Ecuador sits near the top of the South American continent, straddling the Equator. It covers an area of just under 256,000 sq. km (98,842 sq. miles), about the size of the state of Colorado. It is bordered on the north and east by Colombia, on the south and east by Peru, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. The country includes the Galápagos Islands, 970km (603 miles) due west from the mainland coast.

There are three primary geographic regions in Ecuador, plus the Galápagos. The first is La Costa (The Coast), the low-lying area that runs the length of the Pacific coastline. Fertile plains and rolling rivers lead into pleasant Pacific beaches.

The rugged center of the country is called La Sierra (The Mountains), with the Andes running all the way from north to south. The Andes, the longest mountain chain in the world, appeared around 5 million years ago. A German naturalist named Alexander von Humboldt visited Ecuador in the early 19th century and named this central region "Avenue of the Volcanoes." At an elevation of 5,897m (19,347 ft.), Volcán Cotopaxi, with its near-perfectly symmetrical cone -- a beautiful one at that -- is the world's fourth highest active volcano. Volcán Sangay and Volcán Guagua Pichincha are numbers 9 and 10 in the world, respectively. (Number 1 is Ojos de Salado, on the border between Argentina and Chile.)

Finally, El Oriente (The East) runs from the edge of the Andes to the borders with Colombia and Peru and contains a chunk of the Amazon rainforest. This area covers over 25% of the country's landmass, but is home to less than 5% of its human population.

The Galápagos archipelago consists of 13 large islands, 17 islets, and several dozen ancient rock formations scattered over 7,500 sq. km (2,896 sq. miles) of ocean. Though famous for its beaches, active volcanoes also rise from several of the islands, reaching altitudes of up to 1,600m (5,249 ft.).

Flora & Fauna

The biodiversity within Ecuador's borders is stunning. While it only makes up .02% of the world's landmass, it contains an amazing 10% of the world's plant species. In fact, Conservation International has listed Ecuador as one of just 17 "megadiverse" countries on the planet. Cataloging of the nation's biological treasures is far from complete, and already scientists have counted 3,800 species of vertebrates, 1,550 species of birds, 320 species of mammals, 350 species of reptiles, 375 species of amphibians, 800 species of freshwater fish, and 450 species of marine fish. Ecuador is a bird-watcher's paradise. A full 18% of the world's bird species can be found in Ecuador, more per square meter than in any other Latin American country. In fact, although Brazil is 30 times Ecuador's size, Ecuador has just as many species of birds. And last but not least, there are over a million species of insects in Ecuador (they're not all ugly -- 6,000 species are butterflies).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.