Ecuador may the second smallest country in South America but it boasts an enormous amount of geographic, biological and ethnic diversity. Ecuador benefits from being home to thousands of species of animals and plants, as well as a wealth of ethnic and racial groups. Over 60% of Ecuadorians are of mixed European and American-Indian heritage, and 25% describe themselves as being born of one of the nation’s indigenous peoples. Despite this pervasive mixing, deep regional rivalries, such as a protracted rivalry between coastal city Guayaquil and the Andean capital, Quito, remain a staple of Ecuador’s internal politics. Ecuador also has an unofficial, yet deeply entrenched, “caste” system, based upon race and ancestral history.
Ecuador is the nation of the Galapagos Islands — a haunt of Darwin in his younger days — which are extraordinarily biologically diverse (and relatively well-conserved) natural gems. As of 2008, Ecuador is the first country in the world to include a section in its constitution confirming the “rights of nature”: “Nature or Pachamama (the Andean earth goddess), where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution. Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognition of rights for nature before the public bodies.”
More information: Wikipedia on Ecuador | Regional rivalries: Guayaquil vs. Quito | About the Galapagos Islands | Ecuadorian castes (take both links with a grain of salt): One blogger’s take, Whites vs. “mestizos” | More about Ecuador’s constitutional “Rights of Nature” | Which are the world’s 17 “megadiverse” countries?