Ecuador might not be the first country you’d think of visiting in South America, but honestly that would be a mistake.
It’s got tonnes going for it: it’s the home of the first UNESCO world heritage sites, incredible biodiversity, and fantastic local crafts.
Plus, it’s small and manageable compared to the sprawling giants of Brazil and Argentina.
And the currency is US dollars, so you don’t have to go through the painful process of grappling with confusing coins.
Here are six things you should know before you go.
You can swing at the end of the world
Ever-popular among avid Instagrammers, there is a swing at La Casa Del Arbol where you can soar above a canyon, facing onto a volcano.
The swing hangs precariously from a treehouse, built to observe the activity of the temperamental Tungurahua.
It is reached from a little town called Banos, otherwise famed for its hot springs.
They (confusingly) invented the Panama hat
Though the straw-woven hats were made famous in the country after which they are named, they actually originated in Cuenca, Ecuador.
Thank me later for this useful piece of pub quiz knowledge.
You can visit the middle of the world
The equator unsurprisingly runs right through Ecuador, hence its name.
But there’s a whole tourist attraction centred on the line, and you can even get your passport stamped as proof of your visit.
It’s called La Mitad Del Mundo, which translates as the middle of the world.
And it provides endless photo opportunities, usually involving standing with one foot either side of the line.
The funny thing is, the equator is actually a few hundred metres away from where the line and monument stand – the original calculations were a bit off.
It has the highest official capital city
At 2,850m, Quito gets the accolade of the highest official capital in the world.
Although La Paz in Bolivia stands higher, it’s not considered the constitutional capital, just the seat of government.
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was heavily influenced by the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are an incredible, albeit expensive, highlight of an Ecuador visit.
Home to creatures that cannot be found anywhere else – giant tortoises and myriad bird species – the Galapagos also inspired Darwin’s revolutionary evolution theory.
Pretty cool stuff.
It has one of the best markets in South America
Otavalo market is an epic day out: rainbow colours, traditionally dressed salespeople, and all the tourist tat you could ever desire.
One set of panpipes for every distant relative: easy souvenir shopping.
There’s all sorts on offer, from colourful textiles to, well, fully grown llamas. Though one of these fits more easily into a backpack than the other.
It’s at its biggest and best on the weekend: Saturday is when most people choose to visit.