Ecuador is a quite amazing country, often overlooked in the shadow of its larger South American neighbours. But in its small size it manages to pack in all the diversity of the other more famous nations, and in the Galapagos it can offer even more besides.

This island group is undoubtedly the country’s crowning glory. Practically untouched by humans until recent times it is as close as you can come anywhere on Earth to the idyllic world of pre-history. Inevitably this has drawn comparisons to the Christian Garden of Eden, ironic then that it was the research ground for Darwin’s religion shattering “Origin of Species” – the book that proposed his theory of evolution. Doubly ironic when you consider that the islands were first “discovered” by a bishop blown off course.

The islands today are a protected habitat, where visitors are strictly controlled. The population of tortoises, sea lions, iguanas and rare bird life remains relatively undisturbed by Man, and seeing these creatures in their natural habitat is an incredible and unique experience.

Although if you don’t visit the Galapagos you will undoubtedly miss out on the best that Ecuador has to offer, that isn’t to say that the country doesn’t have more besides. The capital Quito mixes its Spanish roots with the trappings of a modern city, while Cuenca seems relatively untouched since colonial days. The country also contains some of the world’s most spectacular volcanic scenery, including the massive cone of Cotopaxi – the world’s highest active volcano.

Elsewhere you can discover ruins of the enigmatic Incan settlements, deserted Pacific beaches and the endless variety represented by the rainforest. A land of wonders indeed.

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