Most mornings, I take a brisk walk along the Malecon 2000. This lovely riverfront promenade, flanking the western side of the Guayas River, is the crown jewel of Guayaquil. It begins at the Crystal Palace, the former southern Guayaquil marketplace turned exhibit hall, and ends up at the MAAC (Museo Antropológico y de Arte Contemporáneo), located at the foot of the northern hillside neighborhood of Las Peñas. This recent waterfront restoration project transformed what was once one of the seediest areas of Guayaquil into the safest outdoor public area in the city. On any given day joggers, couples, friends and families enjoy the calm, relaxing riverside environment bordering the busy downtown area.
Certain times of the year, tiny islands of water hyacinths float up or down the river, depending on the tide. As you walk along the promenade, there are numerous gardens with lush tropical plants and brightly colored flowers shaded by majestic trees. During the rainy season (January-May) the tree canopies offer a dry place to wait as the occasional downpour passes overhead.
On weekends, the malecón, which means sea front promenade, is bustling with families walking, sitting, playing and exercising. There is a fitness circuit, a playground and a variety of open areas, where tai chi regulars meet. Vendors sell water, juices and soda from their brightly colored carts, while young ladies stand inside the big round red and white Pinguino stands selling ice cream. There is an outdoor food court at the southern end of the malecón and an indoor one at the northern end. The typical international and national fast food chains are represented, including the nicest McDonald’s I have ever seen. Actually, it looks more like a bistro with its sleek contemporary wood and metal tables and chairs and large glass windows overlooking the river.
The Guayas Ship School (Buque Escuela “Guayas“) is docked at the Navy Yacht Club on the malecón . Guayas is the name of the province where Guayaquil is located. Built in 1977, in Bilbao, Spain, the “Guayas” sailboat acts as the Ecuadorian Navy’s world ambassador, having visited 60 ports in 25 countries and traveled the equivalent of 16 times around the world (340,000 nautical miles). The ship’s many voyages have often included outstanding students and foreign officials.
The Henry Morgan, also docked at the malecón, is a pirate ship replica that offers 50-minute tours up and down the Guayas River. This sailboat was built specifically as part of the Malecon 2000 project and was named after the infamous pirate, Captain Henry Morgan. Though Morgan never made it to Guayaquil, he represents the many pirates that plied the Ecuadorian waters throughout history.
Everyday, the maintenance workers are fixing, staining or sanding the wooden planks and railings, sweeping up any litter, emptying the trash bins, power washing the brick and stone and feeding and watering the plants. There are even recycling stations with clearly marked barrels and interpretive posters explaining the benefits of recycling.
Designed by French engineer/architect Gustave Eiffel and constructed in 1907, the Crystal Palace was once known as Guayaquil’s busy southern marketplace where vendors sold vegetables, fruit and fish, among other things. Today, it is used for expositions, flower shows and a variety of public or private events. Early mornings, usually Saturdays or Sundays, the workers are seen cleaning up from the previous night’s festivities.