Wildlife in the big city of Guayaquil? Why, it’s just a walk across the bridge to the national recreation area of Isla Santay. Or a bike ride, if you would prefer. Bike rentals available at the most popular park entrance on El Oro where it crosses Avenida Domingo Comin (see map below)!
We chose to visit the park on a weekend and will warn you that almost everyone else who lives in Guayaquil will be joining you for the day. If you can, we recommend a weekday visit, especially if you’re hoping to see wildlife. While we did see a stunning array of birds, despite the flying bicycles and squeaking aluminum supports of the walkway, a quieter setting would mean spotting even more.
When you arrive on the island, you will have the choice of two trails. In July 2015, the plan is to have both trails meet, making one huge trail of 15 km but work is currently underway. If you choose the trail to the left, you will have a long hike of about 2 kilometers where the trail meets another pedestrian bridge that connects the island to Ciudadela Abel Gilbert. Along the trail you get great views of the city of Guayaquil and of the famous Santa Anita Hill and its colorful houses. The trail meanders through the shady mangrove forest where tanagers, caciques, and groove-billed anis perch in plain sight and open wetlands with several types of herons and ibis as well as spoonbills and ducks. If you want to bird watch, this is definitely the trail to chose. Remember that it will be a 4 kilometer hike round trip unless you start in Ciudadela Abel Gilbert and walk towards the main entrance. Take plenty of water as there are no guarantees of refreshment. We did see one stand selling shaved ice, their generator making so much noise that we wish they wouldn’t have been there.
If you take the shorter trail to the right, you will have about a kilometer walk to the small village where locals have built a tourist industry. There you can find a restaurant offering two dishes of the day, normally fish and chicken. You can buy water and sodas as well. The place is packed on the weekends. However, there is the chance that no food will be served on slower days during the week. You may want to pack an extra snack just in case.
We were most excited to visit the local community because of the opportunity to see crocodiles nearby in their natural setting. But we were disappointed to find out that the few crocodiles on view are actually kept in zoo-like conditions and are not allowed to roam free.
To return to the mainland, you can either bike or walk back the way you came or you can pay a small fee to take a ferry boat to a local market in Guayaquil, Mercado Municipal Caraguay. This is not the same location as the main entrance with the bridge so you will either have to make prior arrangements for a taxi to pick you up (recommended), bring the number of a reliable driver and call when or flag one off the street.
Both the bridges and the park open at 6am. The island closes at 5pm but you can walk the bridge until 9pm, making it a great place to get some night time shots of the city skyline. That will have to wait for my next visit!