Ecuador's largest city and commercial centre, Guayaquil, is a dynamic port on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Take in its urban delights before heading to the coast for gold-sand beaches and national parks home to blue-footed boobies, dolphins and sea lions.
Between its vibrant waterfront squares and favela-dotted hills, Guayaquil is a colourful and eclectic city, host to a thriving art scene and architecture that ranges from neoclassical to cutting-edge contemporary. Green spaces abound, and there are plenty of parks and leafy plazas to relax between seaside strolls. For the city's best shopping and dining, head to the Malecón 2000 – an urban renewal project home to artisan markets, food courts, malls, several museums and South America's first IMAX cinema. Top highlights include the magnificent turn-of-the-century cathedral, the verdant Parque Historical and the cool and quirky La Peñas district, home to colourfully painted houses and one of the city's liveliest bar scenes.
Endless sweeps golden sand framed by forested mountains and the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean, Ecuador's seldom-visited Pacific Coast is an off-the-beaten-track gem. Expect fresher-than-fresh seafood – the ceviche is a particular highlight – and lazy days spent relaxing on picturesque beaches and cruising out to spot pods of dolphins and humpback whales playing in the surf. Ans, if you can't stretch to a trip to the Galápagos, head to the Machalilla National Park and Isla de la Plata to spot blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds and a small colony of resident sea lions.