Ecuador © jpereira_net
Despite being the smallest country in the Andean Highlands, Ecuador is one of the world's most bio-diverse destinations. Visitors will experience dramatic changes in altitude, scenery and temperature while journeying between Pacific Coast beaches, the sweltering rainforest, the ice-covered volcanoes surrounding Quito and the windswept highlands of the Andes Mountains. They will also encounter an astounding variety of birds, wildlife and vegetation in these contrasting climatic zones.
What's more, Ecuador's geographic environment has influenced the cultures and traditions of its people. Two mountain chains and over 30 volcanoes make up the Andean highlands, the country's backbone. Between the two chains lies the central valley, the Avenue of Volcanoes, at about 8,960 feet (2,800m) above sea level.
This valley, or sierra, is the heartland of cultural activity, punctuated by dozens of remote communities. It is also home to the bulk of the population. Larger towns like Saquisilí and Otavalo swell on market days, with villagers coming to sell their produce and handiwork in a vibrant, colourful, and festive atmosphere.
Additionally, the sierra contains most of the old and historically important cities, including the aforementioned Quito. The country itself is beautiful, with colonial architecture, magnificent, panoramic scenery and a welcoming people blending together magnificently.
One of the world's greatest treasures of natural history lies in the bewitching Galapagos Islands. Famed for its unique wildlife such as marine iguanas, giant tortoises, and colourful Sally Lightfoot crabs, the island chain is the highlight of any holiday in Ecuador.