Location: Western South America, bordering the Pacific Ocean
at the Equator, between Colombia and Peru
Geographic coordinates: 2 00 S, 77 30 W
Map references: South America
total: 283,560 sq km
land: 276,840 sq km
water: 6,720 sq km
note: includes Galapagos Islands
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Nevada
total: 2,010 km
border countries: Colombia 590 km, Peru 1,420 km
Coastline: 2,237 km
continental shelf: claims continental shelf between mainland
and Galapagos Islands
territorial sea: 200 nm
Climate: tropical along coast, becoming cooler inland at
higher elevations; tropical in Amazonian jungle lowlands
Terrain: coastal plain (costa), inter-Andean central highlands
(sierra), and flat to rolling eastern jungle (oriente)
lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: Chimborazo 6,267 m
Natural resources: petroleum, fish, timber, hydropower
arable land: 6%
permanent crops: 5%
permanent pastures: 18%
forests and woodland: 56%
other: 15% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 5,560 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: frequent earthquakes, landslides, volcanic
activity; periodic droughts
Environment - current issues: deforestation; soil erosion;
desertification; water pollution; pollution from oil production
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty,
Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species,
Hazardous Wastes, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship
Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol
Geography - note: Cotopaxi in Andes is highest active volcano
Ecuador, republic in northwestern South America, bounded by Colombia
on the north, by Peru on the east and south, and by the Pacific
Ocean on the west.
The country also includes the Galápagos Islands (Archipiélago de
Colón) in the Pacific, about 965 km (about 600 mi) west of the mainland.
Ecuador straddles the equator has an area of 272,045 sq km (105,037
sq mi). Quito is the country's capital.
Although Ecuador lies on the equator, the country has a wide range
of climates because of the varying elevations. The Costa is generally
hot and humid, with a mean annual temperature of about 26° C (about
On the Sierra the temperatures range between about 7° C and 21°
C (about 45° and 70° F), depending on the elevation. Quito, which
is some 2,850 m (some 9,350 ft) above sea level, has an average
annual temperature of 13° C (55° F).
The Oriente is warmer and more humid than the Costa; temperatures
approach the upper 30°s C (lower 100°s F), and annual precipitation
is about 2,030 mm (about 80 in).
Ecuador is one of the smallest countries of South America. It lies
on the west coast of the continent between Colombia and Peru.
The equator crosses Ecuador and gives the country its name. Ecuador
is the Spanish word for equator.
The "Republic of the Equator" was one of three countries that emerged
from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others being Colombia
Between 1904 and 1942, Ecuador lost territories in a series of conflicts
with its neighbors. A border war with Peru that flared in 1995 was
resolved in 1999.
Size: Approximately 280,000 square kilometers.
Topography: Divided into three continental regions--the
Costa, Sierra, and Oriente--and one insular region--the Galápagos
Islands. Costa, located between Pacific Ocean and Andes Mountains,
consists of coastal lowlands and mountains. Sierra composed of two
major chains of Andes Mountains--Cordillera Occidental (Western
Chain) and Cordillera Oriental (Eastern Chain)--and intermontane
basin or plateau between the two chains. Cordillera Occidental contains
Ecuador's highest peak, 6,267-meter Mount Chimborazo. Oriente consists
of Andean piedmont and eastern lowlands. Galápagos are islands of
varied size located 1,000 kilometers west of Ecuadorian coast.
Climate: Tropical climate throughout Costa, although
variations in temperature and rainfall result from proximity to
warm or cool ocean currents. Sierra climate ranges from tropical
to frozen, depending on altitude; notable rainfall variations also
occur. Tropical climate and abundant rainfall prevail in Oriente.
Galápagos climate varies from tropical and desert-like at sea level
to cold and wet at highest point.
Data as of 1989
Ecuador is one of the smaller countries in South America. Located
on the west coast and straddling the equator, Ecuador has a total
area of about 280,000 square kilometers, which includes the Galápagos
Islands. Roughly the size of the state of Colorado, Ecuador encompasses
a wide range of natural formations and climates, from the desertlike
southern coast to the snowcapped peaks of the Andes Mountains to
the plains of the Amazon River Basin .
Ecuador is bounded on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the north
by Colombia, and on the east and south by Peru. Ecuador continues
to contest the boundary with Peru, which was established by the
Protocol of Peace, Friendship, and Boundaries (Rio Protocol) of
1942 and ceded to Peru a large portion of territory east of the
Data as of 1989
Ecuador is divided into three continental regions--the Costa, Sierra,
and Oriente--and one insular region--the Galápagos Islands. The
continental regions extend the length of the country from north
to south and are separated by the Andes Mountains. The Galápagos
Islands, officially called the Archipiélago de Colón, are located
1,000 kilometers west of the Ecuadorian coast within 1 south of
The Costa, located between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains,
consists of coastal lowlands, coastal mountains, and rolling hills
that separate river valleys. The widest part of the region stretches
150 kilometers from Cabo San Lorenzo in Manabí Province to the foothills
of the Andes Mountains. In the southern part of Guayas Province,
east of the Gulf of Guayaquil, the narrow coastal plain is only
fifteen to twenty kilometers wide. The lowlands of the Costa do
not exceed 200 meters in elevation, whereas the coastal mountains
extend no higher than 1,000 meters. The coastal mountain chain,
known as the Cordillera Costañera, divides the region into the Costa
Externa, next to the coast, and the Costa Internal, next to the
Andes. The Cordillera Costañera reaches from Esmeraldas in the north
to Guayaquil in the south. North of Portoviejo in Manabí Province,
the Cordillera Costañera loses its character as a mountain chain
and becomes a series of hills and small mountains.
