Updated December 3rd, 2018.
Let’s be real here: most of you reading this are probably thinking that you’ll spend a couple of nights in Guayaquil before jetting off to the Galapagos Islands. The Guayaquil of old has succeeded in putting off many visitors and the city is commonly used as nothing more than a stopover point.
You shouldn’t necessarily internalise all of the negativity surrounding Ecuador’s most populous city though. As one of the country’s fastest evolving areas, Guayaquil is working hard to overturn its dangerous reputation and attract new visitors. Having just spent a week there, I would urge you to ignore what people say and make up your own mind.
Learn more about travel in Ecuador!
Guayaquil benefits from its location in the coastal region and temperatures are usually hot year round. The rainy season from January to April results in humid weather, whereas the remainder of the year sees cloudy mornings and afternoons, along with refreshing breezes. When it comes to packing, make sure you have something light and airy to wear as this city will quickly make you work up a sweat!
Safety in Guayaquil
Naturally, the main concern of many backpackers visiting Guayaquil is safety. The city has a bad reputation when it comes to crime and this has frightened off a lot of potential tourists. Of course, exploring any big city comes with risk but if you take precautions and avoid making yourself a target, there is no reason why you cannot enjoy a trip to Guayaquil.
One of the most feared scams in Guayaquil is that of the express kidnapping. In this scenario, you flag down a taxi and the driver will take you to numerous ATM machines to force you to withdraw as much cash as possible.
It is common in express kidnappings for accomplices to be picked up and violence is often threatened to ensure compliance. Whilst this is more uncommon now than in previous years, taxis in Guayaquil can still be risky. Never flag a cab down on the street and always ensure you are getting in a licensed taxi by looking out for an orange licence plate. The number of the front of the windshield should match the number written on the side doors.
To avoid any mishaps when it comes to transportation, ask your hostel to call you a reputable taxi or arrange an Uber instead. I’ve found that a review system tends to be a good deterrent for would-be robbers!
Guayaquil is a city of contrast which is home to both the very rich and the extraordinarily poor. Always ask your place of accommodation which areas are safe to walk around and which roads or blocks you should avoid. The business owners in Guayaquil know that their city comes with a bad reputation and are keen to keep you safe. Burgled backpackers aren’t great for business!
Walking around at night in Guayaquil comes with risk. Much like Quito, there are many districts that should be avoided after nightfall and it is often safer to arrange a taxi (licensed only) or an Uber to take you to or from your destination.
Top Things to do in Guayaquil
Despite its reputation as a stopover city, Guayaquil has plenty of activities to offer a curious traveller. From a 21st-century metropolis promenade to the opportunity to get up close to nature and its wildlife, there is something for everyone in this modern city. Our top picks of the best things to do are…
A few years ago, this area was the pit of Guayaquil. In an attempt to clean up the city’s image, the government decided that this would be the first area they tackled in their redevelopment project.
To be fair to them, they’ve done a very good job and the area is now one of the most aesthetically appealing in the whole of Guayaquil.
The waterside promenade is home to some great bars and restaurants and offers some beautiful places to sit and reflect, including a number of tropical gardens which aim to restore some of the primary jungle which existed prior the city’s inception.
Somewhat confusingly, there are a number of different names for this park. Asking for Parque Seminario, Parque Bolivar and Parque de las Iguanas will all take you to the same place. This green space in the middle of the city is made unusual because of its unusual residents.
Home to around a hundred iguanas, these guys roam the park, waiting to be fed. Watch out for them hiding in the trees above as they can catch you unawares with a stream of urine!
Other regular residents at the park include a bunch of snapping turtles living in the pond as well as a flock of hungry pigeons. Avoid bringing food into the park unless you want to be mobbed!
The colourful neighbourhood of Las Peñas is definitely worth some exploration. Follow the numbered stairs up to the lighthouse atop the hill and check out the art galleries that are dotted around en route. This part of the city really comes alive at night and transforms into a vibrant South American bar scene. Beware of pickpockets who frequent this area.
Cerro Santa Ana
The church which sits on Cerro Santa Ana hill is an idyllic sight. However, the more appealing venture at the top of the 444 stairs is the kitsch blue and white lighthouse. Climb up for some amazing views of Río Guayas and the rest of Guayaquil. Entrance is free and the lighthouse is open from 10am-10pm.
Giant Land Tortoises
As Guayaquil attempts to repaint its reputation, a few companies have popped up in an attempt to show travellers why this city should be more than just a stopover. Check out the free walking tour which leaves from Parque Seminario at 11.15. The guides are hugely passionate about the city and will reveal some of Guayaquil’s best secrets.
It’s worth noting that whilst the tour is marketed as free, tips are expected. The tour culminates with a visit to some rescued giant land tortoises but you will need a guide to gain entrance to where they are located. Trust me when I say this is one tour you definitely don’t want to miss, especially if you’re skipping a visit to the Galapagos Islands!
Guayaquil’s answer to the London Eye opened in 2015 and it is fair to say it has been a hit. Located close to the IMAX cinema at the end of the Malecón 2000, the wheel is a great way to take in the city views whilst escaping the humidity.
