Escalinata Santo Domingo, Guayaquil’s Colorful Stairway

The multi-colored steps of Santo Domingo Stairway

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Soaring 60 meters above the Guayas River, the picturesque neighborhood of Santa Ana Hill was where Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, was founded nearly five centuries ago. Though remnants of its bygone era are somewhat scarce, the hill now thrives as a vibrant tourist destination, boasting a vast array of bars, cafés, quaint plazas for leisurely lounging, and perhaps most impressively, sweeping panoramas of the city and its surroundings. A few blocks away from the hill’s buzzy heart is one of its lesser-known attractions, a kaleidoscopic mural replete with animal figures, strikingly spanning across a steep stairway that cuts through an unassuming residential area.

Though hard to grasp, back in the mid-16th century, the city of Guayaquil was confined to nothing more than a riverside knoll named Cerrito Verde (“the small green hill”), a strategic stronghold against the region’s rampant piracy of that time. While the hilly neighborhood has since become a mere fraction of the ever-expanding metropolis, it still retains much of its old charm to date.


In fact, visitors who stroll throughout the higgledy-piggledy streets of the now named Santa Ana Hill will find here a vibrant place with dozens of eateries, pubs and souvenir shops to explore. Almost all of which are clustered along the Diego Noboa stairs, a 444-step stairway that winds its way to the hilltop, where a newly built chapel and blue-white striped lighthouse frame the awe-inspiring vistas of downtown Guayaquil and the mighty Guayas River.


As it turns out, though, the tourist-infested stairway has a nearby sibling that seldom, if ever, garners the same attention. Running through the densely populated part of Santa Ana Hill which tourists often avoid, Escalinata Santo Domingo is half the size of its more famous counterpart, comprising merely 222 stairs.


Nonetheless, what this staircase lacks in number of steps, it makes up for in a colorful mural that extends through each and every riser along the way, a whopping 1,100 meters of art.


Standing out amid the vivid patterns are a series of painted animals that pay homage to the country’s sheer biodiversity, including an iguana, jaguar, squirrel, falcon, crab, armadillo, heron and a monkey, to name just a few. These are accompanied by a seating lady alongside a bucket-carrying youngster, and of course, also the flesh-and-blood residents who go about their daily routines, oblivious to the surrounding colorfulness.


Entitled the Great Ecological Tree, this work of art was created by Ambateño artist Gonzalo Amancha in 2017 as part of the city council’s attempt to revitalize the unsightly area. Renowned for his artistic prowess, Amancha employed a watercolor technique whereby he painstakingly painted over 2,000 individual pieces of mosaic tiles, each measuring 14 by 28 centimeters.


When visiting, refrain from entering the narrow alleyways intersecting the steps, as some locals consider them off-limits.