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Straight off the bat I have to say that I am a liar. The title of this post is an exaggeration, an untruth, a serious miscommunication, a barefaced lie. Whatever you want to call it, it’s just not factually correct. I didn’t actually have a “layover” in either of the aforementioned places. I call it a layover but highly doubt it would be considered as such because
a) I didn’t travel by plane. Like, at all.
b) It was all done by choice. And let’s be honest, nobody ever chooses 48 hour layovers.
But I like alliteration, and this way the title sounds a lot more catchy than what it would be if I was 100% truthful: “That time I spent a few days in two places and didn’t really do anything noteworthy.”
That one would be no bueno, amirite?
Now that my confession has been made and my conscience is clear, let us proceed.
I arrived by bus: a long, mind-numbingly boring 19-hour bus from Trujillo, Peru. It was the first floor of a Cruz del Sur bus, though, so although it may have been long and boring, I was laughing in luxury the whole way!
I am one of those rare Pokémon who love bus travel.
Especially long-distance. And especially when the bus is not in the UK.
I once spent almost 72 consecutive hours on a bus in South America with nothing but Ed Sheeran’s + album, a Sudoku puzzle book and Bridget Jones’s Diary to keep me going while one of the Fast & Furious films, badly dubbed in Spanish, played on repeat in the background. Did I complain? Nope. I had a whale of a time.
Barely reaching five foot five, the no legroom on public transport situation isn’t a problem for me. I can fall asleep in the most obscure of places, so we’re good there too. I don’t get motion sick, nor do I tired of looking out of the window at the same views for a million hours. And I could easily go 30+ hours eating nothing but a tube of Pringles or two. I mean, I wouldn’t choose to only eat Pringles for a day, but I could if necessary.
My point is, 19 hours on a first-class bus was a breeze. I could have done another 19. Heck, I could have ridden all the way up the Pan-American Highway!
But my amigo, who is almost a foot taller than me and needs to eat at least seventeen times a day or he turns into a Gremlin, had boarded the bus in Lima, which is a good eight hour drive from Trujillo and so by my Ninth Hour (his Seventeenth), he was miserable. Like, grumpy old man at odds with the world miserable or toddler who has just been told to stop eating sand and pulling the cat’s ear miserable.
So the best thing for his stomach and happiness (and for my sanity) was to not try and make it all the way to Quito on this same bus, but to get off at the first stop in Ecuador for a little overnight R&R.
Enter Guayaquil stage left.
Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest and most populous city. I know, I too thought Quito would get that Oscar! If you check out its Wikipedia page, it just kind of seems to have set the scene for a lot of battles and pirate activity in history.
I only stayed there one night and half of the following day, so I’m probably doing Guayaquil an injustice in saying this but it just didn’t seem to have a lot to offer. When you compare it to other big South American cities it just kind of makes you go meh.
Even the owner of the little family-run guesthouse we stayed at had to stop and think for a while when I asked him for suggestions on what we could do for the few hours we had. Eventually he suggested we go for a walk along the Malecón 2000 (a fancy name for the boardwalk that runs along the port) and up to the lighthouse where we could get a lovely view of the city.
So, that we did.
I’ll be honest, the views weren’t all that great.
I mean, they were okay. And I’m sure they would have been so much nicer had the sun actually been shining. But when you’ve seen the likes of Rio de Janeiro’s coastline from above, it’s hard for anywhere to compete, right?
The walk up to the lighthouse and back down again was quite nice, although the heavy police presence was somewhat off-putting. And much like La Boca, a lot of the buildings that looked so bright and colourful online and in brochures could really do with a new lick of paint. No photos of them, though because yeah, heavy police presence.
The guidebooks – and the nice man at the guesthouse – do put a strong emphasis on the fact that Guayaquil is not exactly the safest of places, and as the lighthouse and the hill leading up to it is a year-round tourist attraction, it’s an obvious place for crime to strike. Hence the police. They’re also kind of like walking talking signposts too which is nice.
Other than a lighthouse, Amsterdam-style sign and policemen, Guayaquil is also home to a lot of random statues. Obviously they’re not random and actually have some kind of relevance, but there’s not a lot of explanation around. They’re nice enough for photos, though.
If anybody could shed any light on any of these, please do.
As it turns out, despite seemingly not having a lot to offer in comparison to other cities in the area, Guayaquil is actually of extreme historical importance not just to Ecuador, but to a vast majority of Latin America.
When we were heading to Malecón 2000 we came across this very nice and very elaborate statue depicting a whole scene as opposed to just a bust or figure. There were two men shaking hands, and on the top of the forum was a whole bunch of flags. What with me being obsessed with Latin American and my amigo being a world flag aficionado, we spent an enjoyable few minutes trying to work out which flag belonged to which country. At first we assumed it was a collection of all South American flags, but then on noticing the obvious lack of Brazil but inclusion of Panama realised that assumption was most certainly wrong. So we took some photos with the intention of Googling it, and headed off.
It wasn’t until the Free Walking Tour in Quito a few days later that we got an actual explanation. And that explanation is…
Simon Bolívar and the Guayaquil Conference.
I won’t go into the history of Mr Bolívar right now, but what I will say is that he is a very important figure in Latin American history and to this day is given hero status by some.
Rested, relaxed and full of food, we moved on from Guayaquil and over to…
Unlike Guayaquil, Cuenca is somewhere I actually *wanted* to go. Immensely popular with American expats, I’d read a lot online and heard a lot in person about Cuenca and how it’s a lovely place to spend a few days just wandering around.
And that it was.
The architecture and general surroundings are just stunning! But if you’re not into nice buildings and doing nothing, maybe you’ll find that less is more in Cuenca. A day would be sufficient before moving on.
I stayed two days – one to wander around and one dedicated to Cuenca Zoo!
With entry at only $6.50, the zoo is more than worth it! Built upon the side of a hill, it’s the most aesthetically natural-looking zoo I’ve ever been to! There’s barely any manmade structures, hardly any disruption to the flora and fauna, and the majority of the enclosures are built with chicken wire, a bit of wood and nothing else.
Full to the brim of native Andean animals as well as a handful of non-locals, just walking around the zoo without spending any time watching the animals would take at least one hour.
So not only do you get a trip to the zoo for your money, but a nice little hike too !
2-for-1, who can complain?!
And the view over the city from the zoo is absolutely INCREDIBLE.
I felt like Mufasa and Simba looking over the Pridelands.