Up until the Spanish conquest in 1533, what is now Ecuador made up part of the northern region of the Inca Empire. The capital Quito, which lies at an elevation of 2,850 meters, making it the highest capital city in the world, was founded in 1534 and became the seat of government for the Spanish colonials in 1563. Ecuador was a part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada between 1717 and 1822 when it became a part of Gran Colombia, until it dissolved into Colombia, Venezuela and the Republic of the Equator in 1830. The country lost territory in a series of conflicts with its neighbors between 1904 and 1942.
Ecuador consists of four geographic regions, the Oriente, Costa and Sierra, as well as the Galápagos Islands famous for its endemic species and for inspiring Charles Darwin. The three continental regions lie north to south across the length of the country and are delineated by the Andes Mountains.
The Oriente lies to the east of the Andes and feature the Andean piedmont that drops into eastern lowlands. The Costa lies to the west of the Andes out to the Pacific Ocean, consisting of lowlands, coastal mountains and rolling hills.
The Sierra features two distinct chains of the Andes Mountains with a plateau between them. The Sierra is further geographically subdivided on a north-south axis, with the southern geographic region being an area of ancient volcanism, with an area of modern volcanism in the north.
Ecuador has a population of over 15 million people, made up of a diverse collection of ethnicities, with the vast majority of people tracing their roots to one or more of three ethnic groups of peoples – the indigenous people that first settled the region some 15,000 years ago, Spanish colonists who arrived from the 16th century on and the Africans that they subsequently imported as slave labor. The largest single racial group is known as Mestizos, those of mixed indigenous and European background, and make up 72% of the population.
Ecuador is a religious country with 92% of people describing themselves as religious, with Roman Catholicism being the most popular denomination accounting for over 80% of people’s faith.