Official name : Republic of Ecuador
Area: 283,560 square kilometers (109,483 square miles), including the Galápagos Islands
Highest point on mainland: Chimborazo (6,267 meters/20,681 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern, Southern, and Western
Time zones: Mainland: 7 A.M. = noon GMT; Galápagos Islands: 6 A.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 714 kilometers (444 miles) from north to south; 658 kilometers (409 miles) from east to west
Land boundaries: 2,010 kilometers (1,158 miles) total boundary length; Colombia 590 kilometers (366 miles); Peru 1,420 kilometers (880 miles)
Coastline: 2,237 kilometers (1,398 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 363 kilometers (200 nautical miles)
Ecuador is a small country on the western coast of South America. Its name comes from its location on the equator. It is bordered by Colombia to the northeast, and by Peru to the east and southeast. To the west lies the Pacific Ocean. The Galápagos Islands, which are located far off the western shore of the country, form one of the twenty-two provinces of Ecuador. With a total land area of about 283,560 square kilometers (109,483 square miles), the country is slightly smaller than the state of Nevada.
Ecuador has no territories or dependencies.
Ecuador has a generally tropical climate, but there are slight variations between regions. The cold Peruvian Current in the Pacific Ocean keeps the coastal region cool, with temperatures ranging from 25° to 31°C (76° to 90°F). In the Sierra region, temperatures depend on altitude, with cooler temperatures at higher altitudes; the temperature can vary greatly over the course of the day. The highest mountains are snow-covered year-round. The Eastern Region normally has a warm, humid, and rainy climate. The average temperature there varies from 23°C to 26°C (72°F to 80°F). The Galápagos Islands enjoy warm and dry weather, with an average temperature of 28°C (85°F).
The southern part of the Sierra generally has heavy rainfall, with precipitation decreasing with altitude. Both the Sierra and the Costa get most of their rain between December and June. The Eastern Region is rainy year-round, however, with some areas receiving nearly 500 centimeters (200 inches) of rain annually. The Galápagos receive very little rainfall, but most of it occurs between January and April.
Rainfall can vary greatly in Ecuador. The country sometimes has periods of drought; at other times, heavy rainfall can result in flooding.
The country's mainland divides naturally into three regions: a coastal lowland, known as the Costa; a central mass made up of the Andean highlands, called the Sierra; and an interior lowland that forms part of the Amazon Basin, called the Eastern Region (Oriente). A fourth region is made up of the Galápagos Islands. Ecuador is geologically active, with many volcanic eruptions and frequent earthquakes. It is situated on the South American Tectonic Plate, with the Nazca Plate off the coast to the west.
Ecuador's western boundary is the Pacific Ocean, but the continental shelf of South America extends westward to the Galápagos Islands. The cold Peruvian Current moderates the climate of the Ecuador coast and the Galápagos Islands.
The Gulf of Guayaquil (Golfo de Guayaquil) is an indentation at the southwestern end of Ecuador's coast, separated from the open ocean by the Santa Elena Peninsula. The large inhabited Puná Island lies in the Gulf.
The Galápagos Islands, a province of Ecuador, lie far off the western coast of the country and are situated directly on the equator. The largest islands are Isabela Island, Santa Cruz Island, Santiago Island, Fernandina Island, Santa María Island, Pinta Island, San Cristóbal Island, Marchena Island, and Española Island. Only five of the islands have permanent populations and over half of the inhabitants live on San Cristóbal Island. The highest elevation on the Galápagos is Mount Azul, a 1,689-meter-high (5,540-feet-high) volcanic peak found on Isabela, the largest island.
The land along the coast offers beautiful man-grove forests and several popular beaches.
There are more than 275 lakes in the Sierra region, including many volcanic crater lakes. Among the most famous is the Cuicocha Crater Lake, in the Cotachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve. Situated in a collapsed volcanic crater, the lake is 200 meters (600 feet) deep and almost 3 kilometers (2 miles) in diameter.
