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Adventures in Ecuador

Against all recommendations, LESLIE LONG took her 9-year-old to chaotic Guayaquil.

The Galapagos Islands beckoned. My son and I were set to go, visions of Lonesome George — the last surviving member of a sub-species of giant tortoises — dancing in our heads, when comments about Guayaquil, the Ecuadorian port city from which the trip departed, started rolling in.

“It’s a pit,” someone said. “Spend as little time there as possible,” said another. And my favorite, “Leave your jewelry at home.”

The warnings made me nervous to say the least, given my son is only nine. But we had scheduled two days in Guayaquil because after all, why miss the chance to experience a bit of mainland Ecuador?

Our first morning there, the concierge at the cushy Hotel Hilton Colon assured us that Seminario Park, famous for its resident iguanas — and so high on Erik’s to-do list — was “extremely safe.” This is Guayaquil-ese, we discovered, for “guarded, policed and relentlessly patrolled by sentries, some carrying machine guns.”

The park was terrific, though, an elegant oasis where Erik was thrilled to encounter corpulent reptiles.

Next stop was the Malecon 2000, a newly built walkway along the muddy Guayas River. While it was nice — and safe — enough, our sweltering stroll left Erik dreaming of the hotel pool.

So that was where we retreated to cool off and drink fresh fruit daiquiris, virgin and non, at the swim-up bar.

As the equatorial sun dropped, Erik, ever adventurous, was up for some action. We taxied to Las Penas, a reconstructed colonial neighborhood rising 444 steps above the city. This formerly run-down hellhole has undergone an amazing renovation — and naturally, is crowded with guards.

My son and I easily climbed the steps to the top. Along the way, we stopped at little cafes and souvenir shops. The reward for our hike: sweeping city views.

For dinner, the hotel concierge recommended Caracol Azul, known for its seafood. It had seafood, all right — eight different preparations of white sea bass. (We found a similar menu at another restaurant the next night.)

The following day, we took a cab to Parque Historico, passing gated, wealthy communities. A 20-acre natural habitat of mangroves, the park lies along yet another murky river, the Doule. Our $3 admission tickets came with an English-speaking guide.

We also visited Guayaquil’s Mercado Artesanal, which has seemingly endless stalls. We were told that the indoor market was safe, but warned not to go outside. We did, though, for a street vendor’s 25-cent pineapple ice cream cones — and we survived.

Guayaquil, by the way, is working to overcome its reputation. Everyone we met wanted to please, and whenever we mentioned something we enjoyed, people seemed genuinely touched.

Info: viveecuador.com