Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador. It is also reported to be the most dangerous and violent city in Ecuador. If you visit the U.S. State Department’s website, there are safety and security notices warning travelers of armed robberies at the airport and on local city buses, “express kidnappings”, sexual assaults, carjackings, and even a warning to avoid hailing taxis on the street.
This all sounds alarming, right? Unfortunately for some, the aforementioned might be enough negative information to keep them from ever visiting the city of Guayaquil or even Ecuador for that matter. Now I am not suggesting to ignore all travel warnings and precautions but what I want to point out is that these warnings are here for us to be informed, to make us more aware, and should not make us fear the unknown and miss out on life. Fear should not decide our future.
We spent 2 weeks in Guayaquil in the beautiful, colorful neighborhood of Las Peñas helping at a Bed & Breakfast that coupled as a venue for local plays, concerts, and model shoots via Workaway. During our stay, we got to meet some pretty awesome volunteers/“workawayers” from all over the world including France, Argentina, Korea, and Poland. For our Workaway experience, our tasks included cleaning (sweeping, mopping, dusting, etc.), changing linens, helping with reception and guests relations, running errands for the Bed & Breakfast (Casa Cino Fabiani) at the local market, and making the daily breakfast.
Our sole responsibilities were to keep the place clean and to make sure the guests were happy. There were 3 possible shifts that the “workawayers” could work and we all rotated and shared these shifts amongst each other. There was a morning breakfast/ cleaning shift from 0800 – 1300, an afternoon cleaning/ market shift from 1300-1800, and an evening cleaning/ guest relations shift from 1800-2300 that mainly consisted of checking guests into Casa Cino Fabiani. During our stay, we also met an actor from the upcoming Season 3 Netflix series Narcos. The director and actors for the play Dignidad also used our Bed & Breakfast as a rehearsal space for the play as it was to be showcased from June 15 through July 9 to a local audience.
Travel Tip: ATM fees can add up quickly when traveling around the world. Be sure to look into the Schwab Checking Account to get your ATMs rebated back to you. Find this and other tricks on our Travel Tools Page.
The area in which we stayed was called Las Peñas. It definitely has a charm of its own; with brightly-colored, wooden buildings aligning the narrow, cobblestone streets and a bohemian-chic ambiance, it was the very first neighborhood in Guayaquil and declared a Cultural Heritage Site between 2002 and 2008. The neighborhood is located just steps away from the Malecon 2000 and Santa Ana Hill. Its streets are lined with quaint restaurants and bars and local shops selling various things from handmade hats and scarves to bottles of water and beer, churros, and ice cream.
The Malecon 2000 is a boardwalk 2.5 km (1.5 mi) in length, overlooking the Guayas River, that has a plethora of restaurants and cafes to choose from, an IMAX theatre, museums, gardens, a library, a shopping mall, and La Perla (The Pearl), a Ferris wheel that overlooks the entire city of Guayaquil.
Santa Ana Hill has 456 stairs that traverse the brightly-colored, wooden houses and buildings of Las Peñas. Along the steps are various squares, museums, plazas, cafes, restaurants, and bars. At the top of the hill lies a chapel and 360 viewpoint of Guayaquil and its surroundings. The walk takes about 20 minutes and each step is numbered so you can track your climb.
Quite the contrast, just outside of Las Peñas neighborhood, the cobblestone streets change to pavement and sidewalks, the colorful, wooden buildings are replaced with your typical stone and brick buildings one would see in most major cities like New York and Chicago, and the “local shops” are replaced with commercial stores, supermarkets, malls, and major retailers.
Heavily armed police officers wearing bulletproof vests reside throughout the city and can be found at major intersections and private, armed security guards guard the entrances of banks, supermarkets, and retail stores. Cars and city buses cost the busy streets and thousands of people can be found walking amongst the sidewalks.
Travel Tip: If you know you are going to be walking at night, grab your High Powered Handheld Flashlight. It helped us in dealing with the dogs and seeing the cracks in the road. If someone approaches you, a quick flash of this light we make them back off or redirect. It’s a great tool and a potential conflict avoider. Find this and other tools we use on our Travel Tools page.
One must ask themselves, what makes a city? I do not believe that safety is constrained to one single regulation. I truly believe that safe cities are created through successful partnerships between the local store owners, city workers, servicemen and women, and policymakers. The people of a city need to come together and listen to the needs of their city and work together to create the change that is needed to make the city a safe place to live and visit.
I also believe that the perception of safety differs from person to person and from city to city. For example, having heavily armed police officers at every street corner in Guayaquil may make one person feel safer but may make another person feel as if the city is a very dangerous place to be (thus the need for the heavily armed officers). For some, appearance is everything while for others the attractiveness of a city merely represents a city’s wealth and ample resources, a clear divide between the rich and the poor, and does not guarantee personal safety.
I am so glad we traveled to Guayaquil and experienced the city and met the wonderful people that we did. It would be easy to avoid cities such as Guayaquil and travel to cities that are deemed to be “more tourist friendly”. It is often hard to have a positive perspective of the world if you only hear and read negative stories and the negative stories are further perpetuated by social media. It is also important to remember that in every country and culture people are inherently kind. In many places, I have visited people have welcomed me into their homes for dinner or coffee and many people have stopped to help me on the streets when I am lost to find my way. I have even had strangers offer their cell phones. All of them have offered information about their country or culture that has forever changed the way I think and feel about a particular place.
Guayaquil is a great city to visit for a couple of days. A city to pass through, catch a connecting flight to the Galapagos, or catch some rest before your next big adventure. It is not a city to that one goes to visit for a vacation or a getaway. There are parts of the city, just like any other city, where one should be more cautious and alert.
Traveling should be fun and safe. As always follow common sense rules; be alert and organized, stay in main tourist areas, watch your valuables if you have them on you, and if you have been drinking alcohol take an Uber or Lyft home instead of walking home.
“Fear tricks us into leading a boring life” – Donald Miller
Traveled: May 2017