South America is a budget backpacker’s paradise. Daily travel can often be accomplished on about the cost of a nice dinner in the U.S. There are, however, cities that can break the bank.
Although Ecuador may seem mostly immune to this, Guayaquil can be rather pricey. For those with a keen eye for thrift, a few days in Guayaquil can still be an affordable way to get a cultural injection away from the smaller tourist towns in the country.
Guayaquil Ecuador on a Backpacker’s Budget
Guayaquil, once only a city tourists flew in and out of, has now become a destination in its own rite. Over the last decade, the city has undergone a major revitalization effort.
The centerpiece of this effort is the Malecon 2000, a 1.5 mile stretch of riverfront that has been developed to include fountains, parks, food courts, concert venues, and boat docks.
Much of what the city has to offer is within walking distance of the Malecon, which makes it an excellent starting point for most city adventures.
Credit: Dave Lonsdale
On the Cheap
Although Guayaquil’s amenities are much pricier than what tourists will find elsewhere in Ecuador, the city has a very affordable aspect. The free (or near free) options in Guayaquil can keep a traveler busy for at least a few days and allow them to experience a wide range of cultural and local attractions.
Setting up camp near the Malecon in one of the hostels or hotels will be more costly but will save in the long run. Without the expense of taxis, or the sweat equity of long walks, the slightly higher price of these accommodations pays off. Starting explorations near the southern end of the Malecon is a great way to enjoy the entire promenade. Strolling along the Guayas river, one can experience all the shops and parks that dot the strip. There is no fee to enter this area, yet, there is plenty to see and do.
Sitting at the northern end of the Malecon is the Museum of Anthropology (Museo Antropologico). The exhibits within the museum are varied and span from prehistoric sculpture to modern art. The majority of the pieces were sourced from the Guayas river delta and Ecuador as a whole. The cost depends on if there are special exhibits or not and can range from free to a measly $1.50.
Blanketing the hill just beyond the museum is the Las Penas and Cerro Santa Ana neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are chock full of multi-colored pastel houses, art galleries, small pubs, restaurants, and crowned by an observation tower and a small church. The stellar view afforded from the top of the hill is well worth the hike up the 400+ stairs and is one of the best free attractions in Guayaquil.
Eating Well For Less
Just because you are in the most populated city of Ecuador, doesn’t mean you have to pay high prices. There are plenty of small bakeries tucked away on side streets, fast food joints in the food courts on the Malecon, and mom-and pop shops where a traveler can get a beer, a sandwich, and watch a futbol (soccer) game for $5.
If sampling the exquisite seafood of the region is on your list, try Lo Nuestro. This small restaurant has white tablecloths, an excellent wine selection, and is situated in the hip Urdesa district (a $5 cab ride from downtown). For around $10-$15 an unforgettable gourmet meal can be snagged.
When To Go
Seasonal rains begin in January and let up in early May. Those rains can sometimes cause flooding and put a damper on plans to walk to the town’s sights. To avoid being rained out, the best time to visit is June through December.
Guayaquil is located just a few degrees south of the equator and lies in a river delta, which means it’s always hot and humid. The seasonal rains can turn the landscape around Guayaquil a vibrant green. High mid day temperatures, mixed with high moisture content in the air, can make the hours just after noon unbearable, especially for walking tours.
Getting There & Around
Getting to Guayaquil has become a much easier proposition since the Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport was rebuilt in 2006. The airport is serviced by flights from Europe, North America, and Asia and by popular airlines such as LAN and American Airlines.
- Accommodations: The hotel or hostel is the biggest expense for any traveler landing in Guayaquil. Hotels start around $80 and hostels vary wildly but are much pricier than most other cities in Ecuador. The Grand Hotel Guayaquil ($95+) is ideal for a more posh experience and the Manso Hostel Guesthouse ($40+) for a more affordable alternative. Both are close to the Malecon and other attractions. The Manso is as centrally located as you can get, being just off the Malecon and just a few blocks from the museums.
- Meals: $6-$10
- Beer: $2
- Do spend a little time in the museums. Ancient artifacts mixed with more modern art make for a refreshing mixture.
- Take the taxi ride to Lo Nuestro in Urdesa. The seafood is phenomenal and affordable if you order wisely.
- Visit the Parque Seminario on a weekend and enjoy the interaction with the iguanas.
- Rush the walk through Las Penas and Cerro Santa Ana. There are many side streets and small shops to explore.
- Walk through parts of the city not on the tourist circuit. Guayaquil has had great success curbing gang violence, but it still exists.
- Take a taxi from the Malecon to Las Penas or the museums. They seem far on a map, when in reality, they are a 20 minute walk.
- Barcelona’s Stadium Estadoio Monumental, in Guayaquil, is the second largest in South America.
- Mike Judge, creator of Beavis and Butthead, Office Space, and King of the Hill is from Guayaquil.
- Guayaquil was a hub for artists during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Many artists spent time in the city in search of inspiration.
Feature Image Credit: Cecilia Heinen
About the author: Jason Heflin, founder of Backcountry-Communications, spent his youth exploring the creeks, trails, and backroads of his home state of Kentucky. In college he joined a study abroad trip to Ireland where he spent his days studying business and his nights studying the pub culture of Dublin. His time on the emerald isle sparked his passion for travel and he has been traveling ever since. His journeys have landed him on five continents and in dozens of countries. These trips never quench his thirst but only inspire him to keep traveling.