Ecuador is divided into four geographical regions. The Galapagos Islands are found more than 1000 kilometers (600 miles) off the coast of Ecuador, in the Pacific Ocean. On the mainland, the high Central Plains formed by the Andes Mountains divide the dry, coastal areas of Ecuador from the tropical forests of the Amazon basin. In Ecuador these regions are known as Costa (the coast), Sierra (the mountains) and Oriente (or East, the Amazon basin).
Ecuador is home to an intriguing array of wildlife. For example, although it is smaller than the state of Nevada, the country is home to more than 1600 species of birds, which is more than twice the number found on any one of the entire continents of North America, Europe or Australia. Additionally, there are three species of vampire bats found in the world; all are found in Ecuador. The Galapagos Islands are a naturalist’s dream, and Ecuador goes to great lengths to protect them from invasive species and over-visiting by tourists. Of the many strange and exotic species found there, many are endemic – meaning that they can be found nowhere else in the world.
Ecuador is home to ten peaks over 5000 meters (16,000 feet). At 6,268 meters (20,565 feet), Volcán Chimborazo is the highest mountain in Ecuador. And because the Earth is not a perfect sphere, but bulges at the Equator, the peak of Chimborazo is also the furthest point from the center of the Earth and the closest to the sun.
Ecuador boast four UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage sites. The colonial cities of Quito and Cuenca are famous for their architecture, much of which hasn’t changed in centuries. As mentioned, the Galapagos Islands are well known for their unique habitat and flora and fauna. And Parque Nacional Sangay contains three of Ecuador’s highest volcanoes (two of them are active) and a wide variety of ecosystems, from dry highlands to wet, tropical lowlands. Particularly notable is Volcán Sangay, the park’s namesake. It is one of the Andes’ most active volcanoes, constantly spitting smoke, rocks and ash.
Ecuador is also the origin of the mis-named “Panama Hat.” Known in Ecuador as the Montecriste for the most famous hat making town in the country, the hats are made from fronds of the toquilla palm, which grows in the humid hilly region inland from the Ecuadorian coast. Although other tropical countries in Asia and South America have tried to grow these palm trees, they cannot match the quality of the fronds grown here. The hats got their misnomer due to the fact that they were shipped through Panama and became very popular there during the construction of the Panama Canal.
Ecuador exports more bananas than any other country in the world. Annual exports equal 4.5 million tons of bananas. They are also major exporters of petroleum products, shrimp and cut flowers. Additionally, the central coastal city of Manta claims to be the Tuna Capitol of the World.
All of this means that visitors to the country have a wide variety of options packed into a fairly small area. Whether a visitor wants beach, mountains or rain forest, all can be found in Ecuador. In fact, it is possible to leave the beach in the morning, cross over the mountains and have lunch and spend the night in the jungle, all in one day.