Ecuador is like South America in miniature, a nation defined by both the Andes and the Amazon, with a beguiling blend of colonial charm, vibrant indigenous culture and some of the most spectacular wildlife on the planet. Named after the Equator on which it sits, it’s a country with a surprisingly diverse landscape, from the jungles and cloud forests of the interior to the snow-capped peaks of the sierra. Cities like Quito and Cuenca typify what makes Ecuador special, fusing beautiful Spanish colonial architecture with bustling Andean markets, while the jungles of the Oriente are home to indigenous communities that still practise shamanism.
Ecuador’s crown jewels are the incomparable Galapagos Islands, the volcanic archipelago that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The islands are home to an amazing array of unique endemic species, from the gaudy blue-footed booby to the dinosaur-like marine iguana, the world’s only seafaring lizard. Access to this fragile habitat is carefully controlled so the animals have no fear of humans, allowing you to observe them at close quarters, almost as if you were in your own David Attenborough documentary.