Popular legend has it that Guayaquil’s name comes from Guayas, the great Puna chief who fought bravely against the Inca and later the Spanish, and his wife, Quill. Guayas is said to have killed Quill rather than allow her to be captured by the conquistadors, before drowning himself. Several historians claim the city’s name actually comes from the words hua (land), illa (beautiful prairie) and Quilca, one of Río Guayas’ tributaries, where the Quilca tribe lived until being wiped out in the 17th century. Under this theory, Guayaquil is literally ‘the land like a beautiful prairie on the land of the Quilcas.’

A settlement was first established in the area around 1534, and it moved to its permanent home of the Santa Ana Hill in 1547. The city was an important port and ship-building center for the Spanish, but it was plagued by pirate attacks and several devastating fires, including one in 1896 – known as the Great Fire – in which huge parts of the city were simply burned to the ground. Guayaquil achieved its independence from the Spaniards on October 9, 1820, and was an independent province until Simón Bolívar annexed it as part of Gran Colombia in 1822. When Bolívar’s experiment failed in 1830, Guayaquil became part of the newly formed republic of Ecuador.