Ecuador has a total area of 283,520 km2 (109,468 sq mi), including the Galápagos Islands. Of this, 283,520 km2 (109,468 sq mi) is land and 6,720 km2 (2,595 sq mi) water. Ecuador is bigger than Uruguay, Surinam, Guyana and French Guyana in South America.
Ecuador lies between latitudes 2°N and 5°S, bounded on the west by the Pacific Ocean, and has 2,337 km (1,452 mi) of coastline. It has 2,010 km (1,250 mi) of land boundaries, with Colombia in the north 590 km (367 mi) border and Peru in the east and south 1,420 km (882 mi) border.
The country has four main geographic regions:
La Costa, or “the 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.
La Sierra, or “the highlands”: The sierra consists of the Andean and Interandean 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.
La 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.
La Región Insular is the region comprising the Galápagos Islands, some 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) west of the mainland in the Pacific Ocean.
Ecuador’s capital is Quito, which is in the province of Pichincha in the Sierra region. Its largest city is Guayaquil, in the Guayas Province. Cotopaxi, which is just south of Quito, features one of the world’s highest active volcanoes. The top of Mount Chimborazo (6,268 m, or 20,560 ft, above sea level) is considered to be the most distant point of the Earth’s surface from the center of the Earth, given the approximately ellipsoid shape of the planet.
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There is great variety in the climate, largely determined by altitude. It is mild year-round in the mountain valleys, with a humid subtropical climate in coastal areas and rainforest in lowlands. The Pacific coastal area has a tropical climate with a severe rainy season. The climate in the Andean highlands is temperate and relatively dry, and the Amazon basin on the eastern side of the mountains shares the climate of other rainforest zones.
Because of its location at the equator, Ecuador experiences little variation in daylight hours during the course of a year. Both sunrise and sunset occur each day at the two six o’clock hours.
The Andes is the watershed divisor between the Amazon watershed, which runs to the east, and the Pacific, including the north–south rivers Mataje, Santiago, Esmeraldas, Chone, Guayas, Jubones, and Puyango-Tumbes.
Almost all of the rivers in Ecuador form in the La Sierra region and flow east toward the Amazon River or west toward the Pacific Ocean. The rivers rise from snowmelt at the edges of the snowcapped peaks or from the abundant precipitation that falls at higher elevations. In the La Sierra region, the streams and rivers are narrow and flow rapidly over precipitous slopes. Rivers may slow and widen as they cross the hoyas yet become rapid again as they flow from the heights of the Andes to the lower elevations of the other regions. The highland rivers broaden as they enter the more level areas of the Costa and the Oriente.
In the Costa, the external coast has mostly intermittent rivers that are fed by constant rains from December through May and become empty riverbeds during the dry season. The few exceptions are the longer, perennial rivers that flow throughout the external coast from the internal coast and La Sierra on their way to the Pacific Ocean. The internal coast, by contrast, is crossed by perennial rivers that may flood during the rainy season, sometimes forming swamps.
Major rivers in the Oriente include the Pastaza, Napo, and Putumayo. The Pastaza is formed by the confluence of the Chambo and the Patate rivers, both of which rise in the Sierra. The Pastaza includes the Agoyan waterfall, which at sixty-one meters (200 feet) is the highest waterfall in Ecuador. The Napo rises near Mount Cotopaxi and is the major river used for transport in the eastern lowlands. The Napo ranges in width from 500 to 1,800 m (1,600 to 5,900 ft). In its upper reaches, the Napo flows rapidly until the confluence with one of its major tributaries, the Coca River, where it slows and levels off. The Putumayo forms part of the border with Colombia. All of these rivers flow into the Amazon River. The Galápagos Islands have no significant rivers. Several of the larger islands, however, have freshwater springs although they are surrounded by the Pacific Ocean.
Ecuador is one of megadiverse countries in the world according to Conservation International, and it has the most biodiversity per square kilometer of any nation.
Ecuador has 1,600 bird species (15% of the world’s known bird species) in the continental area and 38 more endemic in the Galápagos. In addition to over 16,000 species of plants, the country has 106 endemic reptiles, 138 endemic amphibians, and 6,000 species of butterfly. The Galápagos Islands are well known as a region of distinct fauna, famous as the place of birth of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ecuador has the first constitution to recognize the rights of nature. The protection of the nation’s biodiversity is an explicit national priority as stated in the National Plan of “Buen Vivir”, or good living, Objective 4, “Guarantee the rights of nature”,
Policy 1: “Sustainably conserve and manage the natural heritage, including its land and marine biodiversity, which is considered a strategic sector”. As of the writing of the Plan in 2008, 19% of Ecuador’s land area was in a protected area; however, the Plan also states that 32% of the land must be protected in order to truly preserve the nation’s biodiversity.
Current protected areas include 11 national parks, 10 wildlife refuges, 9 ecological reserves, and other areas. A program begun in 2008, Sociobosque, is preserving another 2.3% of total land area (6,295 km², or 629,500 ha) by paying private landowners or community landowners (such as Amerindian tribes) incentives to maintain their land as native ecosystems such as native forests or grasslands. Eligibility and subsidy rates for this program are determined based on the poverty in the region, the number of hectares that will be protected, and the type of ecosystem of the land to be protected, among other factors.