Las Peñas & Cerro Santa Ana

These two historic neighborhoods are some of Guayaquil's oldest, with parts untouched by the many fires that have ravaged the city over the years. Perched here for more than 400 years, the streets and buildings have been restored into an idealized version of a quaint South American hillside village, with brightly painted homes and cobblestone alleyways. The views from the top are spectacular, especially at night. Small, informal, family-run restaurants and neighborhood bars line the steps and it’s safe, patrolled by friendly security officers who make sure foot traffic up the steep stairway flows unimpeded.

Downtown

Avenida 9 de Octubre, downtown Guayaquil’s main commercial street, is lined with shoe stores, high-end electronics shops, department stores and fast-food restaurants.

Parque Bolívar Area

Guayaquil may be the only city in the world that has land iguanas, some over a meter in length, living downtown. These prehistoric-looking animals (a different species from those found in the Galápagos) are a startling sight in one of Guayaquil’s most famous plazas, Parque Bolívar, which is also known as Parque Seminario (or, Parque de las Iguanas!). Around its small ornamental gardens are several of Guayaquil’s top-end hotels. You may also spot the reptiles in lanes of Cerro Santa Ana.

Santay Island

The mangrove-covered protected reserve of Santay Island has a different feel from the other attractions in Guayaquil. Part of the government's plans to add more green space to the city, Santay is one of the initiatives in the ecotourism project Guayaquil Ecológico, aimed at recovering spaces with environmental and tourism potential. In 2014, a vehicle-free bridge was completed, providing pedestrian access to the island.

The allure: this peaceful 2200-hectare island in the Río Guayas makes a pleasant refuge from the bustle of downtown. It's also a good bird-watching spot, with more than 128 species in residence; if you're lucky, you might also spy caimans in the muddy waters. Wooden walkways on the island lead through a small fishing community of around 200 residents (with simple eating options on the island). A second bridge also connects the island to the canton of Durán.

Because of a boat collision with the bridge at the end of 2017, the bridge was closed during research, with no firm reopening date. Residents were understandably upset about the loss of tourism.