When it comes to Ecuador travel, most of the attention goes to the Galápagos and Quito – maybe with some to spare for quaint Cuenca up in the Andes. But the country’s largest city and business capital, Guayaquil down on the Pacific coast, is despite its big-city amenities still seen as rather grey and uninteresting to visitors – mostly a destination for business travellers.
Even so, there’s one historic neighbourhood, tucked away at the end of Guayaquil’s reconstructed malecón (and these days known as the Malecón 2000) which is more than worth an afternoon and/or evening of your day.
Perched on a rise just over the Pacific, Barrio las Peñas (“The Rocks”) looms above the rest of the city and dates back to its founding in the mid-16th century – though the colourful architecture we see today is a product of the post-colonial 19th century, after several fires put paid to the previous versions. Easy to reach despite its uphill location, Las Peñas was once home to numerous members of Ecuadorian high society (including no fewer than eleven Ecuadorian presidents, along with luminaries over the years including visitors like Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Neruda, and Che Guevara).
And today, Guayaquil truly offers no greater charmer, with beautifully maintained pastel houses (thanks to a mid-aughts restoration project by city hall) and narrow cobbled streets (above) snaking up, down, and across the hillside. Unexpected bends and surprising switchbacks, and a laidback, bohemian feel make this very strollable zone a joy to wander, whilst browsing in its cute little shops and galleries, grazing on fresh seafood and local goodies in its cafes and restaurants, and enjoying an occasional tot in its various watering holes.
Yet for me, the cherry on the cake up here is surely the core Las Peñas, the Cerro de Santa Ana, the 60-metre (197-foot) hill crowned by Guayaquil’s most impressive lookout, with sweeping views over the entire city and nearby coast and ocean (and it goes without saying the sunsets up here are memorable indeed!). Also up here you’ll find the cute little Chapel of Our Lady of Mercy along with an iconic lighthouse, finished off with a whimsical swirl of barber-pole-style stripes of white and pastel blue (and yes, you can climb that, too!). And of course I sat on the bench out front and took a selfie with the statue of Juan Pueblo, the city’s mascot, based on an early-20th-century cartoon character.
You get up here by climbing 444 steps (above – they’re numbered!) along a series of staircases – taking the occasional breather at more cute shops and galleries along the way, of course, as well as the El Fortín Museum, built around built the remains of the original colonial fort which once defended the city against pirates, with the lighthouse looming right above.
And if you can stick around after the sun goes down, don’t pass up the chance, for the barrio comes alive with pleasant fairy lights strung across some of its principal streets, as well as locals and visitors alike who come to enjoy a lively and atmospheric evening out. But day or night, Las Peñas is a real charmer!
More info in English: GuayaquilEsMiDestino.com.