What would it take to get you out on the farm on your next vacation — perhaps some freshly made chocolate, just-picked tropical fruit or some homemade desserts made with locally produced sugar and milk? How about some exciting outdoor activities like horseback riding and tours? These are some of the elements that a variety of tour companies and attractions in and around the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, use to lure travelers looking for unique South America vacation experiences. During my recent visit to scout out ideas for my Latin America travel blog, LatinFlyer.com, I found a bunch of interesting possibilities.
Ecuador's largest city may not be the first choice for outdoor adventures (it tends to get overshadowed by bucket-list destinations like the Galapagos Islands, the soaring mountains near Quito and the dense jungles of the nation's Amazon region). But Guayaquil is offering more ways to connect with agricultural traditions than ever before. Here are a few ways to connect with authentic agricultural traditions, as well as some adventurous outdoor activities and tasty culinary delicacies. Most of these Ecuador travel recommendations are easy day trips from Guayaquil, and one is located super close to the city. So if you're looking for memorable things to do in Guayaquil, consider these ideas:
1. Visit Ecuador's First Chocolate Museum
This is the agritourism option closest to the city. Located in the Parque Histórico (Historic Park), Ecuador's first cacao and chocolate museum opened this year, in a transplanted hacienda home that dates to 1860. The hacienda is beautifully restored with antique furnishings and features exhibits documenting the cacao and chocolate-making traditions of the region, and if you're lucky, you might visit on a weekend, when costumed guides will show how they work. If you're looking to stay nearby, check out Hotel del Parque, a luxurious new boutique property that's opening in a fabulously renovated, 19th-century former nursing home.
2. Check out the Chocolate at Hacienda El Castillo
This attraction, like the rest on this list (other than Parque Histórico above) is a day trip or overnight side trip from Guayaquil. This cocoa plantation produces the Don Homera - Cerecita variety, and the property offers daily tours that highlight the chocolate-making process, complete with samples of cocoa juice and fried plantains with cheese. A traditional coastal Ecuadorian lunch is included. For a more in-depth experience, you can check into the hacienda's small hotel, a five-room property set in the villa.
3. Do the Dairy at Hacienda La Danesa
Founded in 1870, Hacienda La Danesa is a traditional dairy farm located in the Montubia coastal region. Today, the expansive property offers a variety of outdoor activities, including learning how to milk a cow by hand. If that's not your idea of fun, not to worry — there are lots of other options, including tubing, horseback riding and cycling through scenic forests, taking a teak plantation tour and visiting the hacienda's petting zoo. You can also take a cocoa plantation tour and learn about organic orchard practices (and of course you can dine on the hacienda's own organic cuisine. For an additional fee, you can attend a traditional folkloric dance and music presentation. Nature lovers can camp on the hacienda, while those looking to sleep indoors can opt for one of the two bedrooms, which are complete with DirecTV and free WiFi.
4. Take the 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. Peel Back at a Banana Plantation
For the freshest possible coastal fruit, join Metropolitan Touring, which offers a private, one-day tour to Hacienda Rodeo Grande, about 90 kilometers from Guayaquil. You can have a variety of first-hand experiences at this tropical banana plantation in Los Ríos province — including horseback riding, hiking and nature watching, as well as lunch at the farmhouse. You can check out the hacienda's large herd of cattle, as well as more than 100 buffalo and a flock of ostriches, plus peacocks, guinea fowl and deer. Local guides show how bananas are grown, harvested and packed for export.