All of Ecuador's major rivers have their sources in the Andes. The most important river system of the coastal region is that of the Guayas River and its tributaries, especially the Daule. These waterways flow south and west into the Gulf of Guayaquil.
Many rivers flow east out of the Andes into the Eastern Region. Among the most significant rivers are the Pastaza, Napo, Santiago (or Zamora), Paute, Curaray, Tigre, Morona (Macuma), and Aguarico. These rivers have carved deep trenches that interfere with land transportation and limit the amount of land suitable for cultivation.
The longest river in Ecuador is the Putu-mayo (1,575 kilometers/980 miles), which flows east along the border with Colombia. All Eastern Region rivers eventually find their way to the Atlantic Ocean through the Amazon River.
There are no desert regions in Ecuador.
The western coast, called the Costa, is sometimes identified in English as the Coastal Lowlands and in Spanish as the Litoral or Littoral. The coastal region includes the basin surrounding the Guayas River drainage system; it is the country's richest agricultural zone. Since the Costa stretches through a variety of climate zones, the vegetation varies throughout the area. The Costa extends eastward into the country to be replaced by the abrupt rise of the Andean Sierra region.
Ecuador's Eastern Region is part of the greater geographical region known as the Amazon River Basin. The region is watered by a multitude of rivers and streams, several of which serve as tributaries of the Amazon River. The Eastern Region covers about 50 percent of the country and alternates between flatland and gently undulating tropical rainforest terrain.
The trench between the Cordillera Occidental and Cordillera Central was named the Avenue of the Volcanoes by the nineteenth-century naturalist Baron Alexander von Humboldt, and is now often referred to as the Inter-Andean Lane (Callejón Interandino). Hill systems run between the mountain ranges, breaking the lane into a series of basins, calle hoyos, in which most of the region's population live.
Two parallel ranges of the Andes Mountains create the Sierra highland region. In the west, the Cordillera Occidental is a high range extending the full length of the country from north to south. To the east, the Cordillera Central is a series of lofty peaks. Both ranges are of volcanic origin.
Still further east is a chain of lower mountains called the Cordillera Oriental.
In all, the Sierra has at least twenty-two peaks with elevations over 4,267 meters (14,000 feet). Many are active or dormant volcanoes. The highest summit, Chimborazo (6,267 meters/20,681 feet), is a snow-capped volcano located in the central portion of the country. Cotopaxi, (5,896 meters/19,344 feet) is the highest active volcano in the world.
There are a number of caves scattered throughout Napo Province. The most popular, however, are the Caves of Jumandi, three caverns that were formed by an underground river.
There are no significant plateau regions in Ecuador.
The Amaluza Dam is located on the Paute River in the province of Azuay. This public works project, completed in 1982, produces most of the country's electricity.
Galápagos is an ancient Spanish word for "Tortoise." The Galápagos Islands were discovered in 1535 by the Spanish navigator Tomás de Bertanga, who named the islands for the gigantic land tortoises found there. The islands became famous throughout the world after the 1835 visit by Charles Darwin on the HMS Beagle . Darwin gathered evidence on plant and wildlife species on the islands, data which he later used to formulate his theory of evolution based on natural selection. His revolutionary ideas were published in his book On the Origin of Species in 1859.
Besides the tortoises, the Galápagos Islands are also home to a variety of land and marine animals and dozens of unique birds, such as the flightless cormorant, which exists nowhere else in the world. About 90 percent of the islands are now set aside as protected wildlife reserves, some with access strictly limited to biologists and other researchers.
Dyott, George Miller. On the Trail of the Unknown in the Wilds of Ecuador and the Amazon . London: Butterworth, 1926.
Morrison, Marion. Ecuador . New York: Children's Press, 2000.
Plage, Dieter, and Mary Plage. "Galápagos Wildlife." National Geographic , January 1988, 122-145.