Ecuador Geomorphology


There are four very distinct geographic regions in Ecuador: The Jungle region (Oriente); the Mountain region (Sierra); the Coastal region (Costa); and, the Galapagos Islands.

However, a big variety of topographic barriers and vertical climatic zones – from the tropical sea level (west) and tropical jungle (east) – to snow capped mountains and active volcanoes, make for numerous sub-regions and habitats, that produce several ecosystems as you travel relatively short distances in the continent.

In the Galapagos Islands, each island has its particularity. The total area of Continental Ecuador is approximately 276,000 square Km. and 8,000 square km for the Galapagos.

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The landforms and their formative processes are closely related to the geologic structures and their evolution through time. Ecuador has been adding (accreting) terrains since Precambrian times from east to west.

This accretion began in the Tiputini Shield, located at the western tip of the Guyana Shield – the oldest block of northern South America. As a result, each new terrain has been covering and deforming the previous one.

Geomorphologic Units of Ecuador

South American Tectonics Map

The main tectonic elements of South America that mold the Ecuadorian geology.

The geomorphologic units from east to west are:

  1. The Oriente basins
  2. The sub-Andean belt
  3. The Real Cordillera
  4. The Inter-Andean basins (hoyas)
  5. The Western Cordillera
  6. The main Daule Basin and several minor tectonic Tertiary basins and highs form the Coast
  7. The Galapagos Islands archipelago

All of these seven geomorphologic regions are subdivided into numerous enclaves, each with its particular habitat, variety of soils and climates, modified by natural factors such as weathering, erosion, and biochemical activity.


Ecuador is largely a volcanic country. This is entirely so in the Galapagos, the continent has been so as well, in all the geological provinces, from time to time. Although the structure of the Andes is due to plate accommodation the various trends of volcanism does not strictly follow these limits.

Geomorphologically the volcanoes can be accommodated in five lines from east to west:

  1. Intra-continental volcanoes in the Oriente provinces
  2. Sub-Andean volcanism
  3. Volcanism in the main Andes
  4. Inter-Andean Valley and
  5. The Western Cordillera


Mountain type glaciations occur in the two Andean provinces. Morphologically the most important deposits of glaciations (moraines) correspond to the last late glacial period ≤35 Ka with a lower limit of 3000m. The second most important moraines are of the late glacial period 12-10Ka with a lower limit of 3800m and the third generation of moraines from the neo-glacial to present, (<10Ka) with a lower limit of 4000m.