If you're short on time, it's still possible to get a feel for Guayaquil rather quickly, as the important attractions are quite close together.

The Malecón Simón Bolívar is the shining star of contemporary Guayaquil. It's impressive to enter the Malecón from Avenida 9 de Octubre, where you are greeted by a 1937 statue of the independence heroes Simón Bolívar and San Martín shaking hands. On either side of the statue, you can climb up lookout towers, which afford great views of the city and the river. Walk south and you'll hit the Moorish Clock Tower, Glorious Aurora's Obelisk, a McDonald's, a mini-mall, and tons of inexpensive food stalls. As you head in this direction, look across the street: You'll see the impressive neoclassical Palacio Municipal. If you walk north from the Bolívar-Martín statue, you'll come across a lively playground and an exercise course.

On the western end of Avenida 9 de Octubre is a separate, newer riverside promenade, along the narrow Estero Salado (Salt Water Estuary), known appropriately as the Malecón del Estero Salado. The Malecón here is a pleasant riverside pedestrian walkway sprinkled with little parks and plazas, benches for resting, and a few restaurants, shops, and food stands.

In addition to the Malecón Simón Bolívar, Malecón Salado, you can visit a few parks and an interesting cemetery. Parque Seminario dates from 1880, and is adjacent to the city's principal church, a neo-Gothic cathedral whose most recent and primary construction dates from 1948. Parque Seminario is also called "Iguana Park" because a healthy population of these prehistoric-looking reptiles inhabits its trees and grounds. Much larger, Parque Centenario is in the middle of the city, bisected by Avenida 9 de Octubre. This park is a very popular lunchtime spot for downtown workers and is a pleasant place to relax and people watch.

The massive Cementerio General (General Cemetery; tel. 04/2293-849) is north of the downtown area. It's also called La Ciudad Blanca, or the White City, because of its abundance of shiny white marble. The cemetery has some impressive aboveground marble tombs and mausoleums, in a variety of styles ranging from neoclassical Greco-Roman to baroque to Moorish. The tombs are spread across a vast hillside area and connected by paths and even streets. The cemetery was opened in 1843 and has become a major emblem of the city. The entrance is at Avenida Pedro Menéndez Gilber and Julian Coronel. The Cementerio General is open daily from 8am to 6pm.

One good way to get a feel for the city is to hop on one of the red double-decker tourist buses run by Guayaquil Visión (tel. 04/2885-800; www.guayaquilvision.com). These folks offer several options, including a 1 1/2-hour loop around and through the city, passing its most important landmarks, as well as a 3-hour Gran Guayaquil tour, which makes three stops for visits at Las Peñas neighborhood, Parque Seminario, and the handicraft market. Fares run around $5 (£3.35) for adults and $3 (£2) for children, students, and seniors, for the basic loop trip; and $15 (£10) adults, $12 (£8) children, students, and seniors, for the Gran Guayaquil tour.

If you want to see the city from the river, you can hop on any of the little tourist boats that dock at the piers along the Malecón. These basically leave as they fill up for 45-minute to an hour cruises along the river. Rates run around $5 (£3.35) for a standard tour, or, if you have a group, you can negotiate for a longer cruise. Another alternative is to set sail on the imitation pirate brig Henry Morgan (tel. 04/2517-228). The Morgan sails roughly every 2 hours beginning at 2pm on weekends. The cost for a 1-hour cruise is $3 (£2) for adults and $2 (£1.35) for children. Similar cruises leave most weekday afternoons around 5pm.

A number of agencies in town offer a wide range of area tours. Guayaquil is surrounded by banana, coffee, and cocoa plantations; if you have an extra half or full day, consider taking a tour to see how these farms operate. You might also want to take a guided tour to the beaches found along the Ruta del Sol. Established agencies include Hamaca Tours & Expeditions (tel. 04/2314-797; www.hamacatours.com), Metropolitan Touring (tel. 04/2286-565; www.metropolitan-touring.com), and Travel Tips Ecuador (tel. 04/2388-258; traveltips@gu.pro.ec). All of these agencies, as well as most of the city's hotels, offer visits to the places listed below, among many other possibilities.

If You're Short on Time

Many visitors find themselves with only a few hours in Guayaquil as they connect to or from the Galápagos. If you fall into that category, don't despair: You can still get a good feel for the city in just a few hours.

Grab a cab (or walk, if you're close) from your hotel to the Malecón Simón Bolívar. The Malecón area is ideally enjoyed on foot, so prepare yourself for a good 3.2km (2-mile) hike and bring protection from the sun. It's best to begin at the southern end, the corner of the Malecón and Avenida Olmedo. Here you can browse the shops selling local artifacts, and the boardwalk is breezy and airy on this end. As you walk north, you'll find many food shops (and more people). Take a break halfway; most of the food stalls here sell freshly squeezed juice that makes an excellent pick-me-up; small bottles of water are also readily available, and there are impressively clean public restrooms here, too. At the end of the Malecón, just past the MAAC , you'll find Las Peñas ★★ neighborhood -- a narrow street filled with art galleries and funky shops. After you walk around Las Peñas, climb to the top of Cerro Santa Ana to get a fantastic view of the entire city, the river, and the surrounding countryside. You'll find many places to eat and drink on the stairs leading up to the top. This is one of the city's safest areas, with tourist police patrolling the stairs day and night.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.