The smallest country in the rugged Andean chain, Ecuador is one of the most rewarding travel destinations in South America. With a host of indigenous cultures, reflected in an array of vibrant and colourful markets, the stunningly well preserved colonial architecture of Quito, remarkable volcanic landscapes and dense Amazonian rainforest, it has more points of interest than many countries twice its size. Ecuador is also a country of astounding biodiversity, boasting 1600 bird species , 4500 butterfly species and over 3500 orchid species, to cite just a few examples. The Galapagos Islands, owned by Ecuador since 1832, have gone down in history for their pivotal role in shaping Charles Darwin's theories on evolution. These far-flung islands are lauded as one of the world's greatest natural history treasures with their unique diversity of plant and animal life.