Despite its diminutive size, Ecuador has some of the world's most varied geography. The country can be divided into three regions: the Andes form the backbone of Ecuador; the coastal lowlands lie west of the mountains; and the Oriente, to the east, comprises the jungles of the Oriente, to the upper amazon Basin. In only 200km, as the condor flies, you can climb from the coast to snowcaps, over 6km above sea level, and then descendn to the jungle on the contry's eastern side. The Galápagos Islands lie in the Ecuator, 1000km west of Ecuador's coast, and constitute one of the cuntry's 21 provinces.
Ecuador is one of the most species rich countries on the globe, deemed a megadiversity hot spot' by ecologists. The country has more than 20,000 plant species, with new ones discovered every year. In comparison, there are only 17,000 plants species on the entire North American continent. The tropics, in general, habor many more species than temperate regions do, but another reason for Ecuador's biodiversity is simply that the country holds a great number of habitat types. Obviously, the Andes will suppor very different species than the tropical rainforest, and when intermediate biomes and the coastal areas are included, the result is wealth of different ecosystems, a rio of life that draws nature lovers from the world over.
Brird watchers flock to Ecuador for the great number of bird species recorded here-some 1500, or about twice the number found in any continents of North America,Europe or Australia. But Ecuador isn't just for the birds: some 300 mammals species have been recorded, from monkeys in the Amazon to the rare Andean spectacled bears in the highlands..
Ecuador has over 30 government protected parks and reserves (of which nine carry the title of national park')
as well as numerous privately administered nature reserves. A total of 18% of the country lies within protected areas. Ecuador's first parque nacional (national park) was the Galápagos, formed in 1959. Scattered across mainland, Ecuador are eight other national parks, including the most visite (from nosth to south):