Ecuador

Best known for the awesome Galápagos Islands, with their swimming iguanas, giant tortoises, and red-footed boobies, Ecuador offers much, much more.

Darwin was of course the first to expose the wonders of the Galapagos with his Theory of Natural Selection, but more than 150 years on, the islands remain much as they were—volcanic playgrounds for myriad colourful, often unique creatures. The area can be explored by sea via private chartered boat, or out of such land-based lodges as the Galapagos Safari Camp or the new Pikaia Lodge, which offers excursions and diving from its own 100-foot yacht.

Mainland treasures include the vibrant cobblestoned streets of Quito, rainforests full of exotic birds, traditional villages with their weekly markets, and the rugged foothills of Andes—best explored by horse, foot, or bike. The new Casa Gangotena offers boutique accommodations in the heart of Old Quito, while the 17th century Hacienda Zuleta, near Cotapaxi, is a working farm that provides a great luxury base for explorations in the Andes.