Ecuador is compact by South American standards, compact enough for you to have breakfast as you watch dawn break over the Amazon jungle canopy, lunch at the foot of a smoking snow-capped volcano and dinner amid the last rays of sunset over the Pacific ocean. Within this small area, it boasts extraordinary diversity: geographical diversity ranging from an avenue of volcanoes straddling the Equator, to rainforest, beaches and tropical islands; biological diversity, amongst the highest in the world, protected by 50 national parks and reserves; and cultural diversity, with 17 ethnically distinct indigenous groups.
With so much variety, Ecuador has something for everyone. Birdwatching, trekking, mountaineering, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, paragliding and surfing are among the country's many privileged outdoor activities. Yet the draw is not only about hiking boots and adrenalin. Archaeology, art and local culture are also abundant and varied. The capital, Quito, and the southern highland city of Cuenca, have two of the finest colonial districts in South America, an excellent selection of museums and a lively tourist scene.
The smaller towns and villages of Ecuador offer the most authentic experience as well as the opportunity to share their traditions at fiestas and through community tourism. Indulge your senses at one of their many markets, with dizzying arrays of textiles, ceramics, carvings and other crafts, not to mention the plethora of domestic animals and cornucopia of fresh produce. They are all there for the local people but tourists are very welcome.
The Galápagos Islands, cradle and showcase of Darwin's theory of evolution, are the rich icing on the Ecuadorean cake. Fragile and expensive, the Galápagos are not for everyone, but if you are passionate about nature, they offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience worth saving for.