The continent of Ecuador is divided into 3 distinct geographic regions, plus one insular region, the Galapagos Islands. The three regions of the continent extend from north to south, with the Andes mountains dividing the coastal and the Amazon regions.
The Galapagos Islands
Also known as the Archipiélago de Colón, the Galapagos Islands consist of 13 main islands and 17 islets, and is located about 1000 kilometers west of the Ecuadorian coast. One of Ecuador’s major tourist attractions, the Galapagos islands are famous for their unique species, remarkable marine life, and for the work of Charles Darwin, whose observations there gave rise to his theories of natural selection as a means for evolution. Today, the Galapagos Islands have a population of nearly 40,000 people and receive around 160,000 tourists annually...both creating problems with invasive species, waste management and environmental contamination in a natural paradise that has been called “the world’s petri dish”.
This region consists of the low lying western portion of the country including all of the Pacific coastline. The coastal plain extends far inland, then rises at the foothills of the Andes mountain range. The region was primarily forest, but most of the original forests in the region have been cleared for timber, cattle ranching and agriculture; banana, coffee and cacao are some of the products from the region. There are remaining forest fragments, including tropical dry and wet forests, tropical moist evergreen forests, premontane cloud forests, and small areas of mangrove forests. While among the most endangered forest systems in the world, the remaining forests also form part of one of the world’s most biodiverse regions.
This region is rich with cultural history, and includes a number of beautiful beaches and small coastal communities. Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and its major port, and the cities of Esmeraldas and Manta, other port cities, are located in the Coastal region. The climate here is warm to hot, with high humidity.
This region is the central belt of Ecuador, running from North to South and including the Andes mountain range and the Avenue of the Volcanoes. The region contains several snow capped mountain peaks, including Chimborazo, an extinct volcano rising 6,297 meters and the farthest point from the center of the earth, Cotopaxi, the second highest active volcano in the world, Pichincha, an active volcano overlooking the capital city of Quito, and the peaks of Cayambe, Antisana, Tungurahua, and the Illinizas.
This region is principally known for agriculture, including cut flower production, a major export. Several of Ecuador’s principal cities are located here, including the capitol of Quito with its well preserved colonial center, the beautiful historical city of Cuenca in the south, Otavalo with its famous indigenous market, and the towns of Baños and Riobamba. Several of Ecuador’s major national parks are found in this region, along with a number of cloud forest reserves offering numerous opportunities for hiking, trekking, birdwatching and a number of other outdoor adventure activities. Culturally rich, this region is also home to a number of indigenous populations who maintain many of their ancestral traditions.
A cool but comfortable climate with plenty of sun in the mornings and frequent rain in the afternoon is typical in this region.
The Amazon (Oriente)
The Amazon region extends from the eastern slopes of the Andes into the Amazon basin, including cloud forests of the eastern slopes of the Andes and the lowland forests, mostly tropical moist broadleaf forests. This region includes both the Cuyabeno Reserve and the Yasuni National Park, the latter designated a World Biosphere Reserve. In spite of severe degradation due to oil development in many areas, this region remains among the most biodiverse on the planet, containing large unspoiled areas of pristine primary forests and amazing natural beauty.
While not densely populated, the region contains several medium size towns, including the oil towns of Coca and Lago Agrio, also the entry points for many Amazon tours, Tena, primarily visited for great rafting tours, and the cities of Puyo and Macas further south. A number of indigenous populations also call the region home, many maintaining their traditional way of life and some remaining extremely isolated deep in the forests. These include the Quechua, Siona, Secoya, Huaorani, Cofan, Schuar and Achuar.
Climate in this region is warm to hot, especially in the lower elevations. Typically it is very humid with frequent heavy rains.