The island measures about 180 km (110 mi) north-south and about 65 km (40 mi) at its widest point. In the north it nearly joins Samar, the channel between being as narrow as 2 km (1.2 mi) in places, and in the south it is separated from Mindanao by the Surigao Strait. To the east, Leyte is somewhat "set back" from the Philippine Sea of the Pacific Ocean, Samar to the northeast and Dinagat to the southeast forming the Leyte Gulf. To the west are Cebu and Bohol.
Leyte is mostly heavily forested and mountainous, but the Leyte Valley in the northeast has much agriculture.
Politically, the island is divided into three provinces: Leyte, Southern Leyte, and the newer province of Biliran. Southern Leyte is in the south and includes the island of Panaon, while Biliran, an island province, is in the north.
The chief cities of Leyte are Tacloban City, on the eastern shore at the northwest corner of Leyte Gulf, and Ormoc City, on the west coast.
Leyte today is notable for the geothermal electric power plants near Ormoc.
However, Leyte is most famous for its role in the reconquest of the Philippines in the World War II. On October 20, 1944, General Douglas MacArthur waded ashore on Leyte, saying "I have returned". However, the Japanese did not give up so easily, as the ensuing Battle of Leyte proved, and convergence of naval forces resulted in the four-day Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in history.