I was a bit apprehensive before visiting Guayaquil last fall. Ecuador's largest city and main gateway to the Galápagos Islands has long had a reputation for being a seedy and dangerous place. However, I was pleasantly surprised. This metropolis of over two million people on the Río Guayas has been spruced up in recent years with a number of ambitious urban renewal programs.
Guayaquil's rundown waterfront has been replaced by an attractive 2.5-kilometer (1.6 miles) pedestrian walkway known as Malecón 2000, which has restaurants, shopping areas, botanical gardens, plus a new Anthropological and Contemporarary Art Museum (MAAC Museum) and theatre complex. Many important buildings around town have also been refurbished, and 100-year-old houses in the historic Las Peñas neighbourhood on Cerro Santa Ana have been restored and painted bright colours.
Another new addition is the Guayaquil Historical Park across the river from downtown. This 8-hectare (20 acres) tropical park is divided into three zones: a Wildlife Zone with interptretive trails and local animals - many of them endangered species - living in natural settings; a Traditional Zone highlighting the rural lifestyles of Ecuador's Pacific coast; and an Urban Architecture Zone with handsome wooden buildings from the early 20th century that were transported from Guayaquil by boat. Projects like these often seem contrived to me. But I thought that this one was well done, and the tranquil park made a welcome break from the crowded city centre.
The Parque Histórico Guayaquil is located across the Guayaquil-Durán bridge. It is open Tueday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Admission is US$3 for adults and US$1.50 for children. The park is wheelchair accessible, and there is a pleasant restaurant.