Regions

Ecuador is a diverse country that is divided into four distinct regions: the Coast, the Sierra, the Amazon, and the Galapagos Islands.

Ecuador

Ecuador is a megadiverse country in which nature and culture provide unique opportunities to develop outstanding academic and affinity programs that exceed the highest expectations. Four regions, each one with different ecosystems, biodiversity, and cultures; converge in a small area in which our programs are developed to satisfy your academic need with the support of a growing and unique network of 19 partners decided to support science, conservation, education, and community development in Ecuador and share a varied possibility of activities and experiences with our groups.

WHY ECUADOR IS SO DIVERSE?

ECUADOR

Although it has a small territory, Ecuador is one of the 17 megadiverse countries of the world. It isdivided into 4 well-defined natural geographical zones: the Pacific Coast, the Andes Mountain range, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Galapagos Islands.

REGIONS OF ECUADOR

This diversity is due to the location of the country in the neotropics, and the presence of the Andes, which creates a variety of physical conditions for many ecosystems with different biodiversity. In addition, the influence of the Pacific Ocean currents on its coasts and in the Galapagos Archipelago generates unique characteristics to be a diversity center overlap of marine species. On the other side, Yasuní Biosphere Reserve in the upper Amazon is considered the most biodiverse place on Earth. Ecuador possesses 26 distinguished habitat types and is recognized globally for its vast bird and amphibian biodiversity, and its floristic and unique landscapes. 

The Galapagos National Park and the Marine Reserve, declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are considered the best marine conserved archipelago worldwide, conserving 97% of its territory and most of its endemic and native wildlife.

Ecuador’s social and cultural richness is as diverse as
its nature!!

ANDEAN HIGHLANDS AND CHOCO

Region

Ecuador Andes RegionThe Ecuadorian Andes, also known as the “Sierra Region” is part of the Andes Mountains, a range that extends from North to south across the whole South American continent. These mountains provide fabulous landscapes, the advantageous result of a rugged geography that divides the Pacific coast from the Amazonian rainforest. This mountain range reaches elevations up to 20,702 feet (6,310 meters) and is made up of gorgeous snow-capped volcanoes like Cotopaxi, Cayambe, Chimborazo, and Antisana. These same peaks are the birthplace of the rivers and streams which later become the Amazon watershed and the Guayas River. Their rich and rugged topography includes valleys, glaciers, forests, and lagoons, which offer marvelous natural geographies and are the source of a unique and diverse biome. The Andean region of Ecuador is cloaked in mystic and ancestral cultures. The original inhabitants of the region: the Otavalos, and the Cañaris saw the emergence and spread of the Incan Empire, later coming under the control of the Spanish Empire during violent colonization. This region is culturally and historically rich, particularly in regard to the fourteen legally recognized indigenous nations and a wide variety of ethnic identities in Ecuador. Within this melting pot of indigenous and diasporic culture, the legacy of the Spanish Empire is particularly visible, including in the historic and patrimonial cities Quito and Cuenca. The programs designed in this region can be connected to topics including cultural diversity, national heritage, history, and nature. Students studying majors related to anthropology, sociology, and history could include any of the following in a specialized program: homestays with indigenous communities, ancestral and ritual medicine, customs and traditions, and workshops on Latin American colonization. Students interested in pursuing careers in conservation, biology, or environmental sciences can develop itineraries that include applied biology workshops, conservation work, hydrology studies, fieldwork in cloud forests or the altiplano, and many other hands-on opportunities.

The Andean Chocó is internationally recognized as one of the most biodiverse hotspots in Ecuador and was declared the seventh UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Ecuador in 2018. It’s located in the Northwestern corner of Pichincha Province, around 150 kilometers from the city of Quito. The local fauna includes 114 species of mammals (30 of those being large species like the Olingo, Oncilla, Opossum, Deer, and Spectacled Bear. This area is also known for containing over 2,814 species of birds. This subregion includes more than 286,000 hectares, spanning the humid sub-tropical jungle (2624 feet) to the Andean Chocó (15750 feet). Because of this wide range of habitats, the Reserve has a fantastic diversity of environments: twelve types of forests (some of which are still in their original undisturbed state), four climatic classifications, and a productive and diverse landscape. It’s worth mentioning that for every hectare of forest, there are approximately 300 different species of trees. At Responsible Journeys, we work with private projects and communities that work to conserve El Chocó and its biodiversity. Programs designed in this region can be connected to scientific investigation in Applied Biology, Conservation and Restoration, Sustainable Development, and Environmental Science (hydrology, climatic floors, cloud forests, and highlands, among other possible topics).

AMAZON RAINFOREST

Region

The Amazonian region of Ecuador extends over an area of 120,000 km2 of lush vegetation, typical of tropical rainforests, which represent 48% of Ecuadorian territory. The jungle, also known as “the East,” is an extremely diverse region, due to the different altitude levels near the Andes. This, together with its tropical temperatures, high annual precipitation, and rugged topography, creates a high level of biodiversity and endemism. The Ecuadorian Amazon Basin is home to several indigenous nations, each with its own characteristic features, such as language, customs and worldview. Some best-known villages include the Siona, Secoya, Cofán, Shuar, Záparos, Huaorani, and Kichwa communities. The Ecuadorian rainforest is ideal for hiking and expeditions, canoeing and rafting trips, wildlife observation, flora and fauna monitoring, research, and community ecotourism and volunteering. 

Our programs in the Amazon are designed with rich scientific and experiential components. We have research, volunteer, and adventure programs, aimed at issues of applied biology, ecology, anthropology, sociology, social and environmental impacts of extractive activities, climate change, ancestral cultures and more.

