Ecuador is known for many things, and the Galapagos Islands are probably high on that list. Sitting roughly 600 miles west of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, the Islands make up a portion of a national park and biological marine reserve. While not a native Ecuadorian, perhaps one of the most famous names associated with the Islands is that of Charles Darwin. A research expedition in 1835 aboard the HMS Beagle gave Darwin the opportunity for biological studies that were integral to his understanding of natural selection and ultimately appeared in his game-changing book, The Origin of Species. But never fear, the mainland is known for its natural reserves as well, for example the volcanic formations that tourists flock to every year.
Quito is the only capital city that is threatened by an active volcano, Pichincha, which has two peaks topping off at over 15,000 feet a piece. The highest is Guagua, which means ‘child,’ and the other is called Rucu, or ‘old person.’ While both peaks are hikeable, there is a tram which takes visitors up to about 2,000 feet shy of the top. Another popular volcanoes in Ecuador is Cotopaxi, coming in at just under 20,000 feet. This mountain hosts a refuge at roughly 16,000 feet where climbers camp for the night in order to make their push to the summit the following morning. And the hot springs near Tungurahua are a ‘hot’ spot for locals (pun intended), as people come from all over to soak in the life-giving minerals.
Pichincha sits in the Andes Mountains, the longest continental mountain range on the planet, covering over 4,000 miles. There are six other countries intersect the mountain range; and in Ecuador there are two narrow Andes’ ranges that run parallel to each other: the Cordilleras Oriental and the Occidental. Sitting in the middle is the Central Valley, and it is home to the majority of the country’s major cities. West of the ranges is primarily hot and humid coastal lowland, and east of the ranges is tropical rainforest and part of the Amazon Basin. The Basin is drained by the Amazon River, and Ecuador’s portion of South American rainforest is just a small fraction of the continent’s 2.1 million square miles.
Ecuador gained its independence from Spain in 1822, and went on to form Gran Columbia with the nations of Venezuela and Colombia shortly thereafter. In 1830, it separated from the confederation and became the Republic of Equator, which is Incan for equator. Ecuador is roughly equivalent to Arizona in land cover, and it has approximately 15 million inhabitants. Quito sits about 9,000 feet above sea level and is home to roughly 2 million residents, making it the highest capital city in the world and the most populated city in the country.
Ecuador is one of the numerous countries that have the equator running through it, but it does not pass through Quito. Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world city), just north of Quito, is home to the Equator Museum where the equator exists as an actual line for a little while and is marked by several monuments. Although recent advances in GIS technology have disputed the placement of two of the monuments, it is still, imaginably, an amazing site to behold. Many people love to stand on the four corners in the USA, but how cool would it be to stand in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres at once?!