ECUADOR... YOUR NATURAL DESTINATION. LAND OF DIVERSITY.
Geographically speaking, Ecuador is a small country. Nevertheless, it is unique because of it's topography, diverse climatic zones and prolific population of animal and plant species. In a matter of hours tourists can travel from the tropical jungles of the Amazon to the foothills and heights of the Andes and then down to the Pacific Coast; all this while enjoying many different landscapes in an endless succession of breathtaking natural wonders.
While traveling in this wonderful natural world of Ecuador, we can follow the course of wide rivers and narrow streams; rest on the shores of pristine lakes; explore mysterious caves; and admire plant and vegetal species which are one of a kind. Some of them have developed in isolated islands of the Pacific, without any interference from humans.
From the highlands to the coast, Ecuador's diversity is also reflected in its people, whose origins and immediate geographical surrounding have shaped their traditions.
Our intention is to continue respecting and protecting these environments. You are invited to join us in discovering this unique land.
"A trip across Ecuador can only be compared with a trip from the Equatorial Line to almost as far as the South Pole"
Barón Friedrich von Humboldt
ECUADOR… LAND OF DIVERSITY
Ecuador probably has the greatest plant and animal diversíty in the world. Its biological abundance is reflected in a wide variety of living beings; namely, 10% of all species of vascular plants grow ¡n an área which represents only 2% of the total surface of the Earth. The diverse ecosystems of Ecuador have interacted in múltiple ways throughout the course of its geological history.
Just imagine, all these regions ¡n a single country! The Galápagos Islands, the Pacific Coast, the Andes and the Amazon Basin, where we find landscapes, tropical dry mountainous forests and rain forests, high grassland plateaus and snow-capped volcanoes, glacial and tectonic lakes, and mangrove forests, as well as many symbiotic species whose life is nurtured by the cold and warm currents of the Pacific Coast.
FLORA: In spite of the fact that Ecuador is barely the size of the state of Colorado, its soil is the habitat for 25,000 species of vascular plants, which is more than all the species of this kind existing in North America (17,000). For example, Dodson has ¡dentified 2,725 species of orchids in Ecuador, representing approximately 11% of all the species existing in the entire world, and 30% of the species that have been classified in Latín America. The Andes are the habitat of 1,050 species, while 850 species have been identified in the Amazon and Coastal regions.
FAUNA: About 3,800 species of vertebrales have been classified in Ecuador, 1,550 species of mammals, 350 species of reptiles, 375 species of amphibians, as well as 800 species of fresh-water fish and 450 species of salt-water fish.
Ecuador has more species of birds per surface área than any other Latin American country: 18% of the total amount of species existing in the world are found in this country. Even though Brazil is 30 times the size of Ecuador, it has an equal amount of bird species.
Ecuador is a paradise where birds and other biological resources can be observed and studied. Almost 15% of all endemic species of the world are found in the Highiands, Coast and Amazon Regions of Ecuador. On the other hand, Ecuador's is the most dense population of birds ¡n the entire world.
Even though Ecuador can be considered a "small" country, we must remember that it is the home of more than one million species of insects; 4,500 species of beautiful butterflies, 2,500 of which are nocturnal butterflies.
In summary, Ecuador's wildlife treasure is larger than any other ecosystem of greater extensión.
Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador
:: top ::
To discover the Galápagos Islands is to discover nature in its most puré and pristine condition. This is why Galápagos inspired young English naturalist Charles Darwin, who visited the islands in 1835, to write his famous "The Origin of the Species"... The world has not been the same since then.
This mysterious and fascinating archipelago is located 621.4 mi. off the coast of Ecuador and is formed by 13 large islands, 6 small ones, and over 40 islets. The entire archipelago has a total extension of 3.092 sq. miles. A great part of the archipelago is barely south of the Equatorial Line, where various marine currents join. In short, the Galápagos islands are a combination of all the necessary elements for creating a zoological, botanical and geological wonder.
The islands emerged from the Pacific Ocean five million years ago as a result of submarine volcanic eruptions. They are lava and volcanic rock formations which offer the tourist the impression of being in "another world".
The process of evolution, the weather, the marine currents and a relative lack of predatory enemies -including human's- made this archipelago one of the most rare and ¡important places of our planet. Following different "routes" from the continent to the islands, different animals and plants have colonized the original lava beds.
