Ecuador: Natural and Geographic Landscape

Ecuador: Natural and Geographic Landscape

Mon, 08/08/2022 - 22:02
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Ecuador encompasses a wide range of natural landscapes and climates, from the arid Pacific lowland coast to the snowcapped peaks of the Andes Mountains to the eastern tropical lowland plains of the Amazon Basin. It also includes the Galápagos Islands off the country's western coast, in the Pacific Ocean.

Geography of Ecuador

Ecuador is located on the western coast of South America with 2,267 km (1,390 mi) of coastline on the Pacific Ocean. It borders Colombia in the north and Peru in the south and east.

Ecuador encompasses a wide range of natural landscapes and climates, from the arid Pacific coastal lowlands to the snowcapped peaks of the Andes Mountains to the eastern tropical lowland plains of the Amazon Basin. It also includes the Galápagos Islands (Archipiélago de Colón) about 965 km (600 mi) off the country's western coast, in the Pacific Ocean.

With 1,629 bird species, 659 amphibian species, 1,111 fish species, 392 mammal species, 492 reptile species, and 18,466 vascular plant species, Ecuador is one of the world's most megadiverse countries.

Map depicting the countries on the continent of South America

Map depicting the countries on the continent of South America

The Natural and Geographic Landscape of Ecuador

Geographic Regions

The Ecuadoran mainland is divided into three main physical regions:

  • the Costa (coastal region)

  • the Sierra (highland region)

  • the Oriente (eastern region)

The Galápagos Islands make up the fourth geographic region.

Regions map of Ecuador

Map depicting the geographic regions of Ecuador

Coastal Lowlands (La Costa)

The coastal lowlands of Ecuador (La Costa) extend eastward from the Pacific Ocean to the western edge of the Andes Mountains. They rise from sea level to approximately 500 m (1,650 ft) in elevation. Between the coastal plains and the Andes, small coastal ranges run north and south, forming interior valleys.

Much of the native forest in the Costa has been replaced by agricultural production and cattle ranching. The remaining fragments include both dry and wet tropical forests that are found primarily along the coastal mountain ranges. Collectively known as the Pacific Equatorial Forest, these forest remnants are considered the most endangered tropical forest in the world, and are part of the Tumbes-Choco-Magdalena biodiversity hotspot which includes Machalilla National Park.

The main watercourse of the coastal lowlands is the Guayas River, formed by the juncture of the Daule and Babahoyo rivers and their effluents. Other rivers that flow toward the Pacific coast include the Cayapas River, the Esmeraldas River, the Naranjal River, the Jubones River, and the Santa Rosa River.

Central Highlands (La Sierra)

The central highlands or Sierra natural region of Ecuador (La Sierra) encompasses the western and central ranges of the Ecuadorian Andes and their respective eastern and western foothills. Many of the mountain peaks are volcanic or snow-covered.

Transversal mountain chains connect the two ranges at intervals and feature large, isolated basins known as hoyas. Numerous rivers originate in the mountains and pass through the hoyas, on their way either to the Pacific coast in the west or through the eastern lowlands.

Protected areas situated within the Sierra region include El Cajas National Park, El Cóndor National Park, and Sangay National Park.

The city of Quito, Ecuador's capital, is located in a high mountain valley on the foothills of the Pichincha volcano.

Eastern Lowlands (El Oriente)

To the east, beyond the eastern ranges of the central highlands are the eastern lowlands of Ecuador (El Oriente). Here, tropical moist broadleaf forests descend from the eastern slopes into the Amazon Basin.

The Oriente is also home to a large number of Ecuador's indigenous groups, notably the lowland Quechua, Siona, Secoya, Huaorani, and Cofán. Protected areas within the Oriente region include Yasuní National Park and Podocarpus National Park.

The most important river in the eastern lowlands is the Napo River, which receives several large tributaries and makes its way toward Peru, eventually emptying into the Amazon River. Other large rivers include the Pastaza, Morona, and Santiago, all of which drain into the Marañón River in Peru.

Galápagos Islands

The Galápagos Islands (Archipiélago de Colón) consist of 7,880 sq km (3,040 sq mi) of land spread over 45,000 sq km (17,000 sq mi) of the Pacific Ocean. The archipelago, approximately 965 km (600 mi) west of the coast of Ecuador, consists of 18 main islands, three smaller islands, and numerous rocks and islets.

The islands are formed of lava piles and dotted with periodically active volcanoes. The arid landscape is rugged and accentuated by mountains, craters, and cliffs.

The climate of the Galápagos archipelago is characterized by low rainfall, low humidity, and relatively low air and water temperatures. The arid lowlands are covered by an open cactus forest. Thousands of plant and animal species, the vast majority endemic, are found here.

The Protected Areas of the Galápagos Islands include Galápagos National Park, Galápagos Marine Reserve, and Galápagos Biosphere Reserve.

Topographic map of Ecuador

Topographic map of Ecuador

Bodies of Water

  • Academy Bay

Notable Rivers

  • Amazon River

  • Guayas River

  • Cayapas River

  • Putumayo River

  • Napo River

  • Curaray River

  • Tigre River

  • Pastaza River

  • Morona River

  • Aguarico River

  • Esmeraldas River

  • Naranjal River

  • Jubones River

  • Santa Rosa River

  • Santiago River

Notable Lakes

  • San Pablo Lake

  • Quilotoa Crater Lake

  • Cuicocha Lake

  • Mojanda Lake

  • El Cajas Lake

  • Panacocha Lake

Natural Regions

Ecological Regions

The following is a list of ecoregions in Ecuador, as defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Ecuador is in the Neotropical realm. Ecoregions are classified by biome type - the major global plant communities determined by rainfall and climate.

Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests

  • Eastern Cordillera Real montane forests

  • Napo moist forests

  • Northwestern Andean montane forests

  • Western Ecuador moist forests

  • Chocó-Darién moist forests

Tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests

  • Ecuadorian dry forests

  • Tumbes-Piura dry forests

Flooded grasslands and savannas

  • Guayaquil flooded grasslands

Montane grasslands and shrublands

  • Northern Andean páramo

  • Cordillera Central páramo

Mangroves

  • Gulf of Guayaquil-Tumbes mangroves

  • Manabí mangroves