4 HOURS IN... GUAYAQUIL
Ecuador’s powerhouse port is much more than just the gateway to the Galapagos Islands
A whistle-stop tour of this colourful Ecuadorian city
Cerro Santa Ana lighthouse The best way to begin your exploration of Ecuador’s Pacific port city is from above – 444 steps up above to be precise – at the lighthouse on the peak of the Santa Ana hill. In the 28°C equatorial heat, the climb past the colourful houses of the Las Penas neighbourhood can be punishing, so take your time. Striped in the blue and white of the city’s flag, the lighthouse is the perfect lookout from which to observe the point where the Daule and Babahoyo rivers converge to form the great Guayas River, as well as the network of islands formed by the tide. To the north in Puerto Santa Ana rises Ecuador’s highest building, known locally as El Tornillo (The Screw), which was completed in 2010; to the south, wild mangroves line the river that brought French and British pirates to pillage in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Back at river level, head south along the Malecon 2000. The smartly paved boardwalk along a 1.5-mile stretch of the Guayas River is the city’s strongest symbol of urban regeneration; less than a century ago it was nothing more than crocodile-infested mudflats. Join the locals in a stroll along the verdant promenade, dropping into shops and museums and watching great container ships go by on their way in and out of the port – the port handles almost two million TEU a year, making it one of the busiest in Latin America. Wander far enough to the south and you’ll come to the 840-metre bridge connecting the city to the biodiverse wetlands of Santay Island. The bridge was recently reopened after needing repairs costing US$3 million when a boat smashed into it last October. malecon.org.ec
Museo Antropologico y de Arte Contemporaneo (MAAC) Enticed by the promise of the port’s mercantile riches, centuries of immigrants from such far-flung lands as Lebanon and Palestine have moulded and re-moulded Guayaquil’s diverse society. However, its rich culture began to take shape many centuries before the arrival of Spanish colonialists in 1538, with aboriginal communities all along the coast.
The Museo Antropologico y de Arte Contemporaneo pulls together thousands of pieces of Pre-Columbian art and archaeological finds, shining a light on the city’s indigenous ancestors. But it’s not all ancient history: the MAAC (at the northern end of the Malecon 2000) is also the place to discover current artists and stock up on books by Ecuadorian authors. guayaquilesmidestino.com
Picanteria El Pez Volador Anthony Bourdain took a particular shine to this rough-and-ready restaurant when he filmed his 2010 CNN show No Reservations. The late chef-turned-TV presenter chatted with owner Angelica Cujilan Aragones (who has run the joint for 40 years) over encebollado, a robust fish soup that has a special place in Guayaquilenos’ hearts. Locals eat it for breakfast – it’s also acceptable to order it for lunch. El Pez Volador makes the most of seafood treasures fresh from the Pacific Ocean: lime-spiked shrimp ceviche, crab claws and fish cooked in plantain and peanuts are regulars on the menu. Wash it down with a national lager alongside locals discussing the city’s rival football teams, Emelec and the curiously named Barcelona Sporting Club. facebook.com/elpezvoladorpicanteria
Take a break from the urban rush in Parque Historico, a peaceful oasis ten minutes by taxi from the centre – try local taxi-hailing apps Cabify or Easy Taxi. Paths meander through eight hectares of glorious wildlife, with festoons of orchids, waving palm trees, and spider monkeys and Pacific parrotlets overhead. An animal sanctuary is home to rescued exotic creatures, such as ocelots and blue-hued harpy eagles, while original Republicera buildings have been reconstructed and a streetcar stands by to showcase the city’s history. Guests of Hotel del Parque, an elegant boutique hotel – once a 19th-century nursing home, moved board-by-board to the park and restored – have 24-hour access to the grounds, otherwise it is open Wednesday-Sunday, 9am-4.30pm. hoteldelparquehistorico.com