Ecuador is a concentration of everything South American: from the Amazon Basin to the rolling Pacific, passing over the Andean peaks, between the traditional indigenous markets of Otavalo and Quito’s Spanish Colonial old town with its plazas and churches. Climb into the Andes to find isolated monasteries at the foot of soaring peaks or traditionally-dressed Indians still following their ancient way of life in an unforgiving landscape. Ecuador offers solitude and discovery far from the tourist rush. Raft down a rushing river, hike through a tropical cloud forest, or visit Vilcambamba, the “Valley of Longevity,” once a holidaying-place for Inca royalty. Or, for a truly disconcerting experience, take a trip across the sea to that mythical archipelago, the Galapagos, where giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and flightless cormorants people a lunar landscape of dark volcanic rock. Few countries will so beautifully embody the essence of a continent while making you feel far, far away from home.