There’s a distinct vibe to Ecuador’s largest city. It might be the hubbub of the port, the tropical heat, the history of pirates and fires, the tempting seafood, the iguanas lounging in the park or the mangos growing on the trees. Here, people are loud and unreserved, the rum and beers flow and the city buzzes with life well into the night.

The river is the city’s lifeline and central attraction; wandering along the Malecón, or riverfront, is the best way to soak up local life, ending up at the colourful Las Peñas neighbourhood that spirals up towards a blue and white-striped lighthouse. Though often thought of by travellers as a stopover pre- or post-Galapagos or the highway to the beach, there’s wildlife and wild times in this vibrant city that make it a destination in its own right.

What to do in Guayaquil

  • Explore Las Peñas and check out the view from the lighthouse on Cerro Santa Ana
  • Discover fantastic creatures and traditional ways of life in Parque Histórico
  • Cycle over water to an island and tread among massive crocodiles in the wetland sanctuary of Isla Santay
  • Get a bird’s eye view of the city on the La Perla wheel
  • Board Captain Morgan’s pirate ship to see Guayaquil from the river

Eating and drinking

It’s all about the seafood here, with fresh ceviche and hearty fish soup for breakfast – every local has their favourite, top secret encebollado joint, ask around for the best one of the moment (though El Pez Volador is always a winner). Beer is served ice cold and late into the night. Though decent, the best restaurants are not located around the Malecón, or waterfront, where most travellers end up staying; instead look to more residential barrios like Urdesa or Samborondón.

Top tip

Though not exactly a best kept secret, Parque Histórico certainly feels like an escape from the city. With lush botanic gardens, a wildlife sanctuary, historic buildings and riverside location, it’s an oasis of calm away from the hectic metropolis.