The Geography of Ecuador

Ecuador is set within the northwestern reaches of South America. About the size of Colorado, Ecuador extends across 103,930 square miles (269,178 square km), making it South America’s second smallest Spanish speaking country. Ecuador is bordered by Peru to the south and east, and Colombia to the north. The equator runs through the northern portion of the country.

Ecuador

Regions

Ecuador has four distinct regions — the Pacific Coast, Galápagos Islands, Andes Mountains, and Amazon Jungle. The regions are fairly close to one another, allowing visitors to travel from one region to another within a single day.

The Andes run down the middle of Ecuador, covering about a quarter of the country’s total land area. Two mountain ranges are included in this, with over 22 peaks higher than 13,800 feet (4,200 m). Many of these peaks are actually volcanoes formed from the collision of two tectonic plates – the Nazca Plate and American Plate – that are part of the Pacific “Rim of Fire.” There are around eight active volcanoes in Ecuador today. Sangay is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Cotopaxi is one of the world’s tallest active volcanoes.

Basins spread out between the mountains, often at elevations around 7,000 feet (2,100 m). Many of Ecuador’s main cities are set within these basins, including Quito. The hillsides are farmed and eventually give way to forests and more barren, rocky mountaintops.

East of the Andes is the Ecuadorian Amazon. This rainforest extends into northern Peru and all the way to the eastern coast of Brazil. The slope is gentle and filled with rivers, many of which are used for transportation. Ecuador’s longest river is Río Napo, which extends some 530 miles (855 km) through the northern regions of the country. Río Guayas is the widest river on the Pacific coast of the Americas and drains the southern regions of Ecuador.

Ecuador’s coastline stretches for 1,390 miles (2,237 km) from Colombia to Peru. Coastal lowlands extend from the Andes to the Pacific Ocean. These areas include lower-elevation mountain chains and tropical forests. Mangroves, estuaries and beaches line the coastline.

The Galápagos Islands are set off the Pacific Coast of Ecuador. There are thirteen islands in the archipelago, which are actually the tops of underwater volcanoes. At 1,650 square miles (4,274 square km), Isabela is the largest island in the Galápagos — the island is actually a combination of six volcanic peaks that were joined by past lava flows.