If the Galapagos Islands are your destination, then you must first pass through either Quito or Guayaquil on Ecuador’s mainland. It’s always a good idea to arrive a day or two before your flight to Galapagos just to be safe, so take that time to explore mainland Ecuador before your Galapagos adventure. Colonial Quito is full of excellent destinations to experience, and Guayaquil has plenty to offer travelers as well.
Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport
Guayaquil’s Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport and Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport are the only airports with flights to the Galapagos Islands.
Attractions and things to do in Guayaquil
Overlooking the Rio Guayas, this well-landscaped 1.5 mile boardwalk makes for a great day downtown. A modern shopping mall, a pirate ship, river cruises, an Imax theater and a ferris wheel are all conveniently located in the city’s most popular weekend destination. There are also periodic tower overlooks, a history museum, and a number of mini-rides and playgrounds for kids. Dining options include several seafood restaurants, a food court, coffee shops, vending machines, and ice cream vendors. There are even seasonal exhibitions, like Santa’s Village, animatronic dinosaurs, a fairytale journey, and others, which is fun for people of all ages.
At the end of the boardwalk, if you’re up for a challenge, is the colonial neighborhood of Las Peñas. Over 400 steps wind past artisan shops, bars and karaoke clubs, and restaurants, to the top, where there is a 360-degree view of the entire city and a small chapel. If your legs aren’t too tired, there’s even a lighthouse here that offers the best view of Guayaquil.
La Zona Rosa
This street just a few blocks from Las Peñas is a buzzing strip of bars and clubs which comes to life at night.
The Cathedral of Guayaquil
The giant church is the center of the archdiocese of Guayaquil. Around the walls of the building are beautiful Stations of the Cross that lead up to the magnificent altar; beneath the altar is a crypt, where some of the most important religious figures in Ecuador have been interned.
Right outside the Cathedral is a small park with hundreds of iguanas that live here. If you bring bread or bananas, you will be their new best friend; just make sure they don’t mistake your hand for lunch. In the corner of the park there is also a pond that has a number of fish and different species of turtles.
The Artisan Market
Ecuador’s artisan history comes to life at this vibrant inner-city market, where you can find all kinds of handmade crafts, like carved wooden sculptures, paintings, clothes, leatherwork, hand-sewn tablecloths and mantles, and countless other handicrafts, unique only to Ecuador. Practice your bartering and Spanish before you set sail and see if you can work down the price of a great souvenir.
In 2014, Isla Santay opened to the public. Walk or bike across the long bridge that spans from metropolitan Guayaquil to this salt marsh estuary. Stilted condominiums, food vendors, and even a crocodile observation deck make for an interesting afternoon.
Part-zoo, part-historic center, this expansive park in Samborondon features a path through various animal exhibits, including condors, monkeys, flamingos, and other local animals before letting out in a food court surrounded by buildings open to the public that have been restored to their colonial appearance and style. Plus admission is free!
Where to stay in Guayaquil
The best hotels in Guayaquil offer comfortable and spacious rooms and in-house restaurants/ room service. If you are planning to spend just one night between your flight into Ecuador and your flight to the Galapagos, you can stay at the Holiday Inn at the airport. Otherwise, consider one of these five-star hotels in the city:
Guayaquil also hosts hundreds of hostels that offer rates as low as $20/person/night. These range from cozy bed and breakfasts to motels that are best avoided, so consult with your trip planner before you book. Also, if you choose to stay in a hostel, make sure it has air conditioning, hot water, and mosquito nets before you book, since these are not standard in all hostels.