Ecuador is located in northwestern South America. The country gets its name from the Equator, the imaginary line that crosses through the country splitting the southern and northern hemisphere.
Ecuador has Colombia (North) and Peru (South) in its borders, and it holds the largest mountain chain in South America. The Andes Mountains that cross the country include the Cotopaxi Volcano, which is the highest active volcano in the world. Ecuador also has a part of the Amazon basin -otherwise known as the “lungs of the planet.”
Ecuador’s 4 worlds
The mainland is divided into 3 regions, the Coast (coastal region), the Sierra (the highlands), and the Amazon or Oriente (eastern region.)
Besides from the territories in the mainland, the Galapagos Islands also belong to this small but biodiverse country. The archipelago is located 960 km west from the mainland of Ecuador.
The Coast has an elevation of 500m above sea level, the highlands have two main mountain chains with peaks reaching elevations of 6,310m (Chimborazo), and the Amazon basin rests at 300 meters.
The Coast borders the Pacific Ocean, for almost a three-hundred-mile stretch of beaches, mangrove forests, estuaries, and small fishing villages. Esmeraldas province to the North is wet, green and lush, renowned for its vibrant afro-ecuadorian communities. The central and southern provinces are drier and cooler. The Ecuadorian coast was populated y the oldest known cultures in the country, such as the Valdivia culture (3.500-1.800 BC).
The coast has alluvial plains and rivers that accumulate fertile silts from the highlands. Besides, it is affected by both El Niño (warm, comes from the north) and Humboldt (cold, comes from the south) currents, which makes the coastal ecosystem diverse.
The Ecuadorian Coast is home to extensive banana plantations. Did you know the country exports its bananas all over the world?
Rainforests are full of life, from the highest tree in the canopy to the smallest branch. A paradise of green wilderness, an intricate system of natural phenomenons, the rainforest envelops you with sounds, scenery and even smells coming from the flora and fauna. “Tropical forests occupy 7% of the Earth’s surface, but they hold 50% of the world’s biodiversity” (Myers, 1988).
“El Oriente” is home to animals such as the jaguar, pink dolphins, caimans, pumas, the Conga ants, and many other fascinating species. The Amazonian soils are not fertile because nutrients are mostly found on decaying organic matter above it. Dead wood and leaves are constantly falling to the grounds, and this perpetual interaction between living and dying organisms on the surface does not allow the nutrients to reach the soil. Therefore, the Amazon is not a favorable territory for agriculture, however, it is rich in biodiversity and it guards oil beneath its grounds.
The Ecuadorian Andes is the only region where the Equatorial Line crosses the highlands, in the rest of the world it crosses through the ocean or dense tropical rainforests. Some provinces in the highlands, such as Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Imbabura, Tungurahua and Chimborazo are named after the most important mountain or volcano in their territory. The Pre-Inca civilizations that inhabited the Ecuadorian Andes developed their astronomical knowledge with the help of the imposing landmarks that surrounded them, and Humboldt later named the route through the mountain chains of the Andes “The Avenue of Volcanoes.”
Interesting fact: Ecuador has twelve peaks over 16.000 ft or 4.800 m!
In the Andes, you can find animals such as pumas, wild horses, spectacled bears, condors, eagles, falcons, and more. The highlands of Ecuador are vast lands of breathtaking scenery with mountains, lagoons, paramos, cloud forests, and rose plantations. The Andes region also contains the capital of Ecuador, Quito, and the city of Cuenca, both World Heritage Sites.
Humboldt, after visiting the Andes said: “Ecuadorians are strange and unique beings: they sleep peacefully surrounded by roaring volcanoes, they live poor among incomparable riches and they become happy listening to sad music.”
The Galapagos Islands
Galapagos is composed of thirteen major islands, 6 minor islands, and 40 islets, that rose from the eruption of underwater volcanoes. Lava coming from more than 2,000 craters has continually altered the Galapagos’ terrain. The archipelago is warm during the months of December to May and then the colder season begins in June until November. Its rocky terrain composed of dried lava sets a dark contrast with the turquoise waters that surround the islands. The beaches have white and then sand- it is the closest thing to paradise!
Besides, wildlife in the Galapagos is something most haven’t experienced before, with animals such as giant tortoises, land and marine iguanas, white tip sharks, blue whales, whale sharks, sea lions, penguins, red and blue-footed boobies and flamingos roaming about. Here, you will feel like a visitor in a land full of animals, a living museum of evolution in complete harmony.
The birthplace of Scientific Contributions
Ecuador is one of the most diverse countries in the world and it has been the birthplace of many scientific contributions. Charles Marie de la Condamine came from France to Ecuador to measure the circumference of the Earth, and Alexander Von Humboldt, naturalist, came to the country for research. But perhaps the most known scientific contribution is the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection by Charles Darwin. Galapagos inspired Darwin to complete his theory of evolution because he observed that the animals had different characteristics depending on the island, which demonstrated the development of adaptations for the environment of each island (such as the finches, now worldwide known as Darwin’s finches) and many animals had adapted to life in the ocean.