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Guayaquil – Ecuador’s “Big Apple”?

Ecuador has been under the expat radar in recent years, being overshadowed by Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize, to name a few. But the potential that is springing up in this South American location now makes this more than just a stopover for the Galapagos or the jumping off point for adventure expeditions to locales such as Vilcabamba. This dynamic growth is on full display in the economic center of Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Guayaquil, Ecuador


Guayaquil – Ecuador’s Financial Machine

Long recognized as the business and commercial hub of Ecuador, as well as being the largest city, Guayaquil is now coming into its own as a desirable location for expats looking for investment potential as well as a diverse and exciting lifestyle.

The competition between Guayaquil and the capital, Quito, mirrors the dynamic friction between those two American cultural and polar opposites – New York City and Los Angeles.

Just as New York is considered the financial and business center and Los Angeles the arts and entertainment mecca of the U.S., the financial engine of Guayaquil contrasts with the cultural highlights of Quito, the capital. For native Ecuadorians this contrast can be summed up in a local saying: “The money is made in Guayaquil and spent in Quito.”

guayaquil ecuador

Johnny Chunga

Bolivar, San Martin, and Pirates – A Brief History of Guayaquil Ecuador

Although formally established by the conquistador Francisco de Orellana as “the Most Noble and Most Loyal City of St. James of Guayaquil” on July 25th, 1538, Guayaquil had existed as an indigenous settlement for some time previous. As part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada (including all of what is now Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela and Colombia), the city grew from a population of roughly 2000 in 1600 to over 10,000 a hundred years later.

The battle for territory and wealth in the New World swept over Guayaquil – known even then as a valuable port of call. French and English pirates attacked and looted the city in 1687 and again in 1709, this time under the command of William Dampier. Although hoping for ransom, Dampier’s men left the city after an outbreak of yellow fever threatened them.

In 1820, local citizens backed by members of a battalion stationed in Guayaquil removed Spanish royalists and declared independence from Spain. This independence was to be short lived as both Peru and Colombia desired this strategic and economic location to be part of their own emerging nations.

It was this set of competing interests that lead the two leaders of South American independence, Bolivar and San Martin to meet in 1822 and decide that Guayaquil should be part of Bolivar’s “Gran Colombia.” To this day, many Guayaquil residents view Bolivar, not as a hero, but as a traitor, who made them give up their independence in exchange for being part of his vision of a unified South America.

Bolivar’s vision did not have a long lifespan however and, in 1830, Ecuador left Gran Colombia to become an independent nation taking with it the cities of Quito, Cuenca, and the thriving and growing port of Guayaquil.

Colonial Ambiance Meets Modern Vision

As Guayaquil has continued to expand both in terms of business and population a conscious effort by local officials to make it an attractive destination for expats and tourists as well as providing investment opportunities has transformed this metropolis from the colonial bastion that it had been to a 21st century destination.

With a population in 2010 of 2,278,691 (per El Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos del Ecuador) – or roughly 16% of total Ecuadorian citizens – Guayaquil is meeting the challenges of the 21st century. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in Guayaquil being on the “short list” of many potential expats and those looking to invest in new and growing areas.

Just Like New York City? Almost. Well, Sort of.

Like its North American counterpart New York City, there are pockets of poverty within the affluence. Nonetheless the growth and development that have been experienced since the late 1990s continue to transform this diverse and vibrant metropolis into an important South American hub and destination for those looking to find new avenues for investments or a change of lifestyle. Here are just some of the most interesting and exciting neighborhoods and attractions.

Las Peñas

This is the traditional barrio that has been largely restored to reflect the classic Spanish Colonial style of the city. As a part of the original Spanish settlement, the cobblestone streets, multicolored houses and mysterious hidden courtyards and gardens harken you back to a more romantic time.

Las Peñas is also the location for the most prominent tourist site in the city-the Cerro Santa Ana. The 444 steps up to the top of the hill are filled with a variety of artisans, shops, restaurants, and cafes.

Once you have arrived at the summit you are greeted by the Faro de Santa Ana – a 59 foot lighthouse and the Naval Museum; the latter contains some of the cannon used to defend the city from pirate attacks in times past.

Malecón 2000

Perhaps one of the most ambitious restoration projects through South and Central America, this was the brainchild of the former president of Ecuador, León Febres-Cordero Ribadeneyra whose vision was to revitalize the commercial district of Guayaquil as a place that could be enjoyed by visitors while retaining the dynamic functionality of a 21st century business center.

The Donors’ Pavilion marks the contributions made by Ecuadorians to the revitalization of the country’s largest city and acts as a kind of center point to the entire project. Next to the Pavilion is South America’s first IMAX theater, aptly named the Malecon 2000.

Along the 2.5 kilometer stretch of boardwalk, visitors can enjoy a variety of open spaces, restaurants, shops and the Chamber Rotunda, playgrounds and rest areas and the Jardines del Malecón whose multicolored floral displays have become a source of pride and delight to both locals and visitors who experience Guayaquil’s resurgence and transformation from a Spanish shipping hub to a vibrant and prosperous community fit for the 21st century and beyond.

