Ecuador: Natural Landscape

Ecuador: Natural 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 to the eastern tropical lowland plains of Amazonia. It also includes the Galápagos Islands off the country's western coast in the Pacific Ocean.

The Natural Landscape 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.


According to the Global Biodiversity Index, Ecuador is 9th in the world regarding its biodiversity. 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 17 megadiverse countries.


The climate of Ecuador varies with altitude and region. The mountain valleys experience a temperate climate year-round, and a humid subtropical climate exists in coastal areas and lowland rainforests.

Except for the eastern tropical lowlands, which experience rainfall throughout the year, most of the country experiences a wet and dry season, although the timeframe of each varies by region.

Map depicting the countries on the continent of South America

Map depicting the countries on the continent of South America

Natural Geography 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.

Topographic map of Ecuador

Topographic map 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.

Small coastal ranges run north and south between the coastal plains and the Andes, forming interior valleys.

Much of the native forest in the Costa has been replaced by agricultural production and cattle ranching. The remaining fragments include dry and wet tropical forests 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. They 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 central and western 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 either to the Pacific coast in the west or through the eastern lowlands.

Protected areas 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 many 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 significant rivers include the Pastaza, Morona, and Santiago, 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.

An open cactus forest covers the arid lowlands. 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.

Regions map of Ecuador

Map depicting the geographic regions of Ecuador

Islands and Archipelagos

  • Galapagos Islands: (see above)

  • Isla de la Plata: a small island off the coast of Manabí and part of Machalilla National Park.

  • Isla Puná: a large island (855 sq km or 330 sq mi) just off the coast of southern Ecuador, located at the head of the Gulf of Guayaquil and characterized by extensive mangroves and a tropical forest. Initially inhabited by the aboriginal Tmbez people, the current population centers around the village of Puná at the island's northeastern tip and Punta Salinas, a hunting and fishing resort on the southwestern cape.

Bodies of Water

  • Gulf of Guayaquil

  • 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

Ecuador physiographic map

Ecuador physiographic map

Natural Regions

Ecological Regions

The following is a list of terrestrial 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


  • Gulf of Guayaquil-Tumbes mangroves

  • Manabí mangroves

Vegetation map of Ecuador

Vegetation map of Ecuador

Administrative Divisions

Administratively, Ecuador is divided into 24 provinces, each with its capital. In addition, the provinces are each divided into cantons.

Alphabetical list of provinces with the capital city in parentheses:

  • Azuay (Cuenca)

  • Bolívar (Guaranda)

  • Cañar (Azoques)

  • Carchi (Tulcán)

  • Chimborazo (Riobamba)

  • Cotopaxi (Latacunga)

  • El Oro (Machala)

  • Esmeraldas (Esmeraldas)

  • Galápagos (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno)

  • Guayas (Guayaquil)

  • Imbabura (Ibarra)

  • Loja (Loja)

  • Los Ríos (Babahoyo)

  • Manabí (Portoviejo)

  • Morona Santiago (Macas)

  • Napo (Tena)

  • Orellana (Puerto Francisco de Orellana)

  • Pastaza (Puyo)

  • Pichincha (Quito)

  • Santa Elena (Santa Elena)

  • Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas (Santo Domingo)

  • Sucumbíos (Nueva Loja)

  • Tungurahua (Ambato)

  • Zamora Chinchipe (Zamora)

Ecuador administrative map

Ecuador administrative map