On the eastern flank of the Andean cordilleras, separating the high-altitude chain of snowy peaks on the Avenue of the Volcanoes from the steamy flatlands of the Amazon basin proper is a rugged area of misty mountains and steep valleys smothered in cloud forest and punctuated with thermal pools, waterfalls and silvery streams.
This scenically exquisite region has until recently not really been explored by visitors who head straight down into the jungle or visit the attractive little spa town of Baños and then head back up to the Andean spine.
But with improvements in the road infrastructure the region, fringed by the central highlands and the jungles of the northern oriente, is opening up to visitors keen to discover it hugely abundant and varied flora and fauna and become acquainted with the lifestyle of its rural and indigenous communities. Sustainable eco-tourism is gaining ground here, fighting against the encroachment of commercial and industrial interests.
Easily accessible from Quito, Baños and river-ports Tena and Misahualli are the centres of activity for visitors, with both a good range of hotels and lodges and a plentiful choice of walks, outdoor sports including river rafting and kayaking, wildlife spotting. Don't miss the thermal hot springs at Papallacta (above).