The creatures that were able to survive the journey have evolved to form unique species which can only be found in these islands. All of the reptiles, half of the bird species, 32% of plants and 25% of fish, as well as a good number of ¡invertebrates, are exclusively located in the Galápagos archipelago.
The land and marine environment of the islands offer a variety of unique landscapes, which have captivated many generations of tourists and scientists. Giant turtles, marine and land iguanas, and lava lizards constitute the most spectacular family of reptiles ever known.
Birds are represented by over 13 different species of chaffinches, cormorants, small penguins, falcons, sparrows, albatross, flamingos and booby birds, to ñame a few. Among the mammals are beautiful and playful seals and charming dolphins.
For these and many other reasons UNESCO (United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization) declared the Galápagos Islands as a "Natural Patrimony of Humanity".
Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador
:: top ::
PACIFIC COAST REGION
The Coastal Región is located to the west of the Andes and is crossed from north to south by a low altitude mountain chain, full of large alluvial plains.
This región consists of three main ecosystems: the northern tropical rain forest, the central and southwestern tropical savannas, and the western and southern peninsular strip of dry forest.
Two additional ecosystems are found along the coast, characterized by its animal and plant population: the mangrove inlets and associated áreas; and, the beaches and cliffs that are well known for their peculiar rock formations.
The average temperature prevailing in the coast is of 71.6° F. Winter lasts from December to May and summer from June to December. The warm current known as El Niño produces an increase in rainfall during the months from January to May.
Many western forests have been substantially destroyed due to agricultural activities, but important zones with primary vegetation can still be found, such as a dry forest of 142 sq. miles, a rain forest of 4633 sq. miles, and a fluvial forest of 1544 sq. miles.
Important export products such as bananas are cultivated in this región. Coffee, cocoa, rice, soy, sugar cañe, cotton, fruits and other tropical products also grow in this región and are destined for the most demanding national and international markets.
Mangroves and marine environments provide fish and crustaceans with a perfect habitat, allowing thousands of fishermen to take advantage of such resources. Hundreds of people work in shrimp farms, which have a total surface of 311.346 acres. Shrimp is one of the main products of Ecuador, but it's indiscriminate exploitation has been causing the destruction of large mangrove áreas.
Guayaquil, Puerto Bolívar, Manta and Esmeraldas are ports of entry located along the 2.931 miles of coast and beaches. These have many marine fishing áreas and are an excellent places to practice water sports. This región consists of five provinces: Esmeraldas, Manabi, Guayas, Los ríos and El Oro, each with dífferent tourist attractíons and a varied vegetation which goes from rainy to cloudy forests and semi desert áreas.
The main tourist attractions of Esmeraldas are fishermen villages, mangroves and archaeological places. Near the beach, the water is rich in shrimp, oysters, lobsters, crabs, clams and other crustaceans.
The typical rain forests of the Bio-Anthropological Reserve of the Awa community and the Cotacachi-Cayapas Reserve are located in the northern región of the province of Esmeraldas. These áreas of extreme humidity include a botanical community and complex of múltiple species. The Chachis Indians, also called Cayapas, as well as a good number of African-descendants and the Awa Indians live in this área, that extends from Ecuador to part of Colombia. The diversity of natural resources of the province of Manabi makes this región a very attractive place. Tourists will find picturesque landscapes in fishermen villages, mangroves, beaches, protected áreas, islands and archaeological places.
The Machalilla National Park has a surface of 136.000 acres, including the Salango and La Plata Islands, and is the core of the región. The Park covers three climatic zones: the humid forest, the dry forest and the extremely dry forest, all of which have a great diversity of habitats, plants and animáis.
The Province of Guayas has one of the most important ecosystems of the country: the Gulf of Guayaquil, with a flow of 54.000 cu. Ft. of fresh water per second. This province has six protected áreas which are managed according to its specific characteristics. The most important protected área is the ecological reserve of Churute Mangroves, not far from Guayaquil, where we can observe and study a great variety of mangrove species, aquatic birds and related fauna.
