Ecuador

Country of northwestern South America. Ecuador is one of the most environmentally diverse countries in the world, and it has contributed notably to the environmental sciences. The first scientific expedition to measure the circumference of the Earth, led by Charles-Marie de La Condamine of France, was based in Ecuador; and research in Ecuador by the renowned naturalists Alexander von Humboldt of Prussia and Charles Darwin of England helped establish basic theories of modern geography, ecology, and evolutionary biology. Ecuador has a rich cultural heritage. Much of what is now Ecuador came to be included in the Inca empire, the largest political unit of pre-Columbian America.

Economically, Ecuador became known for exporting Panama hats (straw hats so named because they were shipped to Panama in the mid-18th century and bought by traveling gold seekers and because they were worn by Panama Canal work crews in the early 19th century) and agricultural products, notably cacao (the source of cocoa beans), bananas, and flowers. It is a major exporter of petroleum and an increasingly important tourist destination. Its history has been marked by political and economic challenges, including long periods of military rule, boom-and-bust economic cycles, and inequitable distributions of wealth. Ecuador is unusual among Latin American countries in having two major centres of population and commerce, the vibrant port city of Guayaquil acting as a counterbalance to the capital, Quito, located in the Andean highlands in the north-central part of the country.

Ecuador straddles part of the Andes Mountains and occupies part of the Amazon basin. Situated on the Equator, from which its name derives, it borders Colombia to the north, Peru to the east and the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It includes the Pacific archipelago of the Galapagos Islands (Archipiélago de Colón).

The Ecuadoran mainland is divided into three main physical regions: the Costa (coastal region), the Sierra (highland region), and the Oriente (eastern region).
The Costa is composed of lowlands that extend eastward from the Pacific Ocean to the western edge of the Andes and rise from sea level to an elevation of 1,650 feet (500 metres). Running north-south, small coastal mountain ranges—the Colonche, Chindul, and Mache mountains—rise to 2,600 feet (800 metres). Between these coastal ranges and the Andes, interior valleys are mantled with silt deposits left by rivers that largely drain into the Gulf of Guayaquil. Puná, in the gulf, is the major island.
The volcanic Galapagos Islands consist of 19 rugged islands and scores of islets and rocks situated about 600 miles (900 km) west of the mainland. The largest island, Isabela (Albemarle), rises to 5,541 feet (1,689 metres) at Mount Azul, the archipelago’s highest point. The second largest island is Santa Cruz.

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