Guayaquil, officially called Santiago de Guayaquil, is the largest city in Ecuador with over two million inhabitants. Twenty years ago, it was a place that travelers avoided at all costs. It stood in stark contrast to its sister city to the north, Quito, which has a mild climate and is surrounded by beautiful mountains and dotted with the remnants of the Incans. Guayaquil was the tropical port city with a sprawling lower economic class, miles of squatter shacks, and the industrial remains of better days. But that’s the old Guayaquil. The new Guayaquil has become an international model for revitalized urban living. The people are welcoming, the universities are open to international students, and the geographic diversity of the region is alluring.
Geography & Demographics
The author of Guayaquil’s rebirth was a project called Malecon 2000. Utilizing city sales taxes, a massive project began on the city’s Guayas River waterfront. It grew and grew, starting with parks and museums. Botanical gardens, cafes, tall ships, and gorgeous outdoor living spaces were born. The Malecon project spread upwards — literally — with a revitalization of the hillside shanties into a colorful walk of coffeehouses, gift shops, and bakeries. Even the island in in the middle of the river has been established as an eco-sanctuary, with the indigenous population living as they always have and outsiders leaving at dusk.
Things to Do
Guayaquil now is able to compete with Quito for visitor attention. Its beautiful riverfront features art, outdoor cafes, theatres, parks, and a fantastic riverwalk. Massive shrimp catches from the city’s fisheries industry means the restaurants are serving delicious ceviche — a zesty local delicacy. Other industries have grown, and Guayaquil has become a jumping-off point for tourism hotspots like the Galapagos, the Amazon, and more mountainous destinations like Cuenca.
Studying in Guayaquil
There are several great study abroad organizations that have made Guayaquil their base in Ecuador. Knowledge Exchange Institute (which focuses on curriculum first) is situated at the Universidad Espiritu Santo; as is SUNY New Paltz and the Partnership for Service Learning (IPSL). IPSL, World Endeavors, and other organizations combine study with work: either internships or volunteer/service opportunities. Large street children populations, nearby wildlife sanctuaries, and major urban eco-projects make service a great option locally.
Another interesting study choice in Guayaquil is the Blue Hill College, which can be accessed via World Endeavors. This small college teaches university courses in English to local Ecuadorian students. This means you can study Spanish but you might also take Psych 101 in English, surrounded by local students. Jacksonville University has been offering an International Studies spring break program in Guayaquil for nearly a decade, combining a week of service and study with lectures from a variety of industry and social welfare leaders.
There are more obvious places to study in South America, and Guayaquil may not be on your first wish list — but it’s definitely worth considering. You won’t run into American tourists every day, and there is plenty to do beyond the classroom. Internship, volunteer and unique academic opportunities abound in Guayaquil, Ecuador.