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Ecuador Geography

The fourth-smallest country in South America, Ecuador is located on the west coast of the continent and is crossed by the equator. It has a length of 714 km (444 mi) north-south, and a width of 658 km (409 mi) east-west. Ecuador borders Colombia on the north, Peru on the east and south, and the Pacific Ocean on the west, with a total boundary length of 4,247 km (2,639 mi), of which 2,237 km (1,398 mi) is coastline. Ecuador has lost about two-thirds of the territory it once claimed to Colombia and Peru.

The Galápagos Islands, a province of Ecuador with an area totaling 8,010 sq km (3,093 sq mi), are approximately 1,130 km (700 mi) off the coast on the equator at 89° to 92°W. The total area of the republic and its territory is estimated at 283,560 sq km (109,483 sq mi).

Comparatively, the area occupied by Ecuador is slightly smaller than the state of Nevada.

Ecuador also claims about 200,000 sq km (77,000 sq mi) of land awarded to Peru under the 1942 Protocol of Rio de Janeiro. Armed hostilities flared along a still undemarcated stretch of the border in January 1981, but by 20 February, a 14-km (9-mi) demilitarised zone had been arranged along the disputed line. Official maps of Ecuador show the entire region as Ecuadoran territory. Ecuador's capital city, Quito, is located in the north central part of the country.

Ecuador is characterised by three distinct regions: the coast; the highlands, or Sierra; and the eastern interior lowlands, or Oriente. The coast, except for a hilly area west of Guayaquil, is a low alluvial plain from 32 to 185 km (20 to 115 mi) wide, comprising about one-quarter of the national territory. It extends from sea level to the base of the Cordillera Real of the Andes, at an elevation of about 460 m (1,500 ft). The Guayas in the southwest and the Esmeraldas in the northwest form the principal river systems and serve as important arteries of transportation in their respective regions.

The highlands constitute another fourth of the country. This region is formed by two parallel ranges of the Andes, from 110 to 290 km (70 to 180 mi) wide, and the intervening narrow central plateau, nearly 640 km (400 mi) long. This inter-Andean plateau is divided into 10 basins at altitudes from 2,400 to 2,900 m (7,800 to 9,500 ft), some draining east and some west. The Andes are studded with massive snow-capped volcanoes, the highest of which are Chimborazo, 6,267 m (20,561 ft); Cotopaxi, 5,897 m (19,347 ft), the world's third-highest active volcano; Cayambe, 5,790 m (18,996 ft); Antisana, 5,705 m (18,717 ft); Altar, 5,320 m (17,454 ft); Iliniza, 5,266 m (17,277 ft); Sangay, 5,230 m (17,159 ft); and Tungurahua, 5,016 m (16,457 ft).

The Oriente, forming part of the upper Amazon Basin, begins at the base of the Andes at about 1,200 m (4,000 ft). The land at first drops quickly and is segmented by rushing torrents escaping from the cold highlands. At about 260 m (850 ft), the forests become almost level, and the streams suddenly widen into sluggish, meandering rivers as they begin their journey down the Amazon system to the Atlantic.

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