Travel Weekly's Eric Moya was in Ecuador for the 37th Annual TravelMart LatinAmerica, held in Quito. His second dispatch follows. Click to read Eric’s first dispatch.
“Guayaquil?” a fellow reporter asked incredulously after I revealed my post-Quito travel plans. “There’s nothing to do there.”
I don’t put much stock in absolutes, but I took his point. Ecuador’s largest city, with a population of nearly 2.4 million as of 2010, doesn’t have the ecological allure of the Galapagos. Nor does it boast the colonial architecture of Quito or Cuenca (a fire destroyed much of Guayaquil in 1896). An inactive official tourism website doesn’t help matters.
Still, Guayaquil has attributes that bode well for its emerging tourism industry. The Jose Joaquin de Olmedo Airport, a 10- or 15-minute cab ride from many of the city’s points of interest, offers service from New York, Miami, Madrid and numerous points throughout Latin America. And as the country’s principal port and commercial center, Guayaquil has many hotels accustomed to catering to international clientele.
One of those properties, the Grand Hotel Guayaquil, was home for two days as I decided to test my colleague’s assessment. (View a slideshow from Eric's trip to Ecuador here or by clicking on the photos.)
The hotel is about a five-minute walk from the Malecon 2000, the riverfront promenade at the center of the city’s revitalization efforts. The 1.5-mile boardwalk along the Guayas River offers a variety of family-friendly diversions, such as a playground, an IMAX theater and sailings aboard the Henry Morgan pirate ship. Shopping areas and dining options abound.
A couple of blocks west of the Malecon’s midway point lies Seminary Park, so named for the Guayaquil Cathedral it fronts, but also known as Iguanas Park for its many reptilian residents.
The Malecon’s north end leads to the Cerro de Santa Ana hill, where visitors navigate more than 400 steps — with souvenir shops, eateries and karaoke bars never more than a couple of dozen steps away — to enjoy views of the river and city.
Exiting the Malecon’s north end leads to the city’s Zona Rosa nightlife district, where bars blaring tunes by Latin rock veterans such as Mana and Juanes share sonic space with club DJs spinning salsa, reggaeton and the day’s top-40 hits for those in a dancing mood.
On my last night in Guayaquil, I headed for the more sedate surroundings of the Urdesa neighborhood, home to many of the city’s finest restaurants. I settled on the mid-century ambience of Lo Nuestro, specializing in seafood and other Ecuadorean dishes.
As I waited for my entree, I enjoyed a bottle of Club beer and an appetizer of shrimp empanadas, brought by waiters in bowties and white, tropical-weight shirts. On the restaurant’s stereo system, I recognized the melancholy falsetto of hometown legend Julio Jaramillo, who gained fame as an ambassador for Ecuadorean music, including pasillo, a type of guitar-driven waltz.
I pondered my press trip colleague’s stance on Guayaquil. I had kept pretty busy during my two days there and left plenty of attractions unvisited: the city’s various museums, its multilevel Mercado Artesanal (closed Sundays), photo ops at the massive General Cemetery and the Christ statue atop Cerro de Carmen. To say nothing of the day trips in Guayas province offered by tour operators such as L’alianxa Travel Network, where visitors can gain insights about the city’s surrounding area as well as the country’s thriving agriculture industry.
So yes, Guayaquil might seem lacking to those in search of wildlife (iguanas aside) or historical architecture. But during my visit, I began to understand why the city had once inspired Jaramillo to sing of the “Guayaquil de Mis Amores.”