Ecuador is a representative democratic republic in northwestern South America, bordered by Colombia on the north, Peru on the east and south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Ecuador also includes the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific, about 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) west of the mainland.
What is now Ecuador was home to a variety of Amerindian groups that were gradually incorporated into the Inca Empire during the 15th century. The territory was colonized by Spain during the 16th century, achieving independence in 1820 as part of Gran Colombia, from which it emerged as its own sovereign state in 1830. The legacy of both empires is reflected in Ecuador’s ethnically diverse population, with most of its 15.2 million people being mestizos, followed by large minorities of European, Amerindian, and African descendants.
Spanish is the official language and is spoken by a majority of the population, though 13 Amerindian languages are also recognized, including Quichua and Shuar. The capital city is Quito, while the largest city is Guayaquil. In reflection of the country’s rich cultural heritage, the historical center of Quito was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. Cuenca, the third-largest city, was also declared a World Heritage Site in 1999 as an outstanding example of a planned, inland Spanish-style colonial city in the Americas.
Ecuador has a developing economy that is highly dependent on commodities, namely petroleum and agricultural products. The country is classified as a medium-income country. Ecuador is a democratic presidential republic. The new constitution of 2008 is the first in the world to recognize legally enforceable Rights of Nature, or ecosystem rights. Ecuador is also known for its rich ecology, hosting many endemic plants and animals, such as those of the Galápagos Islands. It is one of 17 megadiverse countries in the world.