There once was a king named Guayas and a queen named Quil who lived in a besieged city. When they realised that all hope was out, and the city was lost, they committed suicide together. From their story comes the name of Guyaquil.

The strange Indian name may help keeping Ecuador's largest city obscure, along with its strong focus on commerce. This is no place sought out by tourists. On its coast the largest Pacific shipping port of South America is the most important location, not the beaches. The airport here is used by many as a station on flights between Quito and Galapagos, not as a destination.

Guayaquil has near 3 million inhabitants, some of whom are very poor, so crime rates are also quite high. But it does have an active nightlife, and beaches, and historical buildings to make it worth a visit. There are renewal projects liked Malecón 2000, a collection of restaurants, theatres and parks along the Guayas river.

The city was founded in 1534 by the Conquistador Sebastian de Benalcazar under the name of Santiago. Not all that inventive for a Latin American town name, perhaps. The city was attacked by all the elements: With earthquakes threatening, houses were constructed out of wood, which again made them vulnerable to fire. It was re-founded by Francisco de Orellana in 1537 as The Very Noble and Very Loyal City of Santiago of Guayaquil.

The city did not remain very loyal for long, however. Its liberal businessmen had quite different ideas from those of Quito's conservative hacienda owners. In 1820 Guayaquil declared independence from Spain, fought for and won their freedom, whereupon they sent out their army to win the rest of Ecuador.

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