a mother made a “tsss” sound at us. Whatever, we thought, and pushed onward. She persisted, louder and walking briskly toward us. We decided we would see what she wanted, and as she came up she motioned for us not to go up the stairs further. Por que? She made a slicing motion across her neck and motioned a wallet being removed. OK … got it! Muchas gracias senora!
We turned back and found the southern entrance of the neighborhood, and we found it to have a policeman about every 500m along the way as the path wound between and past houses. There were several bars and restaurants along the way, and we were told later that this area is the best place to go for drinks at night. So apparently the backside of the neighborhood is an absolute no-go, but the southern Malecon-facing side is awesome. Good to know.
The drudge up to Cerro Santa Ana wasn’t too bad, and we were rewarded by awesome views at the top. There is a little church up there along with the lighthouse, and you can see Las Peñas, Rio Guaya, and the Malecon very well from there.
At night, it was crazy in the neighborhood of La Bahia. When there’s any traffic, there is constant horn honking (as is common in South America to my understanding). Ear plugs went a long way toward ensuring a full night of sleep, and the honking dies down after 9 PM or so anyway. The only other excitement was the shopping – a few days before Christmas, and everyone in Guayaquil was rushing to find last minute presents, so the streets were packed in the evenings.
Admittedly, we did a lousy job in Guayaquil finding things to do at night. We were still pretty jet lagged, and after walking around all day, it didn’t take much convincing to go to bed. We rested up, and in the morning we caught a cab to El Terminal Terrestre (bus station) to begin what would turn out to be an epic 7 hr bus ride to Baños.