The Andes, dominating the country, cut across Ecuador in two ranges and reach their greatest altitude in the snowcapped volcanic peaks of Chimborazo (20,577 ft/6,272 m) and Cotopaxi (19,347 ft/5,897 m). Within the mountains are high, often fertile valleys, where grains are cultivated, and the major urban centers, such as Quito, Cuenca, and Riobamba, are located. Earthquakes are frequent and often disastrous; in 1949 the city of Ambato was leveled. East of the Andes is a region of tropical jungle, through which run the tributaries of the Amazon River. The Pacific coast region, with hot, humid valleys north of the Gulf of Guayaquil, is the source of Ecuador's chief exports, including oil and coffee. Large deposits of oil are also located in the northeast. Guayaquil and Esmeraldas are the chief ports.
Most of the population live in the highlands. About 65% of the people are mestizo, and a quarter are indigenous. Spanish is the official language, but many natives speak Quechua or Jarvo. European-descended residents, who account for about 7% of the population, are mostly landholders and historically have played a dominant role in Equador's unstable political life. Some 3% of the country's inhabitants are of African descent. Roman Catholicism is the main religion.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.