WILD SPACES - ECUADOR

Islands - Galapagos is a wildlife Mecca, a unique place where you can walk in Darwin's footsteps. These isolated volcanic islands best explored on a cruise permit close encounters with a host of species from inquisitive seals and penguins to Waved Albatros and the most famous resident - the giant Galapagos Tortoise.

Peaks - there are 28 volcanoes in the Highlands. Ecuador's highest peak, Chimborazo (6,263m) has coined the name 'Taita' (Father) by the indigenous people. A wildlife reserve surrounds this hulking inactive volcano (the last eruption was in 550AD), and is home to Vicuna (a relative of the llama). The main gateway is Riobamba. The menacing smoking peak of Cotopaxi is the second highest in Ecuador at 5,897 m. This active volcano has erupted more than 50 times since 1738 creating many sculpted, fertile valleys all around it. You'll find glorious haciendas from where you can breathe the mountain air, horse-ride, trek and bike.

Forests - stay in a jungle lodge or join a cruise to explore the network of river, streams and black-water lakes in Ecuador's Amazon basin and to view the dizzying array of species found here, from monkeys and birds to marine life. Highlights include the Napo River, a direct tributary of the Amazon and the giant kapok and fig trees (150 feet tall).The dense canopy can make wildlife viewing challenging but just being in the forest is magical. Some lodges have watchtowers or canopy walkways. Only two hours from Quito, the Mindo Cloud Forest on the slopes of the Andes, is another opportunity to connect with the natural world and encounter 400 species of birds, trees and frogs found nowhere else in the world. The famous Masphi Lodge is nearby within its own 2,500 hectare reserve.

Coastal Plains - the Marabi mangrove forests along the Ecuadorian coast are vital wildlife habitats. Around 80% of Ecuador's mangroves were lost in the 80s and 90s due to shrimp farming but today mangrove habitats are protected. Red mangroves are most common and the far northern and southern coastal regions are the best places for exploring the mangroves, for example, from the coastal resorts in and around Guayaquil such as Puerto El Morro, a small port located at the mouth of the River Guayas. Puerto Lopez is a great base for whale watching in season (June to Sept) while Machalilla National Park and Isla de la Plata offer blue footed boobies, frigate birds and sea lions.