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Known as the microcosm of South America, Ecuador is most popular with students wishing to learn Spanish as well as with nature-lovers fascinated by the Galapagos Islands. However, both the capital and the country’s interior jungles (the Oriente) are equally impressive, despite not really being on the beaten path. No doubt, Quito is nothing short of a colonial gem. What’s more, the capital is within relatively easy reach of the Amazon and its stunning wildlife. Perhaps best of all, like most visitors to Ecuador, you are likely to find this indigenous-oriented country to rank among the most authentic of South America’s destinations.

Known for hiking the historic Inca (Empire) Trail, indigenous archeological sites such as Machu Picchu, traditional folk healers (a.k.a. shaman or curanderos), once-abundant gold resources, colonial-era settlements like the architecturally gifted city of Cusco, exotic Amazonian jungle, coastal deserts, the breathtaking Andes mountains, Pisco sours (alcohol) and its seafood (especially ceviche), the gastronomic hotspot that is Peru is one of South America’s most visited destinations for good reason. With so much on offer, you are bound to have a memorable experience.

Featuring a broad range of landscapes from deserts of the Andes to rainforests in the Amazon to towering volcanic peaks, boasting the largest salt flat on the planet just perfect for four-wheel driving and otherwise home to fine colonial architecture, the landlocked and highly indigenous nation that is Bolivia is surprisingly one of South America’s least visited destinations. That’s all the better, as prices are lower, problems are fewer (e.g. haggling tourists) and the overall experience is far more authentic.

To many first-time visitors’ surprise, at least urban areas of Colombia are actually much more modern, a lot less traditional and no more dangerous than most of Latin America. Once notorious for drug trafficking and homicides, the country has really cleaned up its act and has now found itself under the tourist radar. Tourism is growing steadily as visitors finally feel comfortable exploring the country’s many attractions: colonial cities, archaeological ruins, coffee plantations, high-mountain trekking, tropical beaches and islands, scuba diving, surfing and whale watching. Add to all that good food, an exciting nightlife scene and out-of-this-world coffee and the decision to be made is not whether to visit Colombia but rather when.

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