is a developing country. Travelers to the capital city of Quito may require some
time to adjust to the altitude (close to 10,000 feet), which can adversely
affect blood pressure, digestion and energy level. Tourist facilities are
adequate, but vary in quality. Introduction Epithet after epithet was found too
weak to convey to those who have not visited the intertropical regions, the
sensations of delight which the mind experiences.--- Charles Darwin If an
argumentative group of travelers sat down to design a shared destination, they
would be hard put to come up with a place that would best Ecuador. Packed like a
knee-cap between Peru and Colombia, Ecuador contains within its borders an
improbable variety of landscape and culture. For the mountaineer, it is bisected
by an epic stretch of the northern Andes. For the jungle explorer, there is a
biological mother lode within the Amazonian Oriente. The sea-minded are rewarded
with miles of Pacific coastline, to say nothing of the living wonders of the

Galapagos Islands. Not only are these regions highly defined, but excluding

Galapagos they are also wonderfully contiguous. The entire country is about the
size of Washington state, and it is home to some of the world's most
extraordinary national parks. In a matter of two hundred miles, the traveler can
penetrate all of the mainland's defining regions--the coastal lowlands in the

West, the volcanic central highlands, and the rainforests of the East, or

Oriente. Ecuador's climate is equally generous to the traveler. Embracing the

Pacific, Ecuador rests squarely on the equator (hence its name). Here, seasons
are defined more by rainfall than temperature. A warm rainy season lasts from

January to April, and May through December is characterized by a cooler, drier
period that is ideally timed for a summer trip. History & Culture Ecuador's
culture and history mirrors the diversity of its landscape. Like much of South

America, Ecuadorian culture blends the influences of Spanish colonialism with
the resilient traditions of pre-Columbian peoples. Archaeologists trace the
first inhabitants as far back as 10,000 BC, when hunters and gatherers
established settlements on the southern coast and in the central highlands. By

3,200 BC three distinct agricultural-based civilizations had emerged, producing
some of the hemisphere's oldest known pottery. They developed trade routes with
nearby Peru, Brazil, and Amazonian tribes. Culture continued to thrive and
diversify, and by 500 BC large cities had been established along the coast.

Their inhabitants had sophisticated metalworking and navigational skills and
they traded with Mexico's Maya. In 1460 AD, when the Inca ruler Tupac-Yupanqui
invaded from the south, three major tribes in Ecuador were powerful enough to
give him a fight: the Canari, the Quitu, and the Caras. The Inca were a dynamic,
rapidly advancing society. They originated in a pocket of Peru, but established
a vast empire within a century. It dominated Peru and extended as far as Bolivia
and central Chile. The Inca constructed massive, monumental cities. To
communicate across their empire they laid wide, stone-paved highways thousands
of kilometers long and sent chains of messengers along them. These mailmen
passed each other records of the empire's status, which were coded in system of
knots along a rope. A winded runner could even rest in the shade of trees
planted along both sides of the road. Remarkably, the Canari, Quitu, and Caras
were able to hold back Tupac-Yupanqui, though they proved less successful
against his son, Huayna Capac. After conquering Ecuador, Huayna Capac
indoctrinated the tribes to Quechua, the language of the Incas, which is still
widely spoken in Ecuador. In celebration of his victory, Huayna Capac ordered a
great city to be built at Tomebamba, near Cuenca. Its size and influence rivaled
the capital of Cuzco in Peru--a rivalry that would mature with posterity. When
he died in 1526, Huayna Capac divided the empire between his two sons, Atahualpa
and Huascar. Atahualpa ruled the northern reaches from Tombebamba, while Huascar
held court over the south from Cuzco. The split inheritance was an
unconventional and fateful move, as the first Spaniards arrived in the same
year. On the eve of Pizarro's expedition into the empire, the brothers entered
into a civil war for complete control. Francisco Pizarro landed in Ecuador in

1532, accompanied by 180 fully armed men and an equally strong lust for gold.

Several years earlier, Pizarro had made a peaceful visit to the coast, where he
heard rumors of inland cities of incredible wealth. This time, he intended to
conquer the Incas just as Hernando Cortez had crushed Mexico's Aztecs--and he
couldn't have picked a better time. Atahualpa had only recently won the war
against his brother when Pizarro arrived, and