Ecuador is a tiny country by South American standards, evidence if proof were needed that the best things come in small packages. Bisected by the equator, one part lying in the southern hemisphere and the other in the northern, it’s the smallest of the Andean nations and it is a sort of South America in miniature, a microcosm of everything that is exceptional and appealing about this fascinating continent.
Tucked between Colombia to the northeast, Peru to the south and east and bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, Ecuador manages to hold its own against these heavyweights, by being compact, with a good infrastructure, and small enough to travel round easily. It has such an extraordinary geographical and biological diversity that all itineraries make for excellent excursions. In a single days’ drive it’s possible to breakfast on exotic jungle fruits and then drive from the Amazon and the heavily forested interior, across a range of volcanoes, through verdant cloud forest to arrive on the Pacific coast in time to dine on fresh, exquisite seafood.
It was this diversity that initially attracted early scientists and explorers, including Charles Darwin. These days you don’t have to be a pioneer or an academic to appreciate everything that you’re seeing and discovering for yourself. This is especially true if you get off the beaten path, Although the main cities boast contemporary facilities and a wide range of hotels, cafés, restaurants and bars, Ecuador is essentially still a wild, natural, culturally authentic place.
It is a land divided into three distinct geological regions – Costa, Sierra and Oriente. These regions seem like three different planets squeezed into one tiny country. In addition, Ecuador controls the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago that is even more like a distant universe.
The Andes range runs through the centre of the country, with the highest peak towering well above 6,000m (19,685ft). Still, the country is full of startling contrasts in scenery and landscape, boasting tropical rainforests, windswept highlands, snow-capped volcanoes and palm-fringed beaches. What’s more, all of these are within easy reach of the capital, Quito.
Quito itself is one of the tourist centres of South America. The second highest capital, it boasts a spectacular location and has UNESCO World Heritage status. Smaller towns such as Guayaquil, Cuenca, Otavalo and Banos have an even more authentic atmosphere and a multitude of attractions and reasons to tarry. As you travel, look out for attractive colonial architecture, colourful indigenous markets or traditional fiestas and archaeological sites that hint at the country’s rich history.
Ecuador has lots of national parks and reserves, and is one of the richest places for birdlife in the world. The Galapagos are also a world-class wildlife destination, making the country as a whole ideal for eco-tourists.
Ideal for birdwatching and nature tourism, Ecuador also has superb diving and snorkelling on offer. For those that want to remain on dry land there are some exceptional treks and breathtaking climbs. Explore the country on two wheels or four hooves; choose to raft, kayak, surf or paraglide. Whatever adventures you seek out, you’ll certainly find them in Ecuador.