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A visit to the capital is a must – Quito is a thriving hub of wastrels and skyscrapers, bursting at the seams with exotic and vividly coloured restaurants, bakeries, cultural history and night spots. It is also home to the famed Gringolandia – a term of endearment bestowed by the locals on a small area devoted entirely to hostels, internet cafes, bars, tour agencies and brothels run by African immigrants. On a clear day you can marvel at the depth and breadth of Ecuador’s capital by making a pilgrimage to the large statue of the Virgin that guards the city from a high hilltop. A trip to the Old Town will leave you stunned by the mix of Belgian-esque cobbles and architecture, and the plethora of vagrants, vendors and comedians who ply their trade underneath austere Catholic facades and fountains. Getting there is half the fun so take a local bus and get lost a few times.

Quito is also the best place to start from – from there you can organise trips to Otavalo (massive craft and animal market – worth a visit for llama goods and genuine Ecuadorian-carved chess sets), Mitad del Mundo ( the erroneously named Equatorial Line – some 30 kilometres off by the last measurement), and various forests and wildlife hideaways.

Robyn Leslie

I am a South African, which means I like sunshine and sticky-tape coins together so no-one knows I have money in my pocket. An environmental scientist by qualification, I studied at the University of Cape Town. My years there taught me about the grand narratives of communism, neo-liberalism and post-modernism, and how shitty people can be when they can't find a spot to park their car. After that I needed a break and went off to South America, where I lived and worked for a year. Now I am freelancing as a writer and holding out for a job that combines a morally specific mission with valuable, practical development goals. With a salary. Hmmm. By the way, I was just being snarky before. South Africa is totally safe. Really. Come and visit.