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Ecuador may be one of South America’s smallest countries, but its appeal is vast: from the riches of the Spanish Empire in its capital, to its cloud forests, traditional markets, Andean landscapes and incomparable Galápagos Islands

Explore the colonial capital Quito, before delving deep into cloud forest, where hummingbirds fit and pumas stalk; next, head high into the Andes and meet the indigenous craftspeople of Otavalo, set out from Ibarra on a scenic train ride, and end your adventure among the unique wildlife of the Galápagos
Well-camoufaged marine iguanas bask on lava rocks (and one another) on the Galápagos Islands

@peter_grunert • PHOTOGRAPHS PHILIP LEE HARVEY @PhilipLeeHarvey

Plan your trip

1 Meet local shopkeepers among the colonial era buildings of Quito, the highest capital city in the world (p50).

2 Take a walk deep into cloud forest, one of the most biodiverse environments on Earth (p52).

3 The Andean market town of Otavalo is the home to weavers, fute makers and the best roast pig in Ecuador (p54).

4 Pass (straight) through volcanoes and over canyons on the Tren de la Libertad, departing from Ibarra (p56).

5 Head across the Pacifc to the Galápagos to meet marine iguanas, giant tortoises and sea lions (p58).

MAP ILLUSTRATION: ALEX VERHILLE. PHOTOGRAPHS: MSHIELD PHOTOS/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO, CHRIS MATTISON/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

HOW TO GET THERE

There are no direct flights from the UK. Flights with Iberia (via Madrid) or KLM (via Amsterdam) take around 15 hours and start from £540 (iberia.com, klm.com). British nationals can visit Ecuador for up to 90 days without a visa.

HOW TO GET AROUND

Buses are the staple form of transport, linking most towns and varying from plush and air-conditioned on routes between major cities, to basic. Budget no more than £1 per hour of travel. Trains are used for sightseeing trips rather than as general transport. Car hire outlets are mostly limited to Quito, Guayaquil or Cuenca. As rural roads are often cobbled or even unpaved, better to hire a car with a driver. Expect to pay from £80 per day, plus an allowance for meals and accommodation for your driver. Lan Ecuador operates daily flights from Quito to Baltra in the Galápagos, taking just over two hours (from £140; lan.com).

HOW LONG TO SPEND

Ecuador encompasses great diversity within a compact landmass – travelling the 400 miles from its western to eastern edges will carry you from the Pacific coast to the Andean highlands and deep into rainforest, passing grand colonial cities along the way. Given the long journey from the UK, allow a minimum of eleven days/nine nights to get a rounded taste of the country, plus up to a week extra if you hope to add a cruise around the Galápagos Islands or along a tributary of the Amazon. Include a couple of days to acclimatise gently to the 2,850m altitude in Quito.

WHAT TO BUDGET

Travel around mainland Ecuador is extremely affordable if you stay in guesthouses and use the bus network. On a budget of around £30 a day you’ll have enough left over to eat in a good restaurant each day. For £100-150 a day, midrange hotels in Quito come within reach, as do locally arranged tours based around jungle lodges or on the island of Santa Cruz in the Galápagos. For £300 and upwards, options include exceptionally comfortable haciendas, jungle lodges and small cruise ships. For travellers aged over 12, a flat $100 (£65) entrance tax applies on arrival in the Galápagos.

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