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The Republic of Ecuador is small but diverse, offering a wealth of culture, due to its Inca and Spanish roots. It’s also geographically diverse, with the Amazon jungle to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Andes Mountains slicing down the center. Offshore are the ecologically rich Galapagos Islands.

Ecuador’s Amazon region consists of the upper Amazon basin, with flora including hundreds of species of orchids, as well as plants with medicinal value. Wildlife includes monkeys, sloths, parrots, macaws, river dolphins and caimans. And if watching these creatures isn’t enough, visitors can swim, canoe, river raft, go on a rain forest walk and visit jungle villages where locals practice ancient traditions.

The Andes region several active volcanic cones, as well as national parks and protected wilderness areas, where visitors can go hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. In addition, there are many indigenous villages with markets and craft centers. This is also where Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, is located. Quito’s colonial center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, features 16th century architecture. Yet the city also has modern buildings, as well as a variety of dining, nightlife, festivals and museums.

To the west is the Pacific coast, with coffee and tropical fruit plantations, secluded beaches, excellent seafood, and spectacular white water rafting. This region’s northern area also features strong Afro-Ecuadorian culture and music styles like the marimba. Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, is located on the coast. Known for its nightlife, as well as its historic quarters, this city is also a popular cruise ship port. Six hundred miles off of Ecuador’s coast are the Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cuisine in Ecuador includes tropical fruits, fresh fish and seafood, and a variety of Andean potatoes. Local dishes range from ceviche, empanadas and a plethora of soups to more adventurous foods, such as cuy (guinea pig). Many restaurants offer pre-fixe meals for lunch and dinner that include soup, a main course and dessert for about $1. All meals are accompanied by aji, a condiment that varies in spiciness. International fare is available in major cities.

MariscalSucre International Airport in Quito is served by 18 commercial airlines, including American, Continental and Delta. Major hotels offer shuttle service, and car rentals and taxis are available. In town, visitors can hail a taxi or ride a bus. In Guyaquil, Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport is served by 18 carriers, including American and Delta; and buses, taxis and car rentals are available.

Ecuadorhas nine climates, including dry, tropical and alpine. Mountain areas are cold and dry from May to October, and tropical zones are warm and humid from November to April. The rainy season comes in March along the coast and during springs and fall in the mountains. Average daytime temperatures in Quito range from 45 to 74 degrees. Guayaquil is more temperate, with temperatures varying around 75 degrees.

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