The small, mountainous country of Ecuador has much to enthral the gap year traveller: a dramatic volcanic landscape, rainforests, coastline and wildlife you literally won’t find anywhere else. And, despite the (literal) ups and downs, it’s so compact that you can do it all. It’s also the home of the Panama hat (oh yes it is).
For a small country, Ecuador certainly packs in the adventure travel thrills. There’s mountaineering, horse-riding and trekking in the Andes, including the road trip of the Quilatoa Loop. There are jungles to explore that teem with wildlife, there are the jaguars and eagles of the grasslands, and then there are the Galapagos Islands, home to the exotic marine iguana, giant tortoises, schools of hammerhead sharks and manta rays, and equatorial penguins.
Ecuador is well-priced for student travel, and you won’t find it hard to get around. As well as the wildlife and mountains, the country has a rich colonial and Inca past, in evidence in the volcanic mountain city of Quito and in Cuenca to the south. If it’s nightlife you want, Banos is the place to go, but there are also the native crafts and weaving of Otavalo and a chance to pick up some life lessons in Vilcabamba, the “Valley of Longevity”.
If you’re keen to contribute as well as enjoy, Ecuador has many opportunities for volunteer work. You can help with marine conservation and animal rescue in the Amazon, teach in the Amazon jungle or work with street children in the cities.