Size doesn’t matter. Ecuador proves that. Though tiny by South American standards, it’s one of the most rewarding countries on the continent. The capital, Quito, was the first city ever to be made a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and despite it sitting just south of the equator, its mountain setting has granted it a year-round spring climate.
To the south of Quito lies the aptly named ‘Avenue of Volcanoes’, an impressive roll call of snowcapped peaks that includes Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Tungurahua and Sangay. North of Quito, the market at Otavalo is one of the most colourful in all South America; men and women have been bartering goods here since before Inca times. The market is a testament to the strength of traditional cultures found throughout the country, a trait also easily observed in the rich and steamy Amazon, where indigenous communities lead the way in eco-tourism, offering lodge accommodation, rainforest hikes and wildlife encounters.
When it comes to wildlife, even the Amazon is upstaged by the Galapagos. Lying 1,000 kilometres off mainland Ecuador, the islands are renowned for their scientific significance and fearless wildlife, brought about by a lack of natural predators. But no amount of hype can prepare you for such close encounters with sea lions, iguanas, blue-footed boobies and red-throated frigate birds.