IE Galapagos Islands cruise guest and journalist Julie Hatfield has spent the last week exploring the Galapagos and mainland Ecuador with our knowledgeable guides, and was good enough to share her impressions of Guayaquil, Ecuador.

"At first glance, the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, is nothing to write home about. Hot, dirty, ugly, dangerous, the only reason I´m here is that it is the gateway to the Galapagos islands. This city is the best stopping-off point on the way to the famous islands put on the world map by Charles Darwin almost 200 years ago. But I´m waiting for the cruise given by International Expeditions, and they offer a city extension tour for those of us who have arrived in town a day early.

"Our guide George meets us at the hotel and driver Francisco drives us to the city center, where we see an eclectic mix of architecture, some of it quite beautiful. Italians came here and built some lovely structures, the most notable of which is Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, an exact replica of the same gallery in Milan. Here, it houses government offices rather than shops, but is quite impressive.

"George takes us on a walk along the malacon, the boardwalk overlooking the River Guayas, and shows us the statues of the intellectuals who with their leader Jose Joaquin de Olmedo comprised the quiet, non-violent overnight revolution which freed the Ecuadoran city from the Spanish. The poets, artists, professors and the like simply gave a “party” one night and took over all the government buildings, and in the morning, Guayaquil was free.

"We walk a short distance to Centennial Park, which is most notable for its hundreds of iguanas chomping on lettuce, slithering up the trees, lazing in the sun gathering warmth. This park was the highlight of the entire Guayaquil trip for my 8-year-old grandson from Colorado. He will never forget petting a foot-long reptile there."

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