A City of Two Extremes
Mon 19 Nov 2012 - Tue 4 Dec 2012
After a very nauseating 5 hr bus ride through winding mountainous roads, Danny and I finally arrived in Guayaquil!
Once we arrived at my aunt's and got settled in, she proceeded to give us very specific instructions on where we can go and what areas to AVOID. She drew out a map which marked the boundaries of 'the safe zone'. This essentially consisted of Malecon Simon Bolivar (the waterfront boardwalk, but stay within the blue gates), Santa Ana Hill (stick to the main staircase), and the tourist downtown blocks surrounding her building. We were given strict orders to stay within these limits!
The following day, armed with our safety map, we headed out to explore the city (well, the parts that are in the safe zone anyways). First stop was Seminario Park, otherwise known as Iguanas Park. Why Iguanas Park? Well, because there are literally tons of iguanas wandering the park freely. This was also where I discovered Danny's fetish for iguanas haha.
Entrance to Seminario Park (or Iguanas Park)
The Malecon Simon Bolivar (or Malecon 2000, because it was built in the year 2000) is a 1 1/2 mile waterfront walk. This area is actually very nice and quite comprehesive. Along the entire walk, there are monuments, museums, gardens, restaurants, shops, and even an IMAX theater, as well as docks and viewpoints. We also noticed that the entire waterfront is extremely clean and well maintained.
Photos taken along the Malecon:
Garden in Malecon
Hemiciclo de la Rotonda
Moorish Clock Tower
At the north end of the waterfront is a staircase that leads up Santa Ana Hill. There are exactly 444 steps (no, we did not count them, the steps are labelled :P). Both sides of the staircase are lined with restaurants, bars, shops and art galleries. At the very top, there is a small church, a lighthouse, and a view of the entire city. Adjacent to the stairs is Las Peñas - a charming neighborhood with cobble stoned streets flanked with small local art galleries and shops.
Staircase of Santa Ana Hill
Lighthouse at the top of Santa Ana Hill
View of Guayaquil
Our Impressions of Guayaquil
I must say, when we first researched Guayaquil, we were both a little worried. I mean, almost every site we googled indicated that Guayaquil is an extremely danergous and violent city. When we first arrived at our hostel (before we were picked up by my aunt), we noticed that every house in the neighborhood was either gated, surrounded by barbed wires, or enclosed by 7ft high concrete walls with glass shrapnels protruding from the top. Furthermore, all windows, regardless of which floor they were on, were protected with metal bars (we wanted to take a picture of this but was scared to take out our camera haha). After sunset, it is like the city is under lock down. During the day, the waterfront and downtown blocks are heavily patrolled; hotels and banks are guarded by policemen armed with shotguns.
A fellow traveller we met in Baños (who we bumped into later in the Galapagos) told us that he was held up by a guy armed with a machete when he visited Las Peñas in Guayaquil - "I walked up the wrong side of the hill" he explained. This was a very unsettling thought for us, as Danny and I were just there a few days ago. I also noticed that for every crime related story I hear (whether if it happened in Quito or Guayaquil), the victim always seem to take the blame - "I shouldn't have pulled out my cell phone", "I should have stayed on the main street", "I shouldn't have left my purse on the passenger seat", etc. Wow, it really is a very different world here.
On the flip side of the coin, my aunt also brought us to some very nice new development areas around the city, where it is perfectly safe to use your cell phone and walk around with a camera. I learned from my aunt that there are actually several pockets of 'safe zones' spread out around the city (granted, these safe zones are heavily guarded and patrolled).
Enjoying a cup of coffee in the nicer part of the city (Plaza Lagos Town Center)
So, having said all this, is Guayaquil really a dangerous city? Even though nothing has happened to us (knock on wood, we're still here for one more day), we would say relatively speaking, yes (relative to North American standards of course)...but that doesn't mean the city isn't worth a visit - you just have to learn to stay within the safe zones haha.