Nestled amid snowcapped Andean peaks, Quito at 9,300ft, clings to a narrow valley at the foot of Pichincha Volcano. Its historic center is amongst the largest and best preserved in South America, studded with colonial churches and chapels, convents, monasteries and bustling markets. Two nights at the fabulous Casa Gangotena is the perfect prelude to onward adventures into the Amazon, to the Galapagos or the surrounding highlands. A magnificent tour of Ecuador’s history and culture can also be experience by train. Three nights on the Tren Crucero is the best way to travel from the Andean highlands to the Coastal plains.
A string of volcanoes (Otavalo, Cotopaxi and Chimborazo are the big ones!) runs through the centre of the country, giving way on either side to rich pasture populated by herds of horses and cattle, rivers, lakes and colonial towns such as Cuenca, the cultural capital of Ecuador and home of the panama hat! These sierra highlands are heaven for walking, riding and cycling, staying at traditional haciendas and visiting indigenous craft markets.