Tiny by South American standards, Ecuador is packed with an amazing range of natural and cultural attractions; a microcosm of everything that is appealing about this fascinating continent.

Ecuador, the second smallest of the South American countries, offers wonderful wildlife, glaciers, Amazonian rivers and Indian markets. Straddling the equator and dwarfed by its neighbours Peru and Colombia this perfectly formed nation encapsulates a snapshot of the entire South American continent.

Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a beautiful capital city of grand churches and colonial buildings that echo the past endeavours of this historical city. La Mariscal Sucre refers to the ‘new city’, a complex network of broadleaf avenues dominated by tall skyscrapers, restaurants and nightclubs. Must-see attractions include the Museo Amazónico which houses an impressive collection of indigenous relics and crafts obtained by missionaries in the El Oriente.

Otavalo is set in delightful countryside two hours north of Quito and the Saturday market is the primary reason to visit with excellent textiles and tapestries. Haggling is a necessity and it is always fun to just sit back and watch the locals go about their business. The nearby villages of Peguche, San Jose de la Bolsa, Selva Alegre, Cotama, Agato and Iluman villages are famous for their textiles. Visit with Miguel Andrango, Master of the Loom Otavaleño weaver, for a description of his trade, then go to Cotacachi for leather goods, and to San Antonio for woodcarvings, picture frames, and hand-crafted furniture.

The muddy rivers of the lower Rio Napa flow along the Peruvian border. The river is the region’s motorway and long motorised canoes ply the shallow river. A short flight from Quito over the Andes to Coca and then a two hour motorised canoe will find you amongst two of the best jungle stays in South America. From here you can trek through primary jungle, visit a parrot lick and canoe along the waters of the river tributary.

The Avenue of Volcanoes is a 325km long valley between the major Cordillera ranges. Large and standing alone, the volcanoes provide a brooding, snow covered contrast to the green equatorial lushness that this country usually provides. High altitudes are easily achieved without too much technical ability although the train trip through the volcanoes to Cuenca is probably the best way to see this inspiring countryside. Ecuador was also the birthplace of Darwin’s theory of evolution and the Galapagos are a must on every Ecuadorian trip. The Islands are a living laboratory of evolution where birds and animals have no fear of man. Blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, land and marine iguanas and giant tortoises roam as freely as they did thousands of years ago.

Nature lovers will relish visiting one of the world’s most bio-diverse destinations, where palm-fringed beaches, steamy rainforests, breath-taking highlands and ice-covered volcanos are all part of the experience.



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