The coastal landscape of the Province of El Oro is arid due to the influence of the Humboldt current. This región is home to important xerophytic vegetation. Plants have adapted to the arid environment thus transforming its foliage into a system with thorns and very deep roots. A new species of bird was discovered in 1985, called the El Oro parakeet (Pyrrhura orcesi). The semi-desert áreas of the province of El Oro include the Petrified Forest of Puyango, one of the most spectacular places for paleontology studies.
From Pasaje to Zaruma-Piñas, the forests are rich in birds and orchids. There are excellent places for observation along the Pasaje-Cuenca-Giron road.
Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador
:: top ::
NORTHERN AND CENTRAL highlands
People who have never visited Ecuador often imagine this country as a jungle located ¡n the middle of the world with beaches on the Pacific Ocean. It's amazing, they say, that the Andes are present throughout most of the county with its sky-high volcanoes and valleys, and grasslands at their foothills, all of which lie in a températe ecological region.
The Andes were born about five million years ago, in the early stages of the Pliocene. This mountain range was responsible for dividing the Ecuadorian territory ¡n two forest covered plains with a narrow strip of land in between, flanked by the "Avenue of the Volcanoes". An incredibly rich flora and fauna has evolved in this región with its low temperatures, strong winds, intense ultraviolet radiation, rain, hail, snow and high altitudes.
The Andes range crosses Ecuador from north to south and is divided into three sections: the eastern range, the central range with numerous valleys and river basins, and the western range.
The rainy season or winter in the highlands lasts from October to May, with an average annual temperature that fluctuates between 53.6° F and 64.4° F. However, daily variations can be extreme with very warm days and very cool nights. In spite of this, some people when referring to the highlands' weather, say it's like "eternal spring".
The weather conditions in the highlands, as well as the recent volcanic
activity, have stimulated the development of interesting and peculiar plant
species, which characterize the beautiful scenic grasslands known as
paramos. The paramos or high grasslands cover one tenth of the surface of
Ecuador, or approximately 10.424 sq. miles. This región ¡s located at an altitude above sea level
that fluctuates from 11.480 to 14.760 feet. The paramos constitute an ideal habitat for condors,
caracaras (a vulture-like hawk), deer, llamas, vicuñas, hummingbirds and colorful flowers.
The characteristic of the Andean highlands are pillow-like grass plants and other typical types of vegetation. Northern paramos, especially those of El Ángel are well known for its giant "frailejones" (Espeletia). On the other hand, the paramos located on the secondary mountain ranges are rich in lings, lichens and moss covered trees, which are home for bears, tapirs and cougars.
Azuay - Its toponymic meaning comes from Azua (liqueur) and Ay (of heaven), which seem to
evidence the natural harmony that characterizes the Azuay landscapes full of singing birds, crystalline water, and fruits that allow men to enjoy an inner encounter inspired from heaven.
What is today the province of Azuay was populated by the brave Cañaris Indians before the Inca conquest. These were peaceful people, but became rebel and combative when attacked. This ¡s why the Inca Tupac Yupanqui acted strategically to gain their support, which allowed him to extend his domains to the northern regions. Tupac Yupanqui established his headquarters and guardianship ¡n Tumipamba, place where his successor Huayna Capac was born, and who continued the Inca territorial expansión. It was during these historical events that the real crossbreeding took place between the invaders from Cuzco and the Cañari population.
The province of Azuay is located on the Andes, at an altitude of over 8.200 feet, at 2° 53' south latitude. The province is bathed by the fresh and clean waters of four rivers that cross the región: the Tarqui river, whose waters reflect the beauty of the willow trees; the Yanuncay river, with its quiet and dark waters; the Tomebamba river, caressed by the local women doing their daily laundering; and the Machangara river, whose torrential flow ¡rrigates alders and brooms.
The great flatland goes from Sayagusi, at the foothills of the rocky paramos, to the valleys of the mountain chain, which end at the Turi, Ñero and Galapo, Bastilla, Cruz, and Rayoloma mountains. To the other side we find the small hills of Cullca and Yancauri.
Poetry, music, painting, and religious sculpture have flourished ¡n this región. And, together with these arts, the most noble craftsmanship of its people has produced beautiful pieces of "toquilla" straw, embroidery, basket weaving, wool knitting, ceramic, forged ¡ron, woodwork, jewelry, metáis and fibers, wood, stone and clay, through the gifted hands of its craftsmen.
