It’s among the largest cities in Ecuador, and one of the most visited places in the country, yet little understood or properly explored by travelers. The sprawling Guayaquil, the country’s unofficial business and finance capital, has a number of things working against it that make it less than a tourist destination in Ecuador.
In this ultimate traveler’s guide to Guayaquil, you’ll find our top recommendations for making the most of your trip to the “Pearl of the Pacific.” Whether you’re looking a way to spend a few hours before jumping on your Galapagos cruise or are considering a longer visit to the city, we’re sharing our top tips for things to do, places to go, and where to stay in Guayaquil.
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Quito is Ecuador’s administrative capital, but busy Guayaquil is Ecuador’s unofficial financial and business capital, where major corporations have their headquarters. It’s one of the largest cities in South America and has a bustling feel unlike what you’ll feel anywhere else in Ecuador.
Guayaquil is by no means a major destination for travelers in Ecuador. Outside of a tiny historic area near downtown known as Las Peñas, it lacks almost any historic monuments or architecture to add charm. Travelers looking for this history will prefer Quito, Cuenca, and other Andean cities instead. Without any truly unique or impressive major attractions, many travelers are happy to leave it off their itineraries.
While Guayaquil isn’t a big destination itself, a lot of travelers will find themselves here during their visit. Whether traveling for work or using the city as a gateway – usually to the Galapagos Islands or the charming beach towns that lie north along the coast – many visit, but few spend the time to explore.
Meanwhile, there is a lot to enjoy here. Adding a full day in Guayaquil or even two to your Ecuador itinerary can be a great choice if you’re looking to experience a totally different side of Ecuador. Delicious local food (the country’s best seafood), the charming Malecón 2000 riverwalk with shops, museums, and restaurants, and the charming Las Peñas neighborhood with its quaint and colorful buildings can end up becoming highlights of a trip.
Is It Worth Going to Guayaquil?
Most travelers will just pass through Guayaquil, either on their way up Ecuador’s coastline or before departing on a cruise in the Galapagos. If this sounds like you, see if you can add a half-day exploring Guayaquil to your itinerary. You may be surprised to find the city has a lot to offer.
Read More: 10 Best Beaches in Ecuador
Is Guayaquil Safe?
Guayaquil has a reputation for being a relatively unsafe city and among the most unsafe destinations in Ecuador. It’s a sad truth but a statistical reality. With this being said, most of the issues with crimes are concentrated in the city’s poorer neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city, in areas that most visitors have no reason to travel to.
For travelers considering visiting Guayaquil, I’d say take perhaps more precaution here than you would elsewhere, especially when it comes to what you bring out of the hotel with you, like cash and technology.
However, if you stick to the main areas of the city, like downtown, avoid walking on the streets at night, and take precautions against pickpockets, you should have a perfectly uneventful and safe trip.
What To Pack for Ecuador
Check out our Ultimate Ecuador Packing List to help you pack for your trip – we’re sharing exactly what to bring to Ecuador and what we never travel without.
Things To Do in Guayaquil
1. Stroll the Malecón 2000
One of Guayaquil’s premier attractions, the Malecón 2000 is a riverfront pedestrian walkway that lines the Guayas River along the city’s downtown center. Packed with spaces for parks, playgrounds, entertainment, small museums, and public art, the Malecón 2000 is actually one of our top recommendations for tourist attractions in Ecuador.
At the top end of the Malecón 2000, nearest to the historic Las Peñas neighborhood, the La Perla Ferris Wheel offers great views over the entire city. The ride last around 15 minutes and is a great way to get your bearing before exploring the rest of Guayaquil.
Spend an hour or two tracing the length of the walkway and enjoy all that it has to offer and enjoy plenty of opportunities for people-watching. Make sure to work up an appetite to enjoy a meal at Mercado del Rio at the southern end of the Malecón: this upscale open-air food court has numerous stalls selling both local favorites and international cuisine.
Read More: 25 Best Things To Do in Ecuador
2. Spot Iguanas in Parque Seminario
Located in the heart of downtown Guayaquil, Parque Seminario has the particular distinction of being home to dozens of iguanas that have made their homes here. You’ll see these large green iguanas hanging out in trees, under benches, and sunning on walkways. They’re quite harmless, but avoid bringing food with you to the park – you’ll make some *friends,* who might want to get a little closer than you’re hoping.
Guayaquil’s cathedral – Catedral Católica Metropolitana de Guayaquil – faces the park and is worth a visit if it happens to be open when you’re at the park.
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3. Sample Ecuador’s Coastal Cuisine
Ask any local and they’ll tell you that Ecuador’s unique coastal cuisine is some of the country’s best food, and there’s no better way to sample it all than by eating your way through Guayaquil. The city isn’t a true culinary capital, but its numerous local hole-in-the-wall spots offer an incredible way of dishes to try.
These are the highlights of Ecuadorian coastal cuisine you can’t miss:
- Encebollado – Guayaquil’s own dish, a soup made of onions and white fish like bacalao, sounds a bit strand but is incredibly delicious. It’s a must-try.
- Encocado – This style of cooking stews seafood in coconut milk for ultra-rich, incredibly delicious plates, usually served with rice and fried plantains. This is a MUST!
- Ceviche – Ultra-fresh ceviche, Ecuadorian style, is a bit different from Peruvian ceviche and well worth a try.
- Bolón – Boiled, mashed plantains rolled into balls and studded with cheese and pork rinds.
- Tigrillo – Mashed plantains are mixed with egg and milk to create a scrambled egg-type consistency for this dish, a breakfast staple on the coast.