ACADEMIC TOPICS:

  • Amazonian ecology: Ecosystems, biodiversity, threats 
  • Oil and mining impacts 
  • Medicinal properties of plants 
  • Tourism and Natural Protected Areas management
  • Current Science and conservation programs 
  • Community involvement

Yasuni National Park, which was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989, is one of the most megadiverse in the world, as it has the highest concentration per hectare of different species of fauna and flora. Yasuni has a surface area of 9,823 km and hosts a large amount of wildlife, in the latest research it is thought to be home to 150 species of amphibians, 121 species of reptiles, 598 species of birds, 169 confirmed species of mammals (but they are estimated to be closer to 200), and 2113 species of identified flora. To the Northeast of the Ecuadorian Amazon is the Cuyabeno Wildlife Production Reserve, which has one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in the world. This is because the Cuyabeno Reserve has a large watershed, including fourteen major lagoons, and two Amazonian tributary rivers: the Napo and Cuyabeno. This reserve, due to its geographical location, crosses the equator, and experiences frequent rain, which forms four tropical humid ecosystems:

  1. Swamps that are covered by black waters.
  2. Forests flooded by brown sediment-heavy rivers.
  3. Forests flooded by black rivers.
  4. Semi-permanent lakes

The programs designed in this region of Ecuador are linked to environmental education, wildlife biodiversity, research of new species of flora, and environmental practice community training projects. It is important to highlight that some communities actively participate in projects that were proposed through university initiatives with which we work, such as those related to vernacular architecture and responsible path systems.

PACIFIC COAST

Region

The Ecuadorian coast is composed of beautiful and lush green mangrove forests, jungles, crystal clear waters, stunning white sand beaches, and picturesque fishing villages. The coast plays an important role in the national economy and gastronomy: exporting tons of seafood every day, hosting large agro-productive plantations (mainly bananas and cocoa), and farming shrimp and fish. The Costa region, also known as the coast, is one of the four Ecuadorian geographical regions. It is located between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean and has more than 2,000 km of beach. The Ecuadorian coast has a very hot and humid climate, with average temperatures of 25ºC to 31ºC. The rainy season is during the months of December to May when it is warmer and more humid. The dry season is a little less humid, but it is not dry at all: Ecuador never spends long periods without heavy rains. The coast of Ecuador is rich in natural and cultural resources, as seen in the National Parks that protect the Valdivia and Machalilla cultures, ancient communities that left vestiges for archaeological studies. Our programs on the coast focus on agro-productive activities, coastal marine research, fisheries, and anthropology. Machalilla National Park is one of the most extensive protected areas on the Ecuadorian coast and comprises two areas: 56,184 terrestrial hectares and 14,430 marine hectares. The park is important for the local marine fauna, and during the months of July to September, the humpback whales arrive from the south and make a spectacular jump out of the water. Isla de la Plata is known for its seabirds and migratory humpback whales. Near the city of Puerto López, the isolated beach of Los Frailes is home to sea turtle nesting shelters. In the tropical dry forest of the park, the town of Agua Blanca has a sulfuric lake. Further inland, the cloud forest in the Chongón-Colonche mountains are home to toucans and monkeys. This protected area takes its name from the ancient pre-Columbian cultures that inhabited part of the Machalilla area. Our programs take part in a community project located on the reserve, related to the cultural and archaeological history of the Agua Blanca community.

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Region

The Galapagos Islands constitute one of the most complex, diverse, and unique oceanic archipelagos in the world. The islands are located in the Tropical East Pacific Biological Corridor, 928 km away from Ecuador. In geological time, they emerged recently from a hot spot between the Nazca and Cocos plates. The archipelago is made up of 19 islands, 47 islets, and at least 26 rocks or promontories, all of volcanic origin; covering a land area of 7,880 km2 and a Marine Reserve of 138,000 km2. These islands owe their formation to the cooling of the lava after underwater eruptions, hence their rugged appearance. Despite this, the islands enjoy a great variety of terrestrial and underwater life. In addition to rock lava flows, the islands are home to wet forests, sandy beaches, cliffs, rocky shores, and coral reefs. Due to this range of habitats, a great variety of animals and plants can be found both in the islands and in the vicinity, among which are giant turtles, marine iguanas, penguins, sharks, Prickly Pear cactuses, and Scalesia forests. In 1978, the Galapagos were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to its large number of endemic species, its unique ecosystem, and because of the historic lack of interaction with human beings until the mid-twentieth century. This wonderful and pristine set of volcanic islands were never connected to the continent, and its flora and fauna arrived only after having traveled hundreds of miles on ocean currents. In 1835, Charles Darwin visited the islands and began his famous theory of species evolution. Our programs in the Galapagos are designed with a rich academic and experiential complement focused on participants who love nature, science, and conservation. Conservation, restoration, and social development projects allow us to provide an enriching experience for your professional and personal growth. Some of the main projects include monitoring giant tortoises, endemic plant restoration, introduced species eradication, and coastal area clean-ups. 

GALAPAGOS CONSERVATION PROJECTS 

In the Galapagos, our programs support different conservation and restoration projects that aim to convey the importance of these actions in conjunction with academic courses. Some of the projects are: 

  1. Habitat restoration and land bird conservation.
  2. Fisheries and sustainable resources management
  3. Community engagement
  4. Giant tortoise conservation and migration
  5. Whale Sharks conservation project
  6. Galapagos petrel nesting monitoring 
  7. Outdoors Education
  8. 4. Microplastic monitoring and awareness
  9. Marine life surveys

Request our “Galapagos academic activities map”.