The Sierra consists of two major chains of the Andes mountains,
known as the Cordillera Occidental (Western Chain) and Cordillera
Oriental (Eastern Chain), and the intermontane basin or plateau
between the two chains. Several transversal mountain spurs, known
as nudos, cut across the plateau. The Nudo del Azuay, at
4,500 meters the highest of these transversal spurs, divides the
Sierra into two subregions--the area of modern volcanism to the
north and the area of ancient volcanism to the south. The former
area consists of newer, higher mountains than those in the ancient
volcanism section, which with time have eroded to lower levels.
The Sierra has at least twenty-two peaks over 4,200 meters in height.
Of the two cordilleras, the Cordillera Oriental is wider and generally
higher, with peaks averaging over 4,000 meters. The Cordillera Occidental,
however, contains the highest point in Ecuador, which is the Mount
Chimborazo at 6,267 meters. The Sierra also contains the highest
point on the equator, Mount Cayambe at 5,790 meters.
The Sierra has at least thirty peaks of volcanic origin, including
six still active. These peaks, which vary in width from 80 to 130
kilometers, are located in the area of modern volcanism known as
the Avenue of the Volcanos. The most active volcano is Mount Sangay,
5,230 meters high. Although its last major outpouring of lava occurred
in 1946, specialists consider Mount Sangay to be in a constant state
of eruption because of fires and bubbling lava at its crater. Mount
Cotopaxi, at 5,897 meters the highest active volcano in the world,
last erupted in 1877 and is now listed as "steaming." Its crater
is 800 meters in diameter. In addition to the other damage caused
by eruptions, volcanos in the Sierra have melted snowcaps, which
in turn generate massive mudslides and avalanches. Earthquakes and
tremors also are common in the region.
The intermontane plateau between the two cordilleras is divided
by the nudos into roughly 10 basins, or hoyas,
that range from 2,000 to 3,000 meters in altitude. The average altitude
of the plateau is 2,650 meters.
The Oriente to the east of the Cordillera Oriental consists of
two subregions: the Andean piedmont and the Eastern lowlands. The
piedmont drops from a height of 3,353 meters to the featureless
lowlands, which spread out at an altitude of 150 to 300 meters.
The Galápagos Islands consist of a chain of large, medium, and
small islands that have a combined area of roughly 8,000 square
kilometers. The largest island is Isabela Island, also known as
Albemarle Island, which is 120 kilometers long with an area of 4,275
square kilometers. All of the islands are of volcanic origin, and
some have active cones. Santo Tomás, located on Isabela Island,
is the highest peak of the Galápagos at 1,490 meters. Its crater
is ten kilometers in diameter.
Data as of 1989
Almost all of the rivers in Ecuador rise in the 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 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 region, the Costa Externa 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 Costa
Externa from the Costa Internal and the Sierra on their way to the
Pacific Ocean. The Costa Internal, by contrast, is crossed by perennial
rivers that may flood during the rainy season, sometimes forming
The Guayas River system, which flows southward to the Gulf of Guayaquil,
constitutes the most important of the drainage systems in the Costa
Internal. The Guayas River Basin, including land drained by its
tributaries, is 40,000 square kilometers in area. The sixty-kilometer-long
Guayas River forms just north of Guayaquil out of the confluence
of the Babahoyo and Daule rivers. Briefly constricted at Guayaquil
by hills, the Guayas widens south of the city and flows through
a deltaic network of small islands and channels. At its mouth, the
river forms a broad estuary with two channels around Puná Island,
the deeper of which is used for navigation.
The second major Costa river system--the Esmeraldas--rises in the
Hoya de Quito in the Sierra as the Guayllabamba River and flows
westward to empty into the Pacific Ocean near the city of Esmeraldas.
The Esmeraldas River is 320 kilometers long and has a 20,000-square-kilometer
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 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 meters. 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.
Data as of 1989
Each region has different factors that affect its climate. The
Costa is influenced primarily by proximity to warm or cool ocean
currents. By contrast, climate in the Sierra varies more as a function
of altitude. The Oriente has a fairly uniform climate that varies
only slightly between the two subregions. Climate in the Galápagos
Islands is both moderated by the ocean currents and affected by
altitude. Throughout Ecuador variation in rainfall primarily determines
seasons. Temperature is determined by altitude. With each ascent
of 200 meters in altitude, temperature drops 1° C. This phenomenon
is particularly significant in the Sierra.
