192-Part Guide To The World: Ecuador

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The Independent Travel

Official Name: The Republic of Ecuador

Official Name: The Republic of Ecuador

Language: The official language is Spanish, but indigenous languages such as Quechua and Jivaro are still spoken.

Size: 105,037 square miles, including the 120 Galapagos Islands, situated about 550 miles west of the mainland.

Population: Approximately 12 million.

National Dish: Cuy, or roast guinea pig. On the streets, especially in rural areas, expect to see lots of tiny barbecued bodies strung out on racks, their heads still attached to prove they're not rats. Tastier than it sounds.

Best Monument: Ecuador, as the name implies, straddles the equator, and at the monument-cum-theme park, La Mitad del Mundo, (literally "middle of the world"), 22km north of Quito, you can plant one foot north and one south of 0 degrees (or at least a line representing it).

Most Famous Citizen: Lonesome George, the last giant tortoise to be found on the island of Pinta in the Galapagos, after feral goats introduced by settlers saw the rest off the archipelago. The giant tortoise, or gálapagos, can live for 150 years and is said to possess divine psychic powers; apparently it can tell whether a visitor's motives for coming to the islands are pure. The Curse of the Giant Tortoise is placed on those whose intentions are dubious.

Best Moment In History: After 59 years of intermittent conflict over the border with Peru (the boundary was redrawn in Rio in 1942 by foreign government ministers, but Ecuador refused to recognise the decision), a peace treaty was signed in 1999.

Worst Moment In History: The election of Abdala "El Loco" Bucaram as president in 1996. The notorious all-singing all-dancing coalition leader saw himself as more of a pop star than a politician. After subjecting the nation to a series of television performances, plugging his CD rather than selling his policies, he was finally declared unfit to rule by Ecuadorian Congress in 1997.

Essential Accessory: A Panama hat from Cuenca. It's a little-known fact that the Panama comes from Ecuador and not, as you would expect, the eponymous country.

What Not To Do: Eat toffee in the little spa town of Banos, unless you want to lose your fillings. Strung out from large wooden poles outside the shops, the toffee is stretched and beaten into very chewy bars.

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