On the coastal lowlands at the mouth of the Guayas River, Guayaquil is the country’s largest city and economic centre. The capital of the Guayas region, the city is Ecuador’s main port.
Archaeological evidence points to the first permanent settlements in the region from around 3400 BC. In the mid-fifteenth century, despite strong resistance, the Incas invaded and colonized the area. Before the conquistadors arrived in the sixteenth century, the Manteño-Huancavilca peoples populated the lowlands. They dealt in gold, silver and copper and the area was an important trading centre.
In 1531 the conquistador Francisco Pizarro arrived in Ecuador and dispatched Sebastian de Belalcazar to conquer the lowland area. The indigenous population resisted the colonist’s arrival in 1535 and uprisings ensued. Francisco de Orellana founded Guayaquil as Santiago de Guayaquil 2 years later to the west of the original settlement. Tradition has it that the name derives from the Huancavilca chieftain and his wife, Guayas and Quil, who killed themselves rather than surrender to the invader. The city was founded as the region’s main port serving the interior and the Pacific coast. Locals’ refusal to comply with Spanish demands led the colonists to employ African slaves and workers from the Quito area.
In the early nineteenth century Guayaquil was a strong centre of the independence movement. It was here in 1822 that Simón Bolívar met with his Peruvian counterpart José de San Martín to plan independence for the whole continent. Guayaquil was traditionally a liberal city in contrast to the conservative Quito. Following independence a number of conflicts broke out between the two regions. The political divide continued throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Guayaquil suffered various disasters, including pirate raids, plagues caused by poor sanitation and fires that destroyed the city’s wooden infrastructure. An earthquake in 1942 resulted in extensive rebuilding.
Over the centuries, Guayaquil gradually developed as Ecuador’s major commercial and economic area with its port as the focus. By the twenty-first century it handled nearly all Ecuador’s imports and nearly half of its exports.
A third larger than Quito, Guayaquil is Ecuador’s economic capital and its centre of commerce. As the country’s chief port, Guayaquil handles 50% of exports, such as fruit and coffee, and 90% of imports. Local industries include textiles, tanning, food processing and electrical equipment. Two universities, one founded in 1867 the other in 1962, are among the city’s educational institutions. Guayaquil is served by an international airport 5 km north of the city, has rail links to Quito and road connections to the Pan-American Highway.
Places of Interest
Among the city’s sites are the municipal museum, with modern art, ethnographic and archaeological displays, the San Francisco cathedral and church of Santo Domingo (1548). The Barrio de las Peñas retains a colonial feel with its traditional wooden buildings while the Parque del Centenario has heroic and historical monuments.
15 km west of the city lies an 8,650-acre nature reserve protecting 200 species of bird, jaguars and howler monkeys.