Guayaquil may not be the political capital, but its importance as the financial heart of the country is undeniable. The most populated city, it’s home to the largest port and has been chosen by the World Travel Awards as the best business destination in South America three years in a row. A place that gives meaning to the handle it’s earned over the years: the Pearl of the Pacific.
This important metropolis by the banks of the Guayas River connects Ecuador to the ocean and destinations in Asia such as Hong Kong and Taiwan. It also represents the main point of departure to the Galápagos, a pit stop for adventurers on their way to the islands.
Because of this international aptitude, Guayaquil is transforming. The city is gradually revitalizing its cultural itineraries. The formerly rundown neighborhood of Las Peñas is now a colorful, inviting place where you can enjoy the panoramic view after climbing the 432 steps up to the top of the Santa Ana Lighthouse.
On the other side of the river, in Samborondón, the Parque Histórico contains preserved old buildings, survivors of the ravages of time.
Inside the Parque Histórico, you can experience another (delicious) side of Guayaquil’s renewal, culinary arts. There, the restaurant Casa Julián proposes a return to the roots of local cuisine with new techniques. Chef Juan Carlos Ordoñez will take you to different parts of the country with recipes like humita (similar to Brazilian pamonha) with deer ribs, a dish from Cuenca. Foodies also hang out at Mercado Sauces 9, enjoying flavors of local fruit, meat, and cheese in natura, as well as the ceviche at GustConchas, a regional success.
Farol de Santa Ana: Diego Noboa y Arteta, escalón 444
In the late afternoon, the movement increases in another modified part of the city, along the river. Whether you’re at Malecón 2000 and its amusement park, or a restaurant like Olé, a great place to snack on tapas and sip sangria, it becomes easy to forget that Guayaquil isn’t on the shore. But it is close enough to take a weekend getaway.
Guayaquil might seem like a beach, but a short road trip will take you to the actual Pacific: two hours away from the city, the Ruta del Sol connects the provinces of Santa Elena and Manabí, surfing destinations that attract athletes from all over the world.
The first stop is Salinas, 99 miles [160 km] away. Its tall buildings and Yacht Club are indications of the excitement of the seaside town, a popular summer destination. La Chocolatera, the westernmost tip of continental Ecuador, isn’t far from there.
From there, another two hours on the road will take you to Montañita, an old fishing village and spot for international surfers. Santa Catarina native Mickey Bernardoni visited the beach in 2005, liked it, and came back. He explains what makes surfing in the region unique: “The Pacific coast gets waves most of the year. What changes are the winds at certain periods.” At night, the unpretentious vibe manifests at themed hostels like Balsa Surf Camp and Tiki Limbo – which, incidentally, has great seafood!
The last stop on the Ruta is Machalilla National Park, a treasure with some islands, like Isla de la Plata and Isla Santiago, plus the continental portion, the beautiful beach of Los Frailes. It’s a good spot to see birds and, with any luck, the dance of the whales in the ocean. Surrounded by nearly virgin forest, Ecuador announces what it harbors a few miles away on the ocean, like a pocket version of the nature of the Galápagos.