Ecuador – Sea of Blue, Sea of Green

Although Ecuador is one of South America’s smallest nations (about as big as the state of Nevada), it has a surprisingly varied weather and geography. The Pacific coast is warm with a tropical climate. Things cool off quickly as one moves west into the towering Andes mountains, however. In Ecuador, the Andes are high, dry and snow-capped. Several peaks exceed 15,000 feet in height and the tallest is Mt. Chimborazo at 20,561 feet.

Ecuador also has volcanoes, approximately 30, the highest being Cotopaxi which at 19,388 feet is one of the tallest volcanoes in the world. The dry valleys and plateaus of the Andean region give way to low, rolling hills as one continues eastwards. The climate becomes moist and tropical once more as the hills flatten out into a wide jungle plain – a sea of green that stretches to Ecuador’s border with Brazil and for many miles beyond.

There is one other part of Ecuador that stands on its own – literally. These are the famed Galapagos Islands located in the Pacific Ocean approximately 600 miles west of the Ecuadorian mainland. The isolated chain of about 60 islands (13 major, 8 smaller and 40 islets) was discovered accidentally when a Spanish ship drifted off course in the early 16th century.

For several hundred years, the islands were a base for pirates and whalers, who greatly reduced the islands’ marine mammal population as well as the number of giant tortoises and sea turtles. Evolutionist Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1835. Darwin was greatly influenced and inspired by the way the Galapagos Islands wildlife had adjusted to different living conditions on the various islands, leading him to publish “The Origin of Species” in 1859.

Today, the Galapagos Islands are a UNESCO World Heritage site and are a popular tourist attraction.