We didn’t plan on leaving Colombia so soon, but as has become the norm this year, our plans changed last minute again. With negative Covid tests in hand we flew to Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador, and spent a few days exploring the city and figuring out our rough plan for the next month.
Our flight landed in Guayaquil pretty late so we didn’t see much on the Uber ride to our Airbnb for the next three days. The next morning we set out to explore. We looked up a few good places for breakfast and coffee (which turned out to be chains, but they were still tasty), after which we headed for one of the two large hills overlooking the city for an urban hike. We read there was a great viewpoint and plaza with lots of shops and restaurants in the neighborhood on the way down. It was hot, which we definitely weren’t used to after the last couple weeks up in the mountains in Colombia.
We ended up at a huge statue on top of the hill, which wasn’t exactly what we expected but it did offer a tremendous view of the city. We thought we might be able to walk across to the other side of the hill to get to the main plaza, but after heading that direction we realized something didn’t seem right. The return trip down brought us back through a rather sketchy part of town, so we decided it was best to leave that part of town ASAP and try again another day to find the actual hilltop we were looking for. We headed to the next stop on our itinerary for the day, Malecon 2000, a boardwalk that runs through the city overlooking the river. The boardwalk is home to the largest Ferris wheel in South America, which we were all pretty excited about until we realized it was closed.
For dinner on our first day we decided to try a local specialty, crab (seafood is big here). Not unlike eating bottomless blue crab in Maryland, they are boiled and served with a bib, a mallet, and lots of napkins. It’s a lot of work to get to the meat, but worth it and delicious.
The next morning we found a great little corner restaurant that offered cheese empanadas, bolons (balls of mashed green plantain stuffed with cheese and meet, and fried, mmmmm), and fresh juice. Feeling more prepared this time, we set out for Santa Ana Hill, this time finding the right path. After 456 numbered steps we ended up at the top, with a really cool old church and lighthouse, and of course more great views.
After rewarding ourselves with a few beers atop the hill overlooking the river, we headed back down to the next adventure for the day: taking the gondola across the river. For locals the gondola is a means of public transportation but that didn’t stop us from making it our tourist entertainment for the day and enjoying the great views of the city. We hopped on and planned to take it to the end and back, but realized as we got to the end we would be forced to get off and buy a second set of tickets to make our return trip. We even elicited a live PA announcement telling passengers that they must get off at the end of the line. Whoops haha.
Arguably our favorite part of Guayaquil though was the famous Parque Seminario, better known as “Iguana Park” located in the middle of the city, which we visited several times during our trip. As the name suggests, the park is home to dozens, maybe hundreds of wild iguanas. They are quite comfortable around people and barely move enough for you to walk past them. Some people feed them. Really cool to see these modern dinosaurs up close.
After a few days in the city we headed via bus to our second stop in Ecuador, this time a small beach town called Montañita. After checking into our hostel we spent most of our first day walking around town and on the beach. That night while looking for a place for dinner we found a street with a handful of small Ecuadorian restaurants, each with a charcoal grill out on the sidewalk, helmed by a man using a hair dryer to stoke the fire. They all smelled amazing. We picked one and needless to say the experience and the meal were both great (and cheap).
The next morning we signed up for something most of us had never done before, surfing lessons. Of the four of us, Elizabeth was the only one with experience (with one surf lesson) so we really didn’t have any idea what we were getting ourselves into. Our guides, Antonio and Christian, brought us to a completely private beach with small waves which was perfect for our level of experience (basically none). In total we spent about two hours standing, wobbling, and falling, but eventually we all got the hang of it. It’s wild how much energy swimming out, falling, and swimming out again takes out of you.
After a looooonnnggg two hours we went home to recover and relax. For lunch we found a hole-in-the-wall restaurant to check off another typical Ecuadorian food that was on our list to try, encebollado, which is an onion and fish soup. It usually comes with fresh limes and chifles, (fried plantain chips) and it’s delicious (as long as you like fish and onions). We spent the rest of the afternoon recovering from surfing and drinking fresh mojitos. We also found a Cuban cigar shop and grabbed a few to enjoy on the rooftop at our hostel that evening.
The next morning in our search for another local place for breakfast we ended up stumbling upon the best baked goods that we’d discovered during our trip. The place was called Medias Dulces and was run by a local guy who definitely knew what he was doing. We tried the several types of croissants, coconut pastries, cheese pastries, and several other varieties; all were incredible.
Following our incredible breakfast discovery we decided, despite being completely exhausted and sore, to surf for a second day in a row. Our guides from yesterday offered to let us rent their surfboards and drive us to the beach. We ended up at a different beach from the day before with more people and what felt like much bigger waves. We surfed for a good while and met Antonio’s girlfriend and super cute one-year-old daughter before heading back to shower and relax for the night. We rewarded ourselves for a second day of surfing back at our favorite mojito spot, ate some amazing shawarma for dinner, and hung out at the hostel to enjoy the sunset.
The next morning, after a quick stop to stock up on pastries at Medias Dulces, we hopped on another bus to head to a new beach town, Salinas. While Montañita was a small beach town where you could walk from one end to the other in five minutes, Salinas was more like a city with high rise buildings that happens to be on the beach. Our hostel was right across the street from the beach.
After settling into our hostel early in the afternoon, we learned that the beach closed at 3 PM so we threw down our things and headed across the street. The beach was super crowded, easily the most packed place we had seen on our trip, but we found a clear space and spent some time relaxing until the beach patrol came around and made us (and everyone else) leave.
We spent the rest of the day doing what we do best: eating, drinking, and playing cards. We tried a few different spots for ceviche, another must-have on the coast of Ecuador. As delicious as our seafood dinner was, the highlight was really dessert. Emily and Elizabeth found what would become their favorite ice cream from a convenience store, mint chocolate Bombons. Little did we know we’d spend the next 3 weeks stopping at every convenience store we walked by looking for these.
After a long weekend on the beach, on Monday morning we packed up to head to our next city. What we anticipated being a long day of bus travel to get there ended up being an even longer day of taxi, bus, foot, and van travel, but more on that in our next post.