The Costa has a tropical climate. Temperatures for the region as
a whole remain fairly constant, ranging from 23° C in the south
to 26° C in the north. Although seasonal changes in temperature
are not pronounced, the hottest period occurs during the rainy season,
especially from February to April. Near Guayaquil, the coolest months
are August and September. Rainfall in the Costa decreases from north
to south, with vegetation changing from tropical rainforest in the
north to tropical savannah to desert in the south.
Differences in temperature and rainfall in the Costa are caused
by the Peruvian Current and periodic appearances of El Niño. The
Peruvian Current, also formerly known as the Humboldt, is a cold
ocean current that flows north along the coasts of Chile and Peru.
At Cabo Blanco, where the Gulf of Guayaquil begins, the main current
veers to the west; a branch continues northward to Cabo Pasado,
in Manabí Province, where it also turns westward to merge with the
main current near the Galápagos Islands. The cold water and air
temperatures associated with the Peruvian Current inhibit rainfall
along the coast, creating dry to arid conditions. This effect is
greatest along the southern coast of Ecuador.
The El Niño occurs periodically every six or seven years. Starting
in late December, a change in atmospheric pressure shifts ocean
currents so that warm waters come closer to shore and displace the
cold waters. During this time, air and water temperatures, tides,
sea levels and wave heights, and relative humidity all are higher
than usual. These conditions produce heavy rainfall that generally
lasts until May in an area that normally experiences nothing more
than a drizzle. The resulting flooding and landslides can be devastating.
When the Peruvian Current is dominant, the amount of precipitation
along the coast varies from north to south, with levels ranging
from 300 centimeters to 30 centimeters, respectively. Two rainy
seasons in the northernmost part of the coast become a single season
(December through June) not far south. Near Esmeraldas, average
annual rainfall is 250 centimeters. The rainy season shortens farther
south, lasting only from January to May at Guayaquil. Very little
rainfall occurs on the end of the Santa Elena Peninsula west of
Guayaquil. Arid conditions prevail on the border with Peru south
of the Gulf of Guayaquil.
Separated from the effects of ocean currents by the Cordillera
Costañera, the Costa Internal has a hot and humid climate. Temperatures
can surpass 26° C, and the vegetation and cloud cover tend to
retain and augment the heat. Rain is constant during the winter
months of December through May, with the heaviest rainfall occurring
in February and March.
Temperatures in the Sierra do not vary greatly on a seasonal basis;
the hottest month averages 16° C and the coolest month, 13°
C in the upper elevations. Diurnal temperatures, however, vary dramatically,
from cold mornings to hot afternoons. The almost vertical sun and
the rarified air in the higher Sierra region allow the land to warm
quickly during the day and lose heat quickly at night. Mornings
typically are bright and sunny, whereas afternoons often are cloudy
and rainy. In general, rainfall amounts are highest on exposed locations
at lower altitudes. Rain also can vary on a local basis. Sheltered
valleys normally receive 50 centimeters per year, whereas annual
rainfall is 150 centimeters in Quito and can reach 250 centimeters
on exposed slopes that catch rain-bearing winds. On a seasonal basis,
the driest months are June through September.
Climate in the Sierra is divided into levels based on altitude.
The tropical level--400 to 1,800 meters--has temperatures ranging
from 20° C to 25° C and heavy precipitation. The subtropical
level-- 1,800 to 2,500 meters--has temperatures from 15° C to
20° C and moderate precipitation. The temperate level--2,500
to 3,200 meters- -has a year-round temperature in the range of 10°
C to 15° C and an annual rainfall of 100 centimeters. The temperate
level experiences rainstorms, hailstorms, and fog. Winter, or the
rainy season, lasts from January through June, and the dry season
or summer from July through December. Most rain falls in April.
There also is a short rainy period in early October caused by moisture
penetrating the Sierra from the Oriente. Quito and most other populated
areas in the Sierra are located at this temperate level. The cold
level extends from the temperate zone to 4,650 meters. Here, average
temperatures are 3° C to 9° C, and the precipitation often
appears in the form of rain, hail, and thick fog. Above 4,650 meters
is the frozen level, where peaks are constantly capped with snow
and ice, and temperatures range from below zero to 3° C. Precipitation
frequently is in the form of snow, fog, and rain.
The Eastern lowlands in the Oriente experience an equatorial climate.
Rainfall is abundant, especially in the Andean piedmont, sometimes
exceeding 500 centimeters per year. Temperatures average 25°
C in the western parts of this region. The jungle-covered plains
of the Eastern lowlands register high levels of rainfall and temperatures
surpassing 28° C.
Being located on the equator, the Galápagos Islands would have
an equatorial climate were it not for the modifying effects of the
Peruvian Current. Instead, climate on the islands follows a pattern
more like that of the Sierra than the Costa. At sea level, the land
is desertlike with temperatures of 21° C. The eight summer months
experience no precipitation, whereas the winter months of January
through April have some fog and drizzle. Above sea level to an altitude
of 450 meters, the islands have a mixture of tropical, subtropical,
and temperate climates. In general, temperatures are around 17°
C. There is constant fog and drizzle in the summer and rain in the
winter. The cold level above 450 meters has temperatures below 14°
Data as of 1989