The historic capital city of Quito may attract more attention than its larger counterpart, Guayaquil. But Ecuador's biggest metropolis is home to an increasing number of diversions. During my most recent visit (during which I moderated a panel at a hotel investment conference and scouted ideas for my Latin America travel blog, LatinFlyer.com), I discovered five noteworthy new things to do in Guayaquil — which will surely provide you with new reasons to explore this bustling port city. (And chocolate lovers take note: three of the new activities have to do with sampling locally produced sweets.)
1. La Perla: This gigantic observation wheel (you might call it a ferris wheel), which opened this year, soars 57 meters above the Malecón 2000 waterfront, offering sky-high views and photo opportunities of both the city and the Guayas River.
2. Hotel Del Parque: The most luxurious new hotel in Guayaquil is opening its doors this season, set interestingly in a former nursing home that dates to 1891. The building has come a long way since its early days, having been moved to the Parque Historico (Historic Park) on the outskirts of the city, and beautifully refurbished with 44 gorgeous guest rooms, a river-view restaurant and two courtyards. The park's pleasant attractions are just minutes by foot, and you can even treat yourself to a massage in the dramatic cupola.
3. Museo de Cacao y Chocolate (Cacao and Chocolate Museum): Also in the Parque Histórico (a park with multiple attractions, including a zoo, historic architecture and restaurants) is this new cultural venue, billed as the first museum dedicated to one of Ecuador's tastiest products. It's set in a lovely restored hacienda that dates to 1860 (recently moved to its present location), with period furnishings as well as exhibits documenting the chocolate-making tradition. Visit during the weekend or on special occasions and you may be treated to presentations by docents dressed in historic garb.
4. Tren del Cacao (Cacao Train): Tren Ecuador operates a number of train tours and excursions around the nation, and the newest route is the Tren del Cacao, which debuted this year. The trip takes you to Hacienda La Danesa, a property that dates to 1870 and is dedicated to preparing artisan chocolate with cocoa harvested from various plantations. Chocolate-making demonstrations and lunch at the hacienda are included in this day trip.
5. Cacao Tasting Menu at Hotel Oro Verde Guayaquil: The recently redecorated, decidedly elegant Le Gourmet restaurant, at the Hotel Oro Verde in downtown Guayaquil, this year introduced a six-course cacao tasting menu that's perfect for chocolate lovers. The program, priced at $65, includes pork empanadas with Cacao Kekchi, grilled prawns, sea bass with mole verde and flan with Mayan chocolate.