The twenty-minute ride is reasonably priced at just $4.98US per person on weekends and holidays and $3.49US during the week. All of the pods feature music and air-con, a life-saver in Guayaquil!
Captain Morgan’s Pirate Ship
Cruise along the Rio Guayas on Captain Morgan’s pirate ship! Boat trips take around an hour and take you to some of the city’s most famous sights.
Tours run every day except Fridays but vary in time, so make sure to check the official city website before you travel. As well as day cruises, there are also ‘Pirate Parties’ in the evening which include shows. The price is $7US for adults for a day trip and $15US for party admission in the evening.
Guayaquil Historical Park
It is no secret that Guayaquil is the definition of a modern city. After gaining independence from the Spanish, the Ecuadorians decided to remove any trace of them and demolished all of the traditional colonial buildings that frequented the area. As such, the city was literally rebuilt from scratch.
This park aims to recreate some of the city’s history through the architecture and also houses a nature park which showcases some animals endemic to the continent.
Whilst the zoo leaves a little to be desired in terms of enclosure space, there is an impressive mangrove swamp. Entrance fee is donation based and there are places to grab lunch on site.
There is a pedestrian bridge connecting Isla Santay to Guayaquil via the area of Durán. You can navigate your own walking tour of the island or alternatively hire a bike nearby.
The island is home to a crocodile sanctuary and there is a multitude of opportunities for bird watching. Manso Boutique Guesthouse located near the Malecón 2000, is planning to offer guided tours to Santay within the next six months (from the time of writing).
Where to Stay in Guayaquil – Top 5 Hostels
1. Hostel Nucapacha
The vibrant Hostal Nucapacha is a touch of luxury for the average budget backpacker. Located in the safe neighbourhood of Urdesa Central, this central location is only a fifteen-minute drive from the main tourist strip, airport and bus station. Nucapacha is characterised by the edgy murals that populate the grounds.
There’s a swimming pool, an on-site bar and the cutest hostel dog you will ever see! Walking tours can be directly arranged from reception and yoga classes run Tuesdays and Fridays.
They offer both private rooms and dorms at reasonable prices. Dorm beds start at 11.50US per night and all bookings include a complimentary breakfast of toast and eggs. Read our full review of Hostal Nucapacha here.
2. Casa Michael
Situated just 5km from the airport, Casa Michael is a great choice if you are flying out to Galapagos or are looking for a safe base from which to explore Guayaquil. The owner, Michael, is very attentive and always willing to offer recommendations of things to do around the city and on the Galapagos Islands.
There is a communal kitchen for guest use and a beautiful outdoor space complete with hammocks for relaxing. Mattresses are extra comfy and both budget private rooms and dorm beds are available. Prices start from just $8US per person in an 8 person dorm room.
3. Manso Boutique Guesthouse
Marketed as the gateway to an authentic Guayaquil, Manso Boutique Guesthouse offers both city and rural trips at their internal tour desk. At the time of writing, there is a choice of two trips: a bicycle brewery tour and a trip out of the city to explore a local mangrove forest.
Owner Ricardo is currently working on creating other tours for travellers too which focus on community-led experiences. The guesthouse is in one of Guayaquil’s most central locations overlooking the Malecón 2000.
An American breakfast is included in the price of a room. A bed in a 5 person dorm starts at $14.45US and a double room with a shared bathroom begins at $22.64US per night.
4. Dreamkapture Hostel
Dreamkapture Hostel is a great choice for backpackers looking to use the city as a stopover point before travelling elsewhere. Located just 5 km from the airport, staff are more than willing to arrange taxis and speak both English and Spanish.
Dreamkapture Hostel has colourful rooms with a choice of shared or private bathrooms. All showers have hot water and some rooms have air conditioning. The breakfast of French toast or scrambled eggs is rated particularly highly amongst guests. Dorm beds start at $9.60US per night.
5. NAZU City Hostel
NAZU City Hostel is a great choice for backpackers looking to explore the city of Guayaquil. Located just 700 m from Malecón 2000, the hostel is within a stone’s throw of the main sights of the city.
There is an on-site restaurant as well as air-conditioned rooms. The dorm rooms are spacious and guests have access to their own private locker for keeping their valuables safe. A bed in an 8 person dorm room starts at $13UD per night and breakfast is included.
Where to go next?
Galapagos Islands: Perhaps the most popular follow-up destination, there are a huge number of travellers who come to Guayaquil solely to hop on a plane and jet off to Galapagos. Home of the Giant Land Tortoise and the Blue Footed Booby, these islands offer some truly stunning wildlife spotting opportunities. With the option to snorkel or dive in the warm waters, you are sure to see animals you’ve never seen before!
Montañita: If you’re looking for a vibrant party scene and a good spot to surf, head up the coast to the town of Montañita. Spend your days sipping on cocktails and gearing up for the evening bar crawl or spend your time productively by signing up for a few Spanish classes in some of the local language schools.
Puerto López: If you’re looking for some good beaches but don’t want the party scene that comes with Montañita, Puerto López is a good alternative. Take a day trip out to Isla de la Plata, more commonly known as the ‘poor man’s Galapagos’ for the opportunity to see Blue Footed Boobys and even partake in a spot of whale watching!