The tiniest of the Andean nations, Ecuador lies between Colombia and Peru. It has abundant landscapes including the Andes Mountains shrouded in snow, white sand beaches, dense rainforest and the stunning Galapagos Islands. Ecuador is home to rare bird species and more than 3,500 types of orchid.

Ecuador also offers a first hand experience of ethnic cultures and several Inca and other Amerindian ruins can be found northwest of Guayaquil and Rumicucho (near Quito, the capital) including Real Alto, San Isidro, Santa Elena. Quito also displays pristine colonial architecture.

The centre of Ecuador is dominated by two mountain chains which form the 325-kilometre long ‘Avenue of Volcanoes’. Joining this ‘avenue’ is a set of lofty plateaus known as the Sierra, which double as the agricultural heart of Ecuador. To the west is the Pacific coastal plain as well as a string of beaches, mangroves, harbours and shrimp farms. Oriente lies east of the Sierra and is a little inhabited area of Amazonian jungle.

The port of Guayaquil rests at the estuary of the Guayas River and has a long-running history of trading. Its many markets attract buyers and sellers from across Ecuador seeking bargains.

The Galapagos Islands lie 1,000kms off the Ecuador mainland and are best known for their indigenous flora and fauna including animals that are unique to the islands. Charles Darwin made observations here that famously assisted him to develop his theories on the origin of species and evolution.

Travel within Ecuador is generally by bus or boat. Quito International Airport and Guayaquil Airport offer entry into Ecuador, which is visa-free for most nationalities. The Galapagos Islands have two airports, but visitors can also visit by boat. Low-cost hostels and home stays can be found throughout Ecuador.