Ecuador is a diverse land of rainforest and volcanoes. Although it is the smallest of the Andean nations, it is packed with the most startling contrasts of scenery, from steaming tropical rainforests, windswept highlands, ice-capped volcanoes and palm-fringed beaches, all within easy reach of the capital, Quito.
Ecuador's mainland divides neatly into three distinct regions running the length of the country in parallel strips. In the middle is the sierra, formed by the eastern and western chains of the Andes that surge abruptly into the clouds from the lowlands either side. Punctuated by over thirty volcanoes, East of the sierra is the Oriente, a large, sparsely populated area extending into the upper Amazon basin, much of it covered by dense tropical rainforest.