Ecuador is one of South America's best kept secrets. Although the second smallest country on the South American continent, Ecuador offers unparalleled natural diversity within its easily accessible borders.
Where else can you drive from the steamy lush jungle of the Amazon basin, past snow capped Andean volcanoes, through tropical cloud forest and arrive on the warm equatorial Pacific coast – all in a day? Continue further and you reach the world famous Galapagos Islands, site of Charles Darwin's theories of evolution.
Ecuador is Spanish for equator and that's where the country lies. It straddles the equator on the Pacific Coast of South America and is bordered by Colombia to it's north and Peru to the south and east of the country. It is split roughly into four regions, the Galapagos Islands, the Pacific Coast, the Andes and Central Highlands and the Amazon region. Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is situated high within the Andes range and, at 2850m is the world's second highest capital city. Spanish is widely spoken within Ecuador, although native languages such as Quichua are also spoken within the some parts of the Andes and Amazon.
Owing to it's unique geography, Ecuador is commonly regarded as one of the world's 'megadiversity hotspots'. For a nation it's size, Ecuador is one of the most species-rich countries in the world. With an amazing array of birds, mammals, insects, amphibians, reptiles, fish and plants; nature lovers will not have to wait too long or go too far to see this in evidence.
Ecuador's population is a vibrant melting pot of indigenous, mestizo (mixed descent) and Afro-Ecuadorian people. It is a predominantly Roman Catholic country with strong family values. The people are patient, polite and friendly with visitors to Ecuador likely to make dozens of lifelong friends! Ecuador is one of the safest countries in South America and was listed in 2007 as a safer country to live in than the United States. Women play an important role in Ecuadorian society occupying a large part of the workforce and in 1929, Ecuador became the first Latin American country to grant equal voting rights to women.
Although a fortunate country in many ways, Ecuador is still a developing nation. An estimated 70% of Ecuadorians live below the poverty line with this figure much higher within the indigenous and remote communities. Whilst the government with the help of volunteer and community groups such as VESA are fighting to assist these remote communities, issues such as education and malnutrition that are associated with poverty are still widely prevalent.
With a welcoming and friendly populace, great climate and an incredible natural biodiversity, Ecuador is not likely to remain one of South America's best kept secrets for long!