At the northernmost reach of the ancient Inca Empire, Ecuador is small, accessible, and epitomises the best of Latin America from magnificent scenery to elegant old Spanish towns and wonderful wildlife.
High in the Andean sierra, two great chains of volcanic mountains run from north to south. The fertile valley between them - Humboldt’s ‘avenue of the volcanoes’ - is dotted with beautiful haciendas. If you’re feeling intrepid, you can ride a rickety steam train that descends through the Andes in a series of zigzags and switchbacks known as ‘the devil’s nose’, crossing dramatic gorges on the way.
Both Quito and Cuenca’s cobbled streets have some of the best-preserved colonial architecture anywhere in the Americas. Ubiquitous hats, ponchos and woven rugs are sold in colourful craft markets. You can combine a trip to hot springs or rose gardens with a night at a historic hacienda, or saddle up with the chagras for some superb riding.
East of the Andes the terrain drops through cloud forest - teeming with exotic bird life - into the Amazon basin. Nearly half the country is covered in humid jungle, best explored by dugout canoe. Here indigenous people still live as they have for thousands of years, scarcely touched by the outside world.
Here are some of our Ecuador highlights
Although Quito is Ecuador's capital, the colonial city of Cuenca is also well worth a visit. Both have historic centres with beautiful buildings, 17th century churches and monasteries and picture postcard cobblestone streets.
Ecuador has many haciendas at which visitors can enjoy a unique stay. Hacienda San Agustin near Cotopaxi National Park was partly built (by the Spanish) on an Inca palace, the original stones of which can still be seen.
Ecuador is a country awash with markets and Otavalo's Saturday animal market is arguably the most famous, but there are equally interesting (and cleaner!) markets in Cotacachi, Quito and further south in Cuenca.
The mighty Amazon
Much of the country is covered by Amazon rainforest, although the Ecuadorean Amazon is much-less visited than that of its Brazilian neighbour. Indigenous tribes live along the river banks and there are lodges offering wildlife or cultural stays.
The whole trip was a highlight and so different to anything experienced before, your recommendations and selections were outstanding and faultless. Our guide in Quito also deserves an honourable mention. - LT