Ecuador has three very distinct zones: the coast, the Andes and the tropical jungle from the east. As the earth isn't precisely round and wider across the equator, the center of the earth is a bit farther away from the equator than from the poles. Therefore, the Chimborazo, with 6,267 m above sea level, lies at a greater distance from the middle of the earth than Mount Everest, which makes it the highest mountain on earth. Volcanic activity is significant along the Andes highlands as well as on the Galapagos archipelago.
There are 7 distinct climatic regions in Ecuador, which consist of very humid down the outer Andes mountains to very arid in the south, while temperatures vary from rather hot in the lowlands to cold on the higher altitudes. The Central Andes are known for their comfortable spring-like climate.
Advanced indigenous cultures flourished in Ecuador a long time before the region was conquered by the Incas in the late 15th century and still about a dozen languages are spoken aside from the official Spanish language as well as the widely spoken Inca dialect, Quichua.
Quito was declared the administrative centre or "audiencia" (administrative district) of the northern Spanish colony in 1563. In 1717 it became incorporated in the Vice-royalty of New Granada, which combined the lands of what's now Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. New Granada declared independence in 1822 and took the name Gran Colombia.
Ecuador separated from the Federation in 1830. Between 1904 and 1942, Ecuador had several border wars with its neighbors, each time losing more territory, while several areas along the borders remained in dispute. Permanent borders were agreed in 1999 after a war with Peru in 1995. That conflict had set off a round of peace talks headed by Brazil and aided by Argentina, Chile as well as the USA. Ecuador enjoyed democracy for the last 4 decades.
Ecuador's has more than 15 million inhabitants which, until quite recently mostly lived in the central highlands. In the last few decades however, major shifts have taken place and now the people are equally distributed along the highlands and the coastal lowlands. Many people have migrated to urban areas which now make up 60% of the population, with Guayaquil and Quito being the largest cities with more than two million inhabitants each. But Ecuador's Amazon, the "Oriente" (East) remains lowly populated with no more than 3% of the population.
The main economic activity is of course based on oil, while other important activities include manufacturing - mostly for the domestic market - commerce, agricultural production for domestic consumption as well as for export. Important products besides oil, are bananas, shrimp, flowers, and several other primary agricultural products. In 2010, oil made up 56% of the export income. Ecuador is still the largest exporter worldwide of bananas and plantains ($2 billion worth) while it also is an important shrimp exporter ($800 million) and cacao ($400 million). Non-traditional export products include cars ($375 million), canned fish ($600 million), and flowers ($600 million).
During the last two decades or so, Ecuador has become a major tourist destination with highlights Galapagos, old Quito, the colonial town of Cuenca, Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, Cajas National Park, Cotopaxi and also the Otavalo Indian market. Cuyabeno has been rapidly building a name as the best place on earth to visit to get know the tropical jungle of the Amazon.
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