4. Climb to El Faro de Guayaquil
Located in the heart of Guayaquil’s hilly Las Peñas neighborhood, El Faro de Guayaquil – Guayaquil’s lighthouse – is a beautiful attraction with great views that makes the climb through the historic streets of Las Peñas totally worth it.
The climb through the streets of Las Peñas is a taxing 444 steps, though it’s a doable journey if you take time to check out the galleries, cafes, and little museums that line the street. Keep in mind, the climb to the top of the lighthouse is an additional 52 steps on top of those you’ll take to get to the platform at its base!
Where To Stay in Guayaquil
Most travelers will either want to stay in Guayaquil’s downtown center, with its proximity to the best things to do in Guayaquil, or near the airport if they’re just visiting as a stopover. However, there are some nice places to stay in historic La Puntilla as well.
These recommendations cover where to stay in Guayaquil, no matter your travel budget and how long you plan to stay in Guayaquil.
Manso Boutique Guesthouse ($)
Located directly facing Guayaquil’s Malecón 2000, Manso Boutique Guesthouse is one of the best places to stay in Guayaquil for backpackers or budget-conscious travelers. Dorm rooms all have lockers and don’t pack in guests like sardines, as you’ll see elsewhere. Or, go with one of the private rooms. It’s a great basic but affordable option for travelers in the heart of the city.
Reviews and Bookings: Manso Boutique Guesthouse
Oro Verde Guayaquil ($$)
I unexpectedly spent the night at Oro Verde Guayaquil after a flight was canceled on a trip to Peru – and it actually ended up being a surprisingly fantastic place to stay in Guayaquil that I still recommend to this day. Modern, comfortable rooms and affordable prices, plus amenities like a pool and eatery, make it a great place to stay. The downtown location is great and very walkable to the best things to do in the city.
Reviews and Bookings: Oro Verde Guayaquil
Sheraton Guayaquil Hotel ($$)
Our top recommendation for a hotel near the airport in Guayaquil is Sheraton Guayaquil Hotel. Super safe, secure, and convenient for travelers, it feels like a more elevated airport hotel experience and is a great place to unwind before or after a Galapagos trip. The rooms are spacious, modern, and comfortable, and the breakfast buffet is excellent.
Reviews and Bookings: Sheraton Guayaquil Hotel
Hotel del Parque ($$$)
Located in a gorgeous and historic area of La Puntilla along the water, Hotel del Parque is a beautiful mix of history and refined luxury, making it easily the best place to stay in the city. This boutique historic hotel feels like quite a special place to stay among the more modern, cookie-cutter hotels you’ll find throughout the rest of the city.
Make sure to eat at Casa Julian adjacent to the hotel if you’re staying here or even just exploring the area – it was voted one of Latin America’s best restaurants in 2022!
Reviews and Bookings: Hotel del Parque
Where To Eat in Guayaquil
Guayaquil might not be a renowned culinary capital per se, but WOW, does it have some delicious food! Here you’ll find the best of the best of Ecuadorian coastal cuisine, which heavily features fish and seafood, plantains, and coconut for some truly incredible dishes.
These are some of the best places to eat in Guayaquil to enjoy the best the city has to offer:
Casa Julian is a must if you’re looking for a truly memorable dining experience in Guayaquil. This restaurant is located in an endlessly charming and historic section of the La Puntilla neighborhood and was named among one of the best restaurants in Latin America by 50 Best in 2022.
If you’re looking for the full culinary experience, go for the tasting menu, though the a la carte options here are impressive as well. Both the interior spaces and the patio seating surrounding this historic building are lovely – you really can’t go wrong here.
Mercado del Rio
Located on Guayaquil’s Malecón 2000, Mercado del Rio is an absolute must for travelers visiting the city. This food market has stalls selling both local dishes and international favorites, so you can sample a bit of everything as you explore.
Comedor Manabi is a great spot for local dishes from the northern coastal region of Ecuador – this is our number one recommendation here, but you really can’t go wrong with whatever you choose. The waterfront seating along the river makes for a great dining experience. We highly, highly recommend it!
Picanteria La Culata
Little more than a hole in the wall near Guayaquil’s downtown center, Picanteria La Culata is the best of the *local* spots in Guayaquil. You can’t go wrong with the rice dishes like arroz con camarones (fried rice with shrimp), super fresh ceviche, or Guayaquil’s own encebollado (pictured above), which is a fish soup with onions – it sounds weird but is incredibly delicious.
The best thing about this spot is that there are many more just like it in Guayaquil – the best places to eat in Guayaquil are really these tiny local spots with well-done Ecuadorian food, which is incredibly affordable and supremely delicious.
Le Croissant is a cute cafe located on one of downtown Guayaquil’s central thoroughfares, offering a range of options for coffee and lunch. It’s all international food here, with sandwiches, salads, and some great pastries and desserts. Prices are quite affordable, and the location just a block off the Malecón 2000 is super convenient.
Getting to Guayaquil
Guayaquil’s international airport – José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport – is perhaps the best-served airport in the country, with daily flights arriving from destinations across the Americas and Europe. For many travelers, it’s their introduction to the country, and they stick around at an airport hotel like the Sheraton Guayaquil Hotel before heading to the Galapagos.
Quito to Guayaquil
Travelers will find daily flights between Quito and Guayaquil, which is an easy way to cut down on the 9-10 hour bus ride descending from the Andes Mountains to the country’s coastline. While the bus ride isn’t bad – we’ve taken it several times – it’s well worth springing for the relatively cheap connecting flight if you can.
Buses depart from Quito’s north and south bus stations – Carcelén and Quitumbe. For most travelers, it will be easier to catch the bus at Quito’s Quitumbe terminal, where there are more frequent departures and more bus companies operating. All buses arrive at Guayaquil’s central bus terminal, just north of downtown.
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.