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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 (Archipielago de Colen).
Because Ecuador lies on the Equator, most of the country, except the Sierra, experiences a humid tropical climate. The Oriente is influenced throughout the year by an unstable maritime tropical air mass, while the Costa is subject to greater variations associated with seasonal movements of the intertropical convergence zone and the cold Peru Current. Local convectional processes dominate the weather in the higher parts of the Andes.
The Oriente experiences fairly continuous and abundant rainfall and high temperatures. The Costa generally has a wet season in the first half of the year and a relatively dry one in the second half. In some years, warm water collects off the coast, causing the weather phenomenon known as El Nieo; this can result in torrential downpours that cause devastating ecological damage on the coast and occasionally even in the highlands. In the Sierra, rains reach a maximum during the equinoxes; there is a long dry season from June to September and a shorter one (the veranillo) from December through January.
Ecuador has a small area of truly dry climate at the Santa Elena Peninsula along the southern coast, with annual rainfall decreasing from about 40 inches (1,000 mm) near Guayaquil to only 4 inches (100 mm) at Salinas. In the highlands, annual rainfall decreases toward the centres of the canyons and valleys, sometimes dropping below 20 inches (500 mm) or even below 10 inches (250 mm). Most of the country, however, is humid, receiving more than 20 inches of rain a year. The southern coast and the highlands receive 30 to 80 inches (760 to 2,000 mm). The wettest areas, the northern coast and the Oriente, receive about 120 to 240 inches (3,000 to 6,000 mm) of rain.
Both the Costa and the Oriente are warm, with temperatures varying only slightly among the seasons; much wider differences occur between day and night. Average daytime high temperatures range from 84 to 91 °F (29 to 33 °C), while nighttime lows fall to between 68 and 75 °F (20 to 24 °C). As elevation increases, temperatures drop fairly predictably at a rate of about 9 to 11 °F (5 to 6 °C) for every 3,300 feet (1,000 metres). Pleasantly temperate climates occur between elevations of 2,600 and 6,600 feet (800 and 2,000 metres). At higher elevations, frost is a possibility, especially in areas of flat relief and during the cloud-free nights of the dry seasons. Above elevations of 11,800 to 12,500 feet (3,600 to 3,800 metres), agriculture becomes increasingly difficult because of the shrinking growing season and increasing frost hazard. Above 16,400 feet (5,000 metres) the peaks are snowcapped.
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