Although Guayaquil is not the capital, it is the biggest city in Ecuador. Guayaquil is spread all along the large and impressive river of Guayas, the city is also known as ‘The Pearl of the Pacific’. With nearly 4 million residents, Guayaquil gets very busy, humid, and dirty, and is not too pleasant a place in the hot summer days.
However, what’s great about the place is that there are plenty of daily escapes inside the city. One of the greatest experiences that you can have here is to visit an island called Isla Santay just across the bridge from downtown Guayaquil. There are various islands in the Guayas River, but this one is the biggest and is home to crocodiles and birds.
To get here is relatively easy. You can walk a 2 mile long bridge or rent a bike at the entrance for only $4 per day. Be sure to take loads of sunscreen, as the bridge is only partly covered and you can easily get sunburnt.
The pedestrian and cycling trails are very well marked, and it’s easy to keep a distance from one another. As you reach the island, by bike or by foot, you enter a unique tropical ecosystem with a dense jungle canopy. The way through it is via a wooden bridge where pedestrians and cyclists can move freely.
An interesting thing about the island is that there are indigenous people still living here. The municipality of Guayaquil has constructed an eco-village for the residents of the Santay where they have all the necessary elements for living comfortably. All the wooden houses are the same and off the ground because the soil is too humid, and there are too many crocs around. The families living here are the only ones allowed to be residents of the island. The land is not for sale, and it’s a state protected area.
During the walk, you can find a bicycle stop, an extremely affordable restaurant, a handmade gifts shop, guards and guides that you can ask for information. The path is easy and pleasant for the whole family, so even young kids can enjoy it.
Throughout all the island you can listen to and see numerous bird species. Being in a tropical jungle right after crossing a single bridge and escaping from the city is quite a surprise and unique experience for many. There are streams all over the island during the rainy season, so the humidity in the air can be quite high. Parrots that fly over your head, hand-sized blue butterflies, and the crocodiles are the main attractions on Santay.
Santay Island is a fascinating place, but barely noticeable because of its size and location. Walking around you can find many different insects, too. There are those that fly such wasps, butterflies, and ladybugs, while others are jumping critters like grasshoppers and crickets, and there is also the shield mantis that is very hard to see because of its camouflage. The diversity of animals is quite incredible for a small island.
Of all animal species reported on Santay, only one-third are native to the island. The ecosystems of this area contain an important population of coastal and marine migratory birds that will charm you with their singing, colors, and sizes. The species found here makes up more than 130 species of birds from 40 families, representing 7% of the registered birds of Ecuador.
If you ever travel to Ecuador don’t miss the opportunity to visit this beautiful island in the Guayas River. On the way back to the city you can hire a boat for $2 and enjoy a 15 minute ride.
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