Named after the equatorial line that runs through the country's heart, Ecuador is located on South America's Pacific Coast. Colombia borders it to the north, with Peru to the south and east. Ecuador is home to a rich cultural heritage with grand cathedrals, historic colonial Spanish architecture, expansive haciendas, Latin rhythm, fine cuisine, fresh tropical fruits, bustling markets full of colorful tapestries and other handmade crafts.
The unique geography of Ecuador creates four distinct ecoregions, supporting what ecologists call a mega-diversity hotspot. The archipelago of the Galapagos Islands made famous by Charles Darwin's groundbreaking theory of evolution; the Pacific coastal zone consisting of sandy beaches, rocky shoals and mangrove forests; the high sierra with major ranges of impressive snow-capped volcanoes reaching more than 6,000 meters (20,000 ft); and dense rainforests and meandering headwater streams of the Amazon basin create the four ecoregions of the country. This plethora of diversity makes the small country of Ecuador one of the most rewarding travel destinations, with more points of interest than many countries twice its size. All located in just a day's drive from one another, you can travel from the beautiful patch work farm lands in the Andes to the tropical banana plantations in the low lands in one day!
Roughly 600 miles off the shore of Ecuador are the Galapagos Islands that Charles Darwin based his famous book, The Origin of Species. The Galapagos Islands have been protected and registered as a World Heritage site in order to preserve and protect the habitat of giant tortoises and the many other species that can only be found on these islands, enabling them to survive for the enjoyment of many future generations. Giant turtles, blue footed boobies, penguins and marine iguanas are just some of the strange and beautiful species that call the Galapagos home. And, if you dare, you can snorkel with the barracudas and hammerhead sharks just off the Galapagos shore.
Ecuador's 500 mile long Pacific coastline consists of pristine beaches and dramatic landscapes. The tropical beaches offer unlimited opportunities for relaxation and sunbathing on beautiful white sand beaches followed by all night dancing. For the adventurous at heart swimming, surfing, snorkeling and scuba diving are a must; add in a day trip to explore a mangrove in the north or board a ship for some whale watching to catch a peek of a humpback during migration. Then nourish and refresh for another day, enjoying the fine cuisines and fresh seafood caught offshore.
Ecuador has the highest concentration of volcanoes. Many are some of the worlds' tallest, such as the active volcano Cotopaxi at 19,347 feet (5,897 m). The high sierra runs north to south along the center of Ecuador, with two distinct Andean ranges - the Eastern and Western Cordilleras. The fertile central valley between them is called the Avenue of the Volcanoes, and is a great region for bird watching and wildlife sightings. Wildlife mammals include mountain tapirs, spectacled bears, white-tailed deer, rabbits, Andean fox and pumas; and popular bird sightings include the Andean condor and hundreds of hummingbird species.
The Ecuadorian Andes range has more than 12 peaks over 16,000 feet (4,877 meters). Ecuador's highest peak is the dormant volcano Chimborazo at 20,702 feet (6,310 meters). After a hard climb, relax in one of the centuries old haciendas interspersed throughout the foothills. Then visit one of the many beautiful towns and artisan communities in the Andes, here you can visit Indian markets and the homes of weavers, woodcarvers and other folk artists.
Only a few hours drive from Quito is the lush tropical jungle with meandering headwater streams that feed the Amazon River. The Ecuadorian Amazon Basin stretches from the eastern Andes to the Peruvian border. The tropical rain forests are overflowing with unimaginable plant and animal life, here you will have the opportunity to see some of the several hundred species of butterflies, parrots, tanagers and macaws, monkeys, anteaters, caiman, and perhaps glimpse a jaguar or anaconda.
Ecuador is home to 13 million people, 50% of whom are native Indian descended from one of the 27 distinct ethnic groups. Spanish is the official language, but Quichua is spoken in many of the small indigenous villages in the sierras. The diversity of the country's different regions is reflected in the people; among them Andean, Amazonian, coastal indigenous groups and African Ecuadorians.
The largest of the indigenous nations is the Quichua, Incan descendants that survived in the mountains during the reign of the Spanish. They have villages throughout the highlands in Ecuador and Peru (here, it is spelled Quechua), where a vibrant indigenous way of life thrives on small farms. Their local markets offer a plethora of color, sights, and traditional flute music that gives the highlands a special flavor. Here you can stock up on gifts for your friends and family back home, including brightly colored hand embroidered tapestries, alpaca sweaters and Ecuador's most famous export, the misnomered Panama straw hats.
Ecuador has a rich history extending back thousands of years; it has been traced back to the Cañaris culture. Their culture was eclipsed around 1450 AD, as the Inca Empire spread its influence to this region conquering the various indigenous groups along the way. The Incas built a vast transportation network, including the Inca Road that links Cuzco to Quito which still exists today. Many relics of the Incan Empire can still be found throughout Ecuador, the most impressive being the village ruins at Ingapirca.
The mid 16th century brought about the Spanish colonial period; beginning with the capture of Atahualpa, the Inca leader, by Pizzaro. The Spanish brought in the feudal system. The elaborate haciendas that were built in this period to oversee these large tracts of farmland are still intact, many now accommodating visitors' overnight stays.
In 1822 Antonio Jose de Sucre led Ecuador to defeat the Spanish royalists, and Ecuador became part of Colombia under the leadership of Simon Bolivar. This was followed by a history of internal disputes and a long border conflict with Peru. Despite its history of regime changes, Ecuador has been a peaceful nation for many decades. What remains is a rare mix of Spanish colonialism, European traditions, and Incan heritage. Ecuador opens wide a window to its colorful past, while also inviting everyone to enjoy the very best of Ecuadorian living in the here and now.