Continental Ecuador is located on the northwestern coast of South America, between Colombia to the north and Peru to the south and east. It is crossed by the Equator, from where derives its name. Ecuador also owns the Galapagos Islands, located approximately 970 kilometers westward off the coast. It is one of the smallest countries in South America, with 256,370 square kilometers. Mainland local time is -5 GMT (US Eastern Standard Time) year round. The Galapagos are on -6 GMT (US Central Standard Time) year round.
Geography and Climate
Ecuador is crossed from north to south by the Andes, which divides
its continental territory in three big regions, generally known as Costa (Western lowlands), Sierra (Andes highlands) and Oriente (Amazon basin). These three regions are at no more than a 30-minute flight from each other and at a maximum of eight hours by car, which allows seeing dramatic changes in the landscape and sensations in a very short period of time. In each corner of Ecuador, there are fascinating things, either in variety of species of animals and plants as well as the diversity of peoples and ancestral cultures.
In general, we can distinguish in the whole country 7 geographical zones, each of them with its own characteristic climate, and you can clearly notice the differences by the predominant vegetation in each zone.
The humid coastal region up North, the dry coastal region down South, the western slope of the Andes, also known as Chocó, the Andean region, the eastern slope of the Andes, the Amazon region and the Galapagos Islands.
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On each of the different geographical regions of Ecuador exist numerous and varied ecosystems (45 on the Mainland), for which, besides we have an assorted cluster of landscapes that can be traveled across in relatively a few hours.
Due to its geographical characteristics and its privileged situation in the planet, it is a country where it can be found one of the largest concentrations of bio-diversity in the world. This fact places Ecuador among the 17 countries nominated as "mega-diverse". This qualification corresponds to these countries because in them, more than 70% of animal species and plant species in the planet are concentrated. Among this group, the smallest country is Ecuador. With an area corresponding to 0.17% of terrestrial surface (256,370 Km²), it owns more than 11% of all land vertebrate species: 2794 species, of which 436 (15.6%) are endemic. This means that Ecuador is the country with the largest bio-diversity of terrestrial vertebrates per unit area in the world.
In Ecuador, three of the ten zones known as "hotspots" can also be found. These zones are considered the worlds most important, of very high priority for conservation, and cover less than 0,2% of the earth's surface and possess 27% of all the tropical plant species and 13% of all plant species in the world. Three of these zones are in Ecuador, next to 11 bird endemism areas and 6 centers of diversity and endemism of plants. Next to all these is the importance that the Galapagos Archipelago has for its unique characteristic in the world
So far, 1340 species of fish are registered, of which more than 800 are fresh water fish. Of these, 470 species live on the Napo river basin alone. 415 amphibian species, of which 60% are endemic. 394 reptilian species and 369 mammalian species, 30% are endemic. Each year, many new species are described, especially amphibians.
This country is the second in the world in bird variety, with a total of 1,616 species, (17.9% of the worlds species) of which 52 are endemic. 132 species of hummingbirds that makes 37% of these species in the world. Ecuador has more endemic bird species by square kilometer than the rest of South America and is the country that has more endemic species, surpassing in more than a 100% the rest of South American countries, The Invertebrate field is the least known in Ecuador. There is an estimate 500,000 registered species but only 45% of these have been identified.
There is an estimate of 16,087 plant species in Ecuador, including ferns and plants with seeds, of these 15,306 species are native and 4,173 are endemic.
Since 1975 around 165 new species are being described on a yearly basis, a new species every two days, 91 endemic. Grasses and epiphytes are the most diverse in Ecuador. One out of five plants in Ecuador is an orchid; so far 3,043 species have been identified and 43% of these are endemic. Ecuador is the country with the largest diversity of orchids in the world.
Up to now, 26 protected areas have been established and are part now of the Natural Protected Areas System of Ecuador (besides those privately owned) and cover approximately 4’666,871 hectares of terrestrial surface (18.21% of Ecuador's area) and 14’110.000 hectares of marine area.
Being such a rich and diverse country, we are not free of many problems, like the rest of the world, many species of plants and animals are in danger of extinction due to man's uncontrolled activities and as well, many of our cultures could also disappear. Therefore, it is of vital importance not only for our country, but for our whole planet that we can manage it in an adequate way; to accomplish this, it is fundamental that our people have a dignified way of life so they can manage their resources in a sustainable way.
Tourism is an option that offers visitors the satisfying opportunity of knowing and learning from these fantastic places, its people and its natural wealth, therefore for us it is a very important source of income and can help improve the quality of life of our people and provide an appropriate management and control of our resources and the subsistence of our diversity.
In this country, we have also a great variety of human cultures, which makes us even more diverse. Besides the city dwellers, in our territory cohabit 27 nationalities and indigenous peoples and Afro-Ecuadorians, each one with its cultural wealth and invaluable ancestral knowledge.
One of the richest and fascinating experiences one can have in Ecuador is to know its cultures and share some time among its inhabitants.