Ecuador is a country straddling the equator on South America’s west coast. Its diverse landscape encompasses Amazon jungle, Andean highlands and the wildlife-rich Galápagos Islands. Ecuador is one of the most environmentally diverse countries in the world, and it has contributed notably to the environmental sciences. Ecuador has a rich cultural heritage, with much of what is now Ecuador having been part of the Inca empire, the largest political unit of pre-Columbian America.
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. The Ecuadoran mainland is divided into three main physical regions: the Costa (coastal region), the Sierra (highland region), and the Oriente (eastern region).