The Republic of Ecuador is located in the northwestern corner of the South American continent and is crossed by the equator, which is the source of its modern-day name. The 109,484-square-mile nation is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, by Peru to the east and south and by Columbia to the north. The Galapagos Islands, the site of Charles Darwin's famous 1835 studies into evolution, are part of Ecuador and are situated about 620 miles west of the mainland.
Ecuador is comprised of four geographic regions: the coast, the highlands, the Amazon region and the Galapagos Islands. The coast, or "La Costa," contains the provinces that are west of the Andean mountain range and possesses the most fertile soil. The region is known for its production of rice and bananas, the latter product which is grown there and exported by the American companies Chiquita and Dole. The highlands, or "La Sierra," are home to snow-capped Andean peaks and Quito, the capital city. Because of the Earth's somewhat ellipsoidal bulge at the equator, the Ecuadorian highlands region contains the point that is farthest from the planet's center, which is located at the peak of Mount Chimborazo 20,560 feet above sea level.
The Amazon region, or "El Oriente," is comprised of the Amazon Jungle provinces. The region contains vast areas of land which have been set aside so that the indigenous rainforest tribes can live in their traditional manner. Parts of this region have also been heavily exploited by petroleum companies. The Galapagos Islands archipelago, or "La Region Insular," contains the volcanic islands west of Ecuador's Pacific Ocean coast and straddle the equator. UNESCO has designated this region a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage site.