History: What is now Ecuador formed part of the northern Inca Empire until the Spanish conquest in 1533. Quito became a seat of Spanish colonial government in 1563 and part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada in 1717. The territories of the Viceroyalty—New Granada (Colombia), Venezuela, and Quito—gained their independence between 1819 and 1822 and formed a federation known as Gran Colombia. When Quito withdrew in 1830, the traditional name was changed in favor of the “Republic of the Equator.”
Between 1904 and 1942, Ecuador lost territories in a series of conflicts with its neighbors. A border war with Peru that flared in 1995 was resolved in 1999. Although Ecuador marked 30 years of civilian governance in 2004, the period has been marred by political instability. Protests in Quito contributed to the mid-term ouster of three of Ecuador’s last four democratically elected Presidents.
In September 2008, voters approved a new constitution; Ecuador’s twentieth since gaining independence. General elections, under the new constitutional framework, were held in April 2009, and voters re-elected President Rafael Correa.
Location: Western South America, bordering the Pacific Ocean at the Equator, between Colombia and Peru.
Area:109,483 square miles (283,561 square kilometers)
Population: 14,790,608 (July 2010 est.)
Geography: Ecuador is divided into three continental regions—the Costa, Sierra, and Oriente—and one insular region: the Galápagos Islands. The continental regions extend the length of the country from north to south and are separated by the Andes Mountains. The Galápagos Islands, officially called the Archipiélago de Colón, are located 620 miles west of the Ecuadorian coast.
The Costa, located between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, consists of coastal lowlands, coastal mountains, and rolling hills that separate river valleys. The widest part of the region stretches 93 miles from Cabo San Lorenzo in Manabí Province to the foothills of the Andes Mountains. In the southern part of Guayas Province, east of the Gulf of Guayaquil, the narrow coastal plain is only nine to 12 miles wide. The lowlands of the Costa do not exceed 656 feet in elevation, whereas the coastal mountains extend no higher than 3,280 feet. The coastal mountain chain, known as the Cordillera Costañera, divides the region into the Costa Externa, next to the coast, and the Costa Internal, next to the Andes. The Cordillera Costañera reaches from Esmeraldas in the north to Guayaquil in the south. North of Portoviejo in Manabí Province, the Cordillera Costañera loses its character as a mountain chain and becomes a series of hills and small mountains.
The Sierra consists of two major chains of the Andes mountains, known as the Cordillera Occidental (Western Chain) and Cordillera Oriental (Eastern Chain), and the intermountain basin or plateau between the two chains. Several transversal mountain spurs, known as nudos, cut across the plateau. The Nudo del Azuay, at 14,760 feet the highest of these transversal spurs, divides the Sierra into two sub-regions—the area of modern volcanism to the north and the area of ancient volcanism to the south. The former area consists of newer, higher mountains than those in the ancient volcanism section, which with time have eroded to lower levels.
The Sierra has at least 22 peaks over 13,780 feet in height. Of the two cordilleras, the Cordillera Oriental is wider and generally higher, with peaks averaging over 13,123 feet. The Cordillera Occidental, however, contains the highest point in Ecuador, which is the Mount Chimborazo at 20,560 feet. The Sierra also contains the highest point on the equator, Mount Cayambe at 18,996 feet.
The Sierra has at least 30 peaks of volcanic origin, including six still active. These peaks, which vary in width from 50 to 80 miles, are located in the area of modern volcanism known as the Avenue of the Volcanoes. The most active volcano is Mount Sangay, 17,159 feet high. Although its last major outpouring of lava occurred in 1946, specialists consider Mount Sangay to be in a constant state of eruption because of fires and bubbling lava at its crater. Mount Cotopaxi, at 19,347 feet the highest active volcano in the world, last erupted in 1877 and is now listed as “steaming”. Its crater is 2,624 feet in diameter. In addition to the other damage caused by eruptions, volcanoes in the Sierra have melted snowcaps, which in turn generate massive mudslides and avalanches. Earth-quakes and tremors also are common in the region.
The Oriente to the east of the Cordillera Oriental consists of two subregions: the Andean piedmont and the Eastern lowlands. The piedmont drops from a height of 11,000 feet to the featureless lowlands, which spread out at an altitude of 490 to 985 feet.
The Galápagos Islands consist of a chain of large, medium, and small islands that have a combined area of roughly 3,088 square miles. The largest island is Isabela Island, also known as Albemarle Island, which is 75 miles long with an area of 1,650 square miles. All of the islands are of volcanic origin, and some have active cones. Santo Tomás, located on Isabela Island, is the highest peak of the Galápagos at 4,888 feet. Its crater is 6 miles in diameter.
Head of State & Government: President Rafael Correa Delgado (since 15 January 2007)
Flag description: Three horizontal bands of yellow (top, double width), blue, and red with the coat of arms superimposed at the center of the flag. The flag retains the three main colors of the banner of Gran Columbia, the South American republic that broke up in 1830. The yellow color represents sunshine, grain, and mineral wealth, blue the sky, sea, and rivers, and red the blood of patriots spilled in the struggle for freedom and justice.
Language: Spanish (official), Amerindian languages (especially Quechua)
Religion: Roman Catholic 95%, other 5%
Time Zone: UTC-5 (same time as Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Electricity: The majority of outlets in Ecuador are 110/120V AC (60 Hz).
Emergency numbers: In case of an emergency, call 911 or 101 for the police only.
Tipping: Restaurants in Ecuador add a 10% service charge to all checks. It’s common to add 5% to 10% on top of this. Taxi drivers don’t expect tips. Hotel porters are typically tipped 50 cents to $1 per bag.
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