Although the smallest country in the Andean highlands and fourth-smallest in South America, Ecuador exhibits the largest bio-diversity on the planet. It's also the center of the world (mitad del mundo) - the equator is the imaginary line that divides the Earth into the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
Ecuador is one of the top tourist attractions in South America, the essence of the continent packed into a single destination. It is divided in four distinct regions, three of them part of continental Ecuador, la Costa (Pacific coast), la Sierra (Andes mountains) and Oriente (Amazon rainforest), covering almost half of the country.
And then comes the world's ecological wonder - the Galapagos Islands, located some 600 miles off the Ecuadorian coast.
In a matter of hours - literally - you could be watching pre-historic animals in their natural environment, snorkeling with giant marine turtles, trekking alongside active volcanoes or just be relaxing in a jungle lodge for a few days.
Where on Earth could you do that?
If fond of archaeology and architecture, a visit to Ingapirca ruins is a must-do. It's Ecuador's largest Inca ruins, not far from the city of Cuenca. Originally home to the Cañari people, they were defeated by the Incas at the end of XV century, who expanded the original site with astonishing stonework and a complex underground irrigation network.
Another fine way to delve into the past is to visit the historic centers of Quito and Cuenca - both Unesco World Heritage Sites - lined with architectural treasures dating back to Spanish colonial days, from XVII century churches and monasteries to beautifully restored mansions.
Naturally, your visit to Quito - Ecuador's capital - should include the Middle of the World Monument, located some 23 km (14 mi) north of Quito, near San Antonio de Pichincha. You'll have the chance to to stand on a yellow line painted on the ground that is said to be precisely at Earth’s midpoint - 0 degrees latitude, 0 minutes, 0 seconds.
Except that it is not, the Equator is hundreds of feet to the north. Just how the Middle of the World monument wound up being not quite at the middle of the world is unclear. According to modern GPS devices, the monument is about 800 feet south of the Equator. In any case, you'll be close, but not quite at the center of the world. The real spot is Inti-ñan, around five minutes away.
Include the Avenue of the Volcanoes as part of your Ecuador tour if you could. The name was given by German explorer Alexander von Humboldt, in 1802.
South of Quito, the two parallel chains of the Andes that cross the country from North to South rise to their most dramatic peaks. In fact, eight of Ecuador's ten highest summits are found there, including Mt. Cotopaxi, world's highest active volcano.
Ecuador offers many fascinating places to visit and things to do. For an exciting journey, take a train ride to Devil's Nose, or get the Guayaquil to Quito train journey. If you love birding, the Mindo area is one of the best bird-watching sites in all of South America.
To appreciate the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest, a visit to Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve or Yasuni National Park is a must-do.
Take your pick and have a great South America vacation!..
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