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Central and South America are a hotbed of travel activity with ecological wonders, diverse cultures and an endless list of things to do and see. Ecuador, saddled between Columbia and Peru towards the Northwest tip, is one of the smallest countries in South America. Divided by the equator, from which Ecuador derives its name, the miniscule country might be on the small side, but there are plenty of things to do in a country rich in native culture and blessed with natural resources including a beautiful coastline, the nearby Galapagos Islands, great mountain regions, rain forests of the great Amazon River, and the most popular Indian outdoor market in all of South America. The prices are right for Ecuador as tour packagers and travel operators are starting to include inexpensive packages in their line-ups of offerings.

LANVacations (tel. 800/435-3593; www.lanvacations.com) specializes in trips South of the Border and has several air-and-land and land-only packages to Ecuador. Among the site's "Top Five Offers" is a five-night air/land combination trip that promises to capture some of Ecuador's timeless qualities by pointing out the agelessness of its culture and cities. Starting at $899 for double occupancy, this trip splits time between Ecuador's capital city of Quito, perfectly situated amid two mountains, and Cuenca, home to the Otavalo Indians and the Ecuador's major outdoor markets where you can purchase hand-woven fabrics, ponchos, Ecuadorian arts and other indigenous products. No add-on fee necessary if traveling out of Miami, but it is $200 extra if leaving from New York City's JFK Airport. Airfare, free daily breakfast, all hotel taxes, 3 nights in Quito, two nights in Cuenca, and all transfers are included in the price of the package. Travel is good through now and July 10, 2005 you get your choice of hotels. Don't worry about the heat. Inland Ecuador can get chilly at night and remain fairly cool. Expect rain almost daily in the afternoon.

Other LANVacation deals to Ecuador vary in price and length. A three-night air/land trip called "Essential Quito" starts at $499 with travel good until July 15 and goes up to a starting price of $599 if you travel from July 16 to August 15. You get a full-day tour of Quito as well as daily breakfast, round-trip air out of Miami (again, add $200 if leaving from New York), three nights at your choice of moderate to luxurious Quito hotels, all hotel transfers and hotel service taxes. A three-night cruise of the nearby Galapagos Islands on a luxury sailing vessel with an inside upper deck standard room starts at $899 with double occupancy. See the same beaches Charles Darwin set foot on and experience the fauna and many species of animals. Travel for this trip is good from June 14, 2005. Rates include hotels, meals, sightseeing, lectures, snorkeling equipment and transfers. A $100 National Park entrance fee is not included in the price of the cruise. Air to and from Ecuador is not included in the price.

For you mountain climbing adventure seekers, High Summits Ecuador (tel. 09/829-3407; www.climbing-ecuador.com/en/index.htm) is a tour operator based in Quito that specializes in climbing and trekking outings. For beginners and intermediate climbers or those who want to brush up on your climbing skills, the folks at High Summit offer an eight-day glacier school that teaches snow climbing at the Cayambe mountain area and then embarks on a climb of Cotopaxi, one of Ecuador's most popular mountain areas. Prices start from $1,585 per person for single travelers but drop quickly to just $860 per person for two people traveling together. Prices include transportation, meals, park entrance fees, accommodations in the parks and hotels and your English-speaking guide. (Prices don't include airfare or equipment). You can e-mail them at highsummits@climbing-ecuador.com for more specifics. For hobbyists, the g lacier school is a great way to start the rest of your mountain climbing life. High Summits also offers one and two day climb excursions.

For inexpensive airfare to Ecuador, Intratours (tel. 800/334-8069; www.intratours.com) has some low-priced spring specials. Round-trip to Quito starts from $585 out of Atlanta, $618 from Boston, $375 from Miami and $700 from San Francisco -- all valid until December 9, except between June 15 and August 15. Expect prices to go up approximately $25 during the high season. You can have a maximum stay of 30 to 90 days with a minimum stay of at least one Saturday night with travel good during non-weekend days. Air taxes and security fees are not included and the $27 Ecuador departure fee is on you.

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