Churches: El Carmen de la Asunción church and Las Conceptas church date from the colonial period. The first one is rich in carved wood covered with gold leaf. Next to it is the Carmelitas Descalzas convent whose refectory is considered the most outstanding expression of mural painting in the country. The museum at Las Conceptas Church exhibits a collection of paintings and sculptures from the colonial period. The Museum of Modern Art is another important museum. Two churches are located ¡n downtown Cuenca: El Sagrario, also called the "Oíd Cathedral", and La Inmaculada cathedral, also called the "New Cathedral", whose facade ¡s one of the most beautiful of South America.
Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador
:: top ::
The Ecuadorian Amazon Región covers an área of 46.332 sq. mi. with exuberant vegetation typical of the tropical humid forests. The Andes are the western boundary of this región, with Perú and Colombia as southern and eastern borders, respectively.
The rivers in the Amazon Basin have carried a great amount of materials from the Andes, forming alluvial soils and terraces used for agriculture.
The annual average temperature fluctuates between 75° and 77°F. Although the months from December to February are drier, about 120 to 160 ¡nenes of rainfall are distributed almost evenly throughout the year.
The main attraction of the high forests is its vegetation, particularly trees, some of which rise to heights of over 144 feet. Some common species of the región are cinnamon, silk trees, Jacaranda, and various leguminous plants. Alluvial plains are located in terraces besides the main rivers and have large áreas of palm trees.
The main tourist route is the Ñapo River, one of the biggest affluents of the Amazon River. The Ñapo River Basin is 870 mi. long and its width varíes from one to five km. As a result of its fluvial dynamics, this river irrigates 130 ¡slands covered by young forests, which are the refuge and nesting place for a great variety of birds.
Tropical forests cover most of the beaches along the Ñapo River. There are
also beautiful lakes formed from fluvial beds in a process of thousands of
years. Native and settlers have established some communities along these shores. Frequently
near lodging facilities in the área.
During the course of history indigenous people have been able to maintain a productive existence without harming the preservation of the rain forest ecosystems. The most important ethnic groups of the Ecuadorian Amazon Región are: Siona-Secoya, Cofanes, Huaorani, Quichuas of the Eastern Región, Shuar, and Achuar.
The Amazon ecosystem, particularly ¡ts tropical rain forest, ¡s considered to be one of the richest and more complex plant and animal habitáis of the world. The most important characteristic of this región ¡s the existence of a prolific flora and fauna together with extraordinary variations of macro and microhabitats.
In the high Amazon jungle 100 species of trees per acre have been identified. To comprehend the true magnitude of this figure, one must remember that even the most dense Central American forests only include 40 species per acre. Moreover, the températe forests of North America and Europe rarely have more than 20 species per acre.
Rivers, lakes, currents, and swamps of the Amazon Región are home to 600 species of fish and over 250 species of amphibians and reptiles. There are two species of alligators that are over four meters long in the lakes located in the Ñapo and Aguarico basins.
Typical South American mammals live in the Ecuadorian Amazon Región, amongst which there are armadillos, honey bears and sloth. Bats of the Amazon Región represent a cosmopolitan group formed by more than 60 species. Other mammals of the tropical rain forest are tapirs, monkeys and ocelots or jaguars. A walk through the forest will allow the tourist to observe monkeys, bears and big rodents, as well as manatees and alligators in the lakes.
Birds represent the largest group of Amazonian vertebrales, approximately one thousand species, distributed in forests, lakes and open áreas. Multi-colored birds inhabit all the Amazonian ecosystems. Commonly, parrots, macaws and tangaras are found ¡n land and in water. An endless number of herons and gulls also líve ¡n the Amazon Región.
The vast system of Ecuador's national parks along with scientific stations and protected áreas cover approximately 7.5 million acres. In order to conserve and protect these unique and luxuriant áreas, Ecuador has created, among others, the Biosphere Reserve of the Yasuní National Park, the Ecological Reserve of Limoncocha, and the Fauna Reserve of Cuyabeno. The Ñapo and Aguarico basins offer numerous opportunities to observe complex ecosystems, alluvial plains, swamps and swamped áreas, all of which are inhabited by a great variety of species. The Yuturi, Yasuní, Tivacuno, and Cononaco Rivers are totally surrounded by virgin forests.
Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador
:: top ::