At first glance, the sprawling port city of Guayaquil might not seem like a prime tourist destination. It’s Ecuador’s largest and most populous city, and serves as a hub of industry and the main gateway for all imports and exports.

But behind the city’s economic importance lies a rich history and a bright future. Ever since the foundation of the city in 1538 it has been subjected to frequent raids from foreign powers, including pesky English privateers and French pirates. The Peruvian army then occupied the city for six long months in 1829, and further conflicts followed.

Today, however, Guayaquil is striding bravely into the future. Huge urban-renewal projects continue to transform the city into a bright, modern metropolis. Parks are flourishing in the tropical savanna climate, and city squares are becoming hotspots for chic cafés and people watching.

At the heart of the restoration project is the Malecón 2000, a historic boardwalk overlooking the Guayas River. The entire 1.5-mile stretch is now dotted with historical monuments, museums, fountains, gardens, shops, restaurants and bars, as well as docks from which you can take a riverboat tour up and down the river.

At the northern end of the Malecón sits the Las Peñas barrio, a small but pretty neighborhood of colorful colonial houses and cobblestone roads. This is the city’s artistic center, where you’ll find art galleries and cafés. You can head up Cerro Santa Ana from Las Peñas. This hillside was once a slum area, but has been extensively regenerated; walk up the winding steps and you’ll pass houses, bars and shops painted in cheerfully vibrant colors.

For an excellent view across Guayaquil, head to the top of Cerro Santa Ana where you’ll find a lighthouse and the Plaza de Honores, offering spectacular vistas across the city and beyond.

Tours to the Galápagos can be arranged in Guayaquil. Most flights from Quito to the Galápagos pass through the city, so you’ll actually be saving time by arranging your trip from here.

Learn more about this destination at Visit Ecuador.

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Other Places to Visit in Ecuador

Baños / Cuenca / Otavalo / Quito / The Ecuadorian Amazon / The Galapagos Islands

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