Not to be mistaken as a stop off for the Galapagos Islands, South America's tiniest nation rises up from the Equator and descends to the steamy tributaries of the Amazon. Remnants of pre-Hispanic civilisations dot the landscape and the dexterous Otavaleno Indians produce their vibrant textiles with ease at the biggest artisan craft market on the continent. UNESCO protected colonial heritage sites dominate the old city in Quito and rest prettily to the south in the city of Cuenca. A journey along the spine of the Andes and the 'Avendida de los Volcanoes' is a hypnotic trip encapsulating the biodiversity of the landscape through several climatic zones. A short half hour flight from Quito takes one to the gateway to the Amazon. Padding the narrow pristine creeks in traditional dug-out canoes, escorted by the eerily prehistoric squawking Hoatzins, Pygmy Marmosets and Golden mantled Tamarin are some of the many delights that Ecuador tours offer.
600 miles west of Ecuador lie Darwin's 'Enchanted Isles', accessed by an array of cruising craft. A seven to eight night cruise will usually allow one to see most of the available species (Finches, Frigate birds, Boobies, Albatross, Galápagos Penguin, Marine and Land Iguana, Sea Turtles, Sea Lions and an array of fish species) and gain knowledge of the unique and fascinating evolutionary history. Tourism initiatives on the islands have moved away from the traditional cruise with the emergence of small, sustainably designed affairs.