The Museo Antropológico y de Arte Contemporáneo can be found at the end of the river walk and is an excellent place for a first time visitor to be exposed to fine examples of Ecuadorian art and gain an understanding of the unique social history of this South American jewel.

Parque de las Iguanas

The actual name of the park is Parque Bolivar (also known as Parque Seminario) but for reasons that become immediately obvious to anyone visiting it, “park of the iguanas” is certainly an appropriate nickname. This may well be the only location in a major city where these land lizards, some of which can be more than three feet in length, reside in abundance. Ironically, some of the best hotels in the city surround the park. On the west side, the Municipal Museum is home to ancient Incan relics from one of the earliest cultural groups that inhabited what is now Ecuador, the Valdiva tribe.

The Galapagos

Guayaquil has long been known as the jumping-off point for tours to the Galapagos archipelago. There are a wide selection of tours and tour operators that offer an opportunity to visit one of the most unique and naturally diverse locations on Earth. Having this kind of access to the land of Darwin makes conducting your own explorations both convenient and more affordable.

Expats Have Lots of Living and Employment Options

For those considering Guayaquil as a potential location to retire or move to, it is important to keep in mind that like its North American counterpart, New York City, this is a textbook example of big city living. Obviously prices in the better parts of the city are significantly higher than those outside the city center. Are you moving with a family? Retiring? Relocating for work? These are all questions that should factor into your choice along with budget and security.

Find Your Home

The first, best piece of advice is to do your homework; talk to expats, check online social media sites i.e. Facebook, Twitter to find others who have already completed the journey. Talking to realtors is also important as these individuals have experience answering just the kinds of questions you might ask and, even more importantly, anticipating the ones you might forget.

Some of the communities favored by expats are Samborondon, Los Ceibos, and Via La Costa. While these are all a short distance outside the city center, the types of housing offered mirrors that which is found in the States. The types of housing is mixed with multi-unit structures (apartments, condos) outnumbering standalone houses. Prices vary and depend on the amenities included as well as the size of the unit.

If you are considering buying property, there is definitely a learning curve. While non-Ecuadorians have the same right to buy land and property, the process is different from what you may be used to. This is most definitely an area that you should research before signing on the proverbial dotted line.

Finding a Source of Income

With Guayaquil’s continued growth many American and European businesses are setting up operations and are in need of staff. Ecuador, unlike many other South American countries, has made it much easier for expats to find employment. All that is required for a work visa is a letter from the perspective employer stating the reasons that they are contracting your services and your importance to the company. This is usually done in the Ecuadorian consulate in your home country. Generally, your first employment contract is three months in length.

As business continues to flourish it can be expected that, as the principal economic center in the country, Guayaquil will be at the forefront of creating jobs and in providing opportunities for those who are looking for new horizons while staying with their current employers. The need for skilled personnel by Ecuadorian companies is also increasing and has created a favorable environment for individuals with those skills who are not residents.


In recent years, both Central and South America have seen an increase in the number of retirees, primarily from the U.S., who are relocating for both the difference in lifestyle and the lower cost of living. A number of recent surveys report that most retired couples are living comfortably for under $2000 per month. Significantly lower property taxes, cheaper medical costs, lower rents and entertainment expenses all contribute to the desirability of retiring here.

The unique part of Guayaquil, from the retiree’s perspective is the accessibility to most of the modern conveniences of stateside living. Cell phone and wifi services are plentiful and, with the growth of expat communities in and around the city center, the number of opportunities for social and cultural events is also increasing.

Guayaquil in a Nutshell

From an ancient Valdiva settlement, to a Spanish shipping port, to becoming the economic engine that powers the growth and development of Ecuador, Guayaquil’s history can be summed up in a single word: Potential. At each step in its long and colorful history this South American port of call has continued to advance and move towards the future while maintaining a close connection with its heritage.

As a 21st century destination, Guayaquil can truly be viewed as the “Big Apple” of Ecuador, and with its blend of revitalization, economic dynamism, and cultural diversity, this city is well placed to become an important destination of choice for expats, retirees, and businesses alike. In a very real sense, Guayaquil’s promise for tomorrow is as rich and colorful as the flowers of Jardines del Malecón.

Map of Guayaquil, Ecuador

Guayaquil, Ecuador Fast Facts

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One thought on “Guayaquil – Ecuador’s “Big Apple”?

  1. 1

    Congratulations to the author of this note, do justice to a big city like Guayaquil, Guayaquil my city is the city of entrepreneur, the more friendly and loyal people in Ecuador .
    Was in Guayaquil where he inicio true independence of the nation,The 9 October 1.820
    sometimes I see people especially Ecuador Quito (the headquarters of the idle bureaucracy living off the taxes from other parts of Ecuador) the stifling centralism ,bad reviews of people from Cuenca that they’re jealous and false.
    and expatriates who have never been in Guayaquil and think badly of my city web sites, these people are bitter.
    if you want the best nightlife, best friends want if you’re a person
    business, bold visionary Guayaquil is your destination if you want to live in a convent go to Quito and Cuenca and boring lives.

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