Ecuador is a country straddling the equator on South America’s west coast. Its diverse landscape encompasses Amazon jungle, Andean highlands and the wildlife-rich Galápagos Islands. In the Andean foothills at an elevation of 2,850m, Quito, the capital, is known for its largely intact Spanish colonial center, with decorated 16th- and 17th-century palaces and religious sites, like the ornate Compañía de Jesús Church.
Dramatic natural spectacles cover the Ecuadorian landscape, stretching from the volcanic Galapagos Islands to the ancient mystery of the Amazon. Hundreds of endemic birds whistle from lush green branches, bizarre reptiles poke their heads from fiery red rocks, and an eclectic marine world arrives on different currents. And you can get almost-impossibly close. Exploring Ecuador and the Galapagos isn’t a glimpse at nature. It’s an intimate journey, one where the only thing stopping you from reaching out and touching is your admiration and belief that such nature must remain unspoiled.
This single South American nation has come to epitomize the diversity of the planet’s natural history. Lost in the Pacific Ocean lie the Galapagos Islands, volcanic shields and cones that have never been connected to any continental landmass. They’re largely harsh and desolate, spread across the equator and hypnotically portraying the need to specialize. Iconic creatures have evolved in isolation, with distinct sub-species developing separately on each individual island. These islands epitomize nature’s ingenious ability to surprise and create. Then carved around the country’s south is the Amazon, where 50 million years of evolution are packed into dense carpets of trees and endemic plants. Conditions are favorable, and competition is severe, a different recipe in the evolutionary spell. It’s hard to imagine two more diverse or distinct slices of natural history in such close proximity.