Over the past three years a number of ASX-listed companies – ranging from the small explorers to the very, very large miners – have moved into Ecuador.

Running through the South American country is one the world’s most highly prospective (and underexplored) porphyry and epithermal copper-gold mineral belts.

This recent influx of ASX-listed companies was sparked, in part, by SolGold’s (LSE-SOLG and TSX-SOLG) world class Cascabel porphyry copper-gold discovery up north.

In 2016/2017, Cascabel caught the attention of ASX-listed majors Newcrest Mining (ASX:NCM) and BHP (ASX:BHP) which took large equity positions in the early stage explorer.

By 2020, SolGold’s development-ready Alpala project was by any definition a Tier 1 world-class deposit – 10.9 million tonnes of copper, ~24moz of gold and 100moz of silver.

SolGold reckons Alpala “has produced some of the greatest drill hole intercepts in porphyry copper-gold exploration history”.

But BHP and Newcrest — which also have other Ecuadorian projects — aren’t the only Aussie companies sinking time and money into this exploration hotspot.

Both Fortescue Metals Group (ASX:FMG) and private miner Hancock Mining, as well as small cap explorers Tempus Resources (ASX:TMR), Challenger Exploration (ASX:CEL), Titan Minerals (ASX:TTM) and Sunstone Metals (ASX:STM) are also very active in Ecuador.

Sunstone’s Malcolm Norris is the man who acquired Cascabel more than 10 years ago as former boss of SolGold.

The experienced geologist and his team are now searching for Ecuador’s next porphyry monster at the Bramaderos project in the country’s south.

Norris says the Cascabel discovery, plus the recent development of a big, 325,000oz-a-year gold mine by TSX-listed Lundin Gold called Fruta del Norte, shows that Ecuador is an emerging investment hotspot.

“Fruta del Norte is the first modern underground gold mine in Ecuador, ever,” Norris told Stockhead.

“Lundin have done a fantastic job. They have demonstrated that the system works – you can develop a mine in Ecuador with support from the government.”

With hundreds of millions now being pumped into exploration each year, Ecuador is poised to deliver some truly massive orebodies in the next five to 10 years, Norris says.

“The targets here are very good — high grade gold deposits and very large copper-gold porphyry deposits,” he says.

“Ecuador is a place where big companies are comfortable taking a long-term view, and that’s the communication from BHP and Newcrest – they are here for decades to come.

Those copper-gold porphyries have huge upfront capital requirements, and so you need to take a +20-year view. That’s what the big guys are doing.”

And the infrastructure in Ecuador is very good, says Norris.

“They have an extensive and reliable hydroelectricity network that is very low cost – an important factor for any investor in a large mining development,” he says.

“Roads are good, the airports are very good, and the people are wonderful. Ecuador really does have so much going for it.”

ASX-listed Titan Minerals (ASX:TTM) has just acquired a large, ~2moz and growing epithermal gold project called Dynasty, right next door to Sunstone.

Titan won a gruelling ‘David and Goliath’ battle against Zhaojin Mining — a $30bn, +650,000ozpa Chinese gold producer — for Dynasty in January this year.

Titan’s Matt Carr says the fact that big companies are moving in is a huge validation for a country which is working really hard to embrace mining.

“Ecuador see it as important for their future,” he told Stockhead.

“They are doing everything they can to encourage investment in their country.

“All the things that we need are here – power, roads, services. And this sort of ground – you certainly wouldn’t get an opportunity like this anywhere in Australia.”

NOW WATCH: 90 Seconds With…Matthew Carr, Titan Minerals