The busy Malecón Simón Bolívar skirts the western bank of the wide, yellow-brown Río Guayas; it always heaves with traffic but the long pedestrianized section by the waterfront, known as the Malecón 2000, is the most pleasant place to stroll in town. Skilfully designed, diligently maintained and the most beloved public space in the city, it features a large, paved esplanade filled with trees, botanical gardens, contemporary sculpture and architecture, shopping malls and restaurants. It also connects some of Guayaquil’s best-known monuments along a promenade, which security guards regularly patrol, enclosed by railings and accessed only at guarded entrance gates – making it one of the safest places to spend a day in Guayaquil.
Its centrepiece is the Plaza Cívica, reached by gates at the end of 9 de Octubre or 10 de Agosto. As you enter the gates, you’re faced with La Rotonda, an imposing statue of South America’s liberators, José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar, shaking hands against a background of tall marble columns topped by billowing South American flags. The monument, which looks stunning when illuminated at night, commemorates the famous encounter between the two generals here on July 26 and 27, 1822. It’s designed so two people whispering into the two end pillars can hear each other – though the din of the traffic somewhat undermines the effect.
South of La Rotonda are sculptures dedicated to the four elements, with fire and earth doubling up as timber-and-metal lookout towers crowned by sail-like awnings. The views from the top are striking: on one side the urban sprawl stretches to the horizon, while on the other the low, fuzzy vegetation across the river lies completely free of buildings. Looking north, the huge bridge of Puente de la Unidad Nacional stretches across to the suburb of Durán, from where the famous Quito–Guayaquil trains used to leave. Beyond the sculptures and past the Yacht Club, the 23-metre Moorish clock tower marks the southern end of the Plaza Cívica.
South of the clock tower is the CC Bahía Malecón shopping centre and the dignified Plaza Olmedo, dedicated to statesman and poet José Joaquín de Olmedo (1780–1847), the first mayor of Guayaquil and a key agitator for the city’s independence. At the southern end of the promenade, the Mercado Sur, a splendid construction of glass and wrought iron, is floodlit at night to dazzling effect and is a wonderful space for temporary exhibitions and events. Opposite, indigenous flower sellers surround the elegant Iglesia San José, and south of the Mercado Sur lies a small clothes and artesanía market, though you’ll have to bargain hard to get a good deal. The real clothes bargains are to be found over the road from the Malecón at the sprawling Las Bahías market, sited on several blocks around the pedestrianized streets on both sides of Olmedo, near the bottom of the Malecón 2000.
North of the Plaza Cívica is a succession of sumptuous botanical gardens, fountains, ponds and walkways; each garden is themed on a historical period or Ecuadorian habitat, such as the Plaza de las Bromelias, a lavish concoction of cloudforest-like trees swathed in mosses and bromeliads. At the northern end of the promenade is an IMAX cinema; http://www.imax.com/theatres/t/imax-malecon-2000/. Below it, in the same building, Guayaquil en la Historia displays the evolution of the city, with fourteen beautifully crafted miniature reconstructions of various scenes, accompanied by information in English.