Astonishing wildlife, smouldering volcanoes, picturesque colonial towns and colourful markets are just the start of what Ecuador has to offer. It is the second smallest republic in South America and contains everything an adventurous visitor could wish for, from fascinating towns to explore, to dramatic scenery and biodiversity in the Amazon Basin and highland cloudforest. The cultural highlands of Ecuador are a fantastic mixture of Spanish colonialism and Amerindian influences, best seen in the architecture and markets of places such as Quito, Otavalo and Cuenca. The Galapagos Islands, home to the world’s most fascinating wildlife, helped shape Darwin’s theory on evolution. Here you can come face to face with giant tortoises, catch a glimpse of a blue-footed booby or swim with playful seals and penguins. Taking a cruise is the best way to become intimately acquainted with the very different islands in the archipelago, making shore landings, snorkelling, kayaking or diving by day, and enjoying first rate amenities in the evenings.