Amazon rainforest cultures in Ecuador
Towns of Historical and Cultural Importance
Archidona, one of the region's first Spanish settlements, dating back to the 16th century, is located ten km. to the north of Tena, in the province of Napo. In addition to offering a variety of artisan handicrafts, Archidona is home to many spots of astonishing natural beauty, such as the Hollín Waterfall. Other important towns in the area are Zamora (founded in 1541), Baeza (1558), and Tena (1560), all three of which are Spanish settlements that share the distinction of surviving the local indigenous attempts to expel the Spaniards who had come to the "Land of Cinnamon" in search of riches.
Handicrafts and Artisan Goods
In Puerto Bolivar, Sucumbios, the indigenous Siona community produces handicrafts such as baskets, crowns, shigras (natural-fiber bags), and hammocks. Other popular handicrafts of the area are necklaces made of seeds and fired ceramics finished with vegetable paints. In the province of Napo, there are various artisan markets that offer crafts produced by different communities. Fiber bags, hammocks, ceramics, arrows, bows, spears, and knives are just some of the products offered to visiting tourists. Puyo, the capital of the province of Pastaza, also has many artisan shops. One of the region's most important monuments is the Macahua, a symbol of the region's artisans. In Macas, in the province of Morona-Santiago, there are many handicraft stores, as well. And in Zamora, in the province of Chinchipe, the locals work to produce spears, fiber bags, hammocks, and seed necklaces, as well as objects made from chonta wood.
In Pastaza, near the city of Puyo, lies the Hola Vida Reserve, from which it is possible to reach the Quichuas' sacred waterfall. In the Indichuris community, it is possible to participate in rituals with a rainforest shaman. In Napo, just a few minutes from Tena, shamans who practice their ancestral traditions dwell in the community of Oriente Quichuas (Venecia Derecha). To reach these spiritual guides, it is necessary to visit nearby Indian communities and contact an experienced native guide.
In the Amazon, there are close to 40 community projects dedicated to ecotourism. In the province of Napo, the Ricancie Project brings together 10 traditional settlements that host tourists. Travelers can participate in different activities such as the preparation of traditional foods alongside native guides and the Quichua inhabitants of the region. Another location is Aacllac, also just a few minutes from Tena. This community is home to a complex network of traditional cabins. Cotococha also offers similar lodging to tourists. Tours organized by local operators include long walks through the jungle boat journeys on the Napo and Curaray Rivers. Further on, in the province of Pastaza, is the Atacapi-Papangu Project. Puyo also possesses similar sites such as the Fatima Reserve, a zoo that is home to various animal species of the Amazon rain forest. Nearby are the Omaere Ethno-Botanicical Park and the Hola Vida Reserve. The two areas offer opportunities to see the flora and fauna of the region, as well as to experience the customs of the indigenous the area's communities. The majority of such destinations house tourists in cabins or as guests in the homes of the indigenous inhabitants. The best way to arrive to such areas is to pre-arrange a tour with one of the travel agencies of Tena or Quito.
Indigenous Ethnic Groups, Amazon tribes
The largest nationalities of the Amazon are the Quichas of the Oriente, who can be found in the provinces of Napo and Pastaza. There are approximately 60,000 such inhabitants in all. They speak the same language as the Quichua of the Sierra, but have different customs and ways of life. The Shuar and Achuar are also present in the provinces of Morona-Santiago and Pastaza. These groups account for some 40,000 natives. The Siona-Secoya are located in Sucumbios. The Huaorani, who live between Orellana and Pastaza, prefer not to interact with tourists. To visit them, it is necessary to first contact the Huaorani Indigenous Organization, ONHAE. Other groups are the Cofán, in Sucumbios, and the Zaparo, in Napo.
Quito the capital of Ecuador, middle of the world and central Andes
Towns of Historical and Cultural Importance
Situated in an Andean valley at 2,850 m above sea level at the foot of Volcano Pichincha (4,794 m), Quito is a modern city with a living history. One of Latin America's most historically important cities, Quito has been declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity site by UNESCO. Noteworthy for its architectural beauty, Quito is home to numerous churches and convents built in the colonial period. The Metropolitan Cathedral, located in Independence Plaza, is one of the city's most impressive historical and architectural sites. Others worthy of mention are the following cathedrals and historical sites: San Francisco, la Compañía de Jesús, San Agustín, Santo Domingo, El Sagrario, La Merced, Carmen Bajo, San Sebastian, Santa Barbara, and San Blas. A large part of their interiors, especially the altars and pulpits, are gilded in gold and house innumerable works of religious art. Some of their museums hold valuable collections of paintings and sculptures belonging to the artistic genre which has been come to known as the Quito School.
Another important building is the Carondelet Palace, the seat of the Central Government. In Quito's historical center, with its steep, narrow, cobblestone streets, the artistic and architectural influence of Spain can be seen in the general architectural style of the homes, their balconies, their tiled roofs, and their interior patios.
The city has its annual festival in December, when festivities such as bullfights, the