Ecuador // Guayaquil and the southern coast //

Las Peñas and Cerro Santa Ana

The Malecón ends in the north at the picturesque barrio of Las Peñas, itself at the foot of Cerro Santa Ana. There’s little more to it than a short, dead-end road – Numa Pompilio Llona – paved with uneven, century-old cobblestones, but the colourful wooden houses here make this one of the prettiest corners of Guayaquil. Many of the houses have been beautifully restored, but part of the area’s charm derives from the flaking paint and gentle disrepair of those that haven’t. A couple of cannons standing by the entrance point towards the river, honouring the city’s stalwart resistance to seventeenth-century pirates, and the street is dotted with a few small art galleries; the best is the Casa del Artista Plástico of the Asociación Cultural Las Peñas.

Rising above Las Peñas, the Cerro Santa Ana was a very dangerous slum until a regeneration project transformed a swath of its ramshackle buildings into an eye-catching sequence of brightly painted houses, restaurants, bars and shops built around a winding, 444-step staircase to a viewpoint at the top of the hill: the Plaza de Honores, home to a colonial-style chapel and lighthouse modelled after Guayaquil’s first, from 1841.

With its discreet balconies, ornate lampposts and switchback streets leading from intimate plazas, the development does a fair job of evoking the image of a bygone Guayaquil – despite the plastic “tiled” roofs, heavy presence of armed guards and large locked gates blocking out the slums at its margins. Yet the spectacular views from the Plaza de Honores and the top of the lighthouse are definitely worth a visit, particularly after a day on the Malecón as the sun dips on the seething city below. Just below the Plaza de Honores, the open-air Museo El Fortín del Santa Ana holds cannons, seafaring paraphernalia, the foundations of the fortress of San Carlos, built in 1629 to defend the city from pirate attacks, and a reconstructed pirate ship, half of which is a bar. Further below, down by the river, the Puerto Santa Ana is the city’s latest regeneration project, currently being developed as a marina complete with waterside cafés, restaurants and apartments.