Ecuador is one of the most volcanically active areas on the South American continent, and the highlands are studded with snow-crested cones looming into the sky either side of a broad central valley, which the explorer Alexander von Humboldt grandly called the “avenue of the volcanoes”. Though many of the country’s 55 volcanic peaks are extinct, eight remain active, while another nine have erupted in the last few thousand years and are classified as “potentially active”. Anyone who stays for a few months is likely to feel a small tremor or see puffs of volcanic ash curling into the air from a summit on the horizon. Every now and then volcanoes near population centres, such as Guagua Pichincha above Quito or Tungurahua by Baños, rumble into life triggering civil safety precautions. Nevertheless, Ecuador’s volcanoes – which include the furthest point from the centre of the Earth (Chimborazo), the highest point on the equator (Cayambe), and one of the highest active peaks in the world (Cotopaxi) – are spectacular fixtures, attracting mountaineers from across the globe and awe in all who see them.