As the largest city in Ecuador, Guayaquil is the commercial hub of the country and you can definitely feel a buzz about the place. Strolling along the streets, you'll find a melting pot of ancient and modern, from classical mansions and heaving markets to quirky cafes and fine dining restaurants. Don't miss the fizzing atmosphere of the Malecon 2000, the riverside boardwalk that has been the city's heart since the 1800s, where you'll find some excellent fish restaurants. Often used as the gateway to the Galapagos Islands, you can get a taste of the wildlife before your archipelago adventure in the pretty plazas and gardens dotted around the city, home to tame iguanas, large snapping turtles and slow moving tortoises.
For a truly unique experience, jump on the Chiva Express train and head south through the Avenue of the Volcanoes along the famous ‘Devil's Nose’ section of the track, where the line descends some 1000 metres on a steep decline making it one of the world’s great switch-back railways. Completed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Devil's Nose Railway is also one of the most impressive railway engineering feats in history. Most passengers prefer to ride on the roof to take in the panoramic views. Trust us, you’ll love it.
Further south still you’ll reach Cuenca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The colonial city is perched on the banks of the Río Tomebamba and boasts a charming collection of elegant courtyards, quaint churches and ornate cathedrals. Cuenca fuses the ancient with the modern without losing any of its charm, and you'll find plenty of international restaurants, art galleries, cafés and bars hidden down its cobbled streets.
Just beyond Quito and running between two different mountain ranges in the Andes lies the eye-popping Avenue of the Volcanoes, a 200km stretch of volcanoes, some active some dormant, each over 4500m. At 5897m above sea level, Cotopaxi is Ecuador’s second highest peak and one of the world’s highest active volcanoes. The brave can try to climb it, while for the rest of us it makes for a great day out in some spectacular high-altitude scenery. The highest peak is Chimborazo, which dominates the skyline at 6310m.