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Ecuador Geography

Ecuador train with bright blue sky in the background
  • OFFICIAL NAME: Republic of Ecuador
  • CAPITAL: Quito
  • POPULATION: 16,385,068 (2016 estimated)
  • AREA: 109,483 square miles(283,560 square kilometers)
  • OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: Spanish, Quechua
  • MONEY: U.S. dollar.

Officially the Republic of Ecuador, Ecuador is a country in northwestern South America, bordered by Colombia on the north, Peru on the east and south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Ecuador also includes the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific, about 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) west of the mainland. The capital city is Quito, while the largest city is Guayaquil.

Illustrated map of the world with Ecuador highlighted in red

PEOPLE & CULTURE: About 10 percent of the population is of European descent. Another 25 percent belong to indigenous or native cultures and the remainder are of mostly mixed ethnicity. Many of the native people are subsistence farmers and only grow enough food for their family.”

HISTORY: Ecuador was part of the Inca Empire until the Spain arrived and claimed the country as a Spanish colony. For three hundred years the Spanish controlled Ecuador. In 1822, Ecuador became independent of Spain.

NATURE: Ecuador is considered one of the most diverse areas of the world. There are some 25,000 plants species, and over 1,600 known bird species. The search for oil has caused environmental devastation due to oil leaks and destruction of forest.

Ecuador has nine national parks, including the Galápagos Islands. These 18 islands are home to some of the most amazing creatures, including the Galápagos tortoise, Galápagos penguin, blue-footed booby, and iguanas. This is where Charles Darwin noticed the diversity of species and began to study evolution.

Ecuadorian Regions

COSTA, or “Coast”: The coastal region consists of the provinces to the West of the Andean range – Esmeraldas, Guayas, Los Ríos, Manabí, El Oro, Santa Elena. It is the country’s most fertile and productive land, and is the seat of the large banana exportation plantations of the companies Dole and Chiquita. This region is also where most of Ecuador’s rice crop is grown. The truly coastal provinces have active fisheries. The largest coastal city is Guayaquil.

Whale rising out of the ocean
Vast Ecuadorian landscape of the Sierra Highlands region

SIERRA, or “Highlands”: The sierra consists of the Andean and Inter-Andean highland provinces – Azuay, Cañar, Carchi, Chimborazo, Imbabura, Loja, Pichincha, and Tungurahua. This land contains most of Ecuador’s volcanoes and all of its snow-capped peaks. Agriculture is focused on the traditional crops of potato, maize, and quinua and the population is predominantly Amerindian Kichua. The largest Sierran city is Quito.

AMAZONÍA, also known as El Oriente, or “the east”: The oriente consists of the Amazon jungle provinces – Morona Santiago, Napo, Orellana, Pastaza, Sucumbíos, and Zamora-Chinchipe. This region is primarily made up of the huge Amazon national parks and Amerindian untouchable zones, which are vast stretches of land set aside for the Amazon Amerindian tribes to continue living traditionally. It is also the area with the largest reserves of petroleum in Ecuador, and parts of the upper Amazon here have been extensively exploited by petroleum companies. The population is primarily mixed Amerindian Shuar, Huaorani and Kichua, although there are numerous tribes in the deep jungle which are little-contacted. The largest city in the Oriente is probably Lago Agrio in Sucumbíos, although Macas in Morona Santiago runs a close second.

Landscape view of Ecuador's Amazonia region
Penguins walking along rocky coast in Ecuador's Insular Galapagos region

REGIÓN INSULAR, is the region comprising the Galápagos Islands, some 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) west of the mainland in the Pacific Ocean.

Cotopaxi, just south of Quito, is one of the world’s highest active volcanoes. The top of Mount Chimborazo (6,268 m, or 20,560 ft, above sea level), Ecuador’s tallest mountain, is the most distant point from the center of the Earth on the Earth’s surface because of the ellipsoid shape of the planet.