Among the many stops on the standard Ecuadorian tourist trail, Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and financial center, is almost never one of them.
When it does appear on a backpacker’s itinerary, it’s usually solely on account of its airport. Guayaquil gets a bad rap for being boring, dangerous, or expensive, but I would argue this reputation is mostly undeserved.
Personally, I never felt unsafe or uncomfortable as I wandered the city nor did I find travel expenses here more pricey than elsewhere in the country.
In terms of attractions, Guayaquil has at least as much to offer as Quito.
If you’re in the area, I recommend swinging by for at least a day or two. Below are the top 5 things to check out during your visit.
1) Feed iguanas at Parque Seminario.
Parque Seminario is a beautiful historic park in downtown Guayaquil once known for its Cathedral but now popular among tourists for a very different reason. The park has become infested with tree-dwelling iguanas, the population of which has ballooned in recent years.
Their wild counterparts may be skittish but these iguanas are warming up to humans whom they have learned are a reliable source of food.
There will be hawkers selling lettuce inside the park ($1.50), which you can feed to the iguanas. The iguanas, in turn, will let you pet them and even hold them.
2) Go for a stroll along the Malecòn 2000.
Guayaquil’s riverfront has been rejuvenated by a massive urban renewal project called Malecón 2000, which includes a 2.5 kilometer boardwalk that connects several historic sights with ultra-modern shopping and entertainment districts.
The boardwalk is especially nice during late afternoon or early morning when it’s not quite so hot out.
3) Climb to the lighthouse atop Santa Ana Hill.
Historic Guayaquil is clustered in a small hilly neighborhood called las Piñas on Santa Ana Hill. From its founding in the 16th century as a fortified bastion to defend against pirates to the present, this neighborhood has figured prominently in Ecuadorian history and is easily Guayaquil’s most beautiful section. Stunning panoramic views of the city reward all who climb to the lighthouse atop Santa Ana.
4) Walk Boulevard 8 de Octubre.
This is Guayaquil’s bustling commercial spine and premiere shopping street with an exciting Manhattan-like hustle-and-bustle. Many corners of the city may feel desolate but this animated stretch moves to a different pace.
5) Take a breather in Parque Centenario.
With lush greenery, elegant wrought-iron benches, and historic monuments, Parque Centenario is Guayaquil’s Central Park. It’s the perfect place to take an afternoon siesta, read a book, or just get away from it all.