While it is possible to love both of Quito and Guayaquil, each of these Ecuadorian cities has a unique vibe. Huge differences in climate and geographic location have led to distinctly different cultures and traditions. That means you might naturally be attracted to one over the other.
Not sure? Take our short quiz to find out!
Want to learn more about each city before you take the quiz? Read on!
Quito: the 2nd Highest Capital City in the World
Quito, Ecuador lies high in the Andes at 9,350 feet (2850 meters) above sea level, making it the second highest official capital city in the world after La Paz, Bolivia. Very polite and somewhat formal, Quiteños are famous for being excellent hosts. The local dialect is easy to understand making this city one of the best in South America for learning how to speak Spanish.
Quito is situated in the heart of Northern Ecuador making it an excellent location to explore small mountain villages and cloud forest nature reserves famous with birdwatchers worldwide. Local festivals include the Founding of Quito on December 6th and the week-long Easter celebration of Holy Week.
While Quito has a modern business sector with mirrored skyscrapers and large shopping malls, most visitors head to the Spanish-colonial historic heart, a UNESCO World Heritage site. There, the cobblestoned streets, white-washed churches, and colorfully painted historic homes and businesses blend to create a beautifully preserved example of early European presence in South America.
Despite few signs of Ecuadorian indigenous roots, this glorious city was founded on the burned remains of an Incan city. Today’s local culture blends many ancient Andean traditions with more Catholic-European practices. The narrow streets are alive with vendors selling everything from Dragon’s Blood to candied nuts and other sweet treats beloved by adults and children. Sunday afternoons make one of the best times to stroll through large plazas full of families enjoying a pretty day, wander city streets closed to traffic, and meet local artisans selling their wares along one of the best-preserved streets in Quito, Garcia Moreno. It’s even possible to escape the hustle and bustle of the active historic center by wandering many of the side streets leading into lesser-known but beautiful local neighborhoods like San Marcos.
Traditional foods highlight locally grown vegetables including several varieties of potato, the tuberous melloco, the hominy-like grains of corn called mote, and delicious fava beans. Favorite meals often revolve around pork in dishes like hornado and fritada. Cuy, or guinea pig, is saved for special occasions and is best tried in small suburban towns on the outskirts of Quito. Only a few of hours from the Pacific Coast, Quito also has excellent seafood restaurants. It is not uncommon to find locals enjoying a delicious bowl of fish soup (encebollado) or ceviche for breakfast.
Read more about Quito in our article: Gateway to Ecuador: Quito.
Guayaquil: The Business Mecca of Ecuador
Guayaquil is first and foremost a center for international business. Founded along the Rio Guayas, this port city has a long hosted import and export businesses. It attracts bankers, lawyers, politicians, and other movers and shakers in the South American business world. In recent decades, the city has heavily invested in tourism, building a stunningly successful boardwalk, the Malecon 2000. Guayaquileños flock to this riverside destination most evenings to catch a whiff of a cool breeze after a hot and humid day. Museums, parks, and city plazas dot the landscape of this far-reaching city.
Stereotypically more open and relaxed than their Sierran neighbors to the north, Guayaquileños are known to be out-spoken, fast-talking, party-loving people. Mornings are brisk with business, especially at fish markets found along the different city piers. Often, family-run establishments shut down in the mid-afternoon for traditional siestas. But as the sun sets, the city once again comes alive as families head outside to find a breath of fresh air. As evening turns to night, many neighborhoods in Guayaquil explode with action, music pouring from restaurants, bars, and discotecas alike.
While not well-known for outdoor destinations, Guayaquil is situated to visit both mangrove forests and dry coastal forests, each endangered by encroaching development along the Pacific Coast. The gorgeous sandy beaches of Guayas and Santa Elena are a short day trip away. The sea level location makes this city a perfect starting point for those who fear the higher altitudes waiting in the Sierras.
Guayaquil is famous for its seafood, especially local crabs harvested from the muddy waters of nearby native mangrove forests. Add shrimp, langostinos (large prawns), clams, and several local varieties of fish to the menu and you will have your fill of seafood. Instead of potatoes, expect to find plantains in all their forms, be it fried and sweet or mashed into starchy submission as bolon or tigrillo.
Read more about Guayaquil in our article Gateway to Ecuador: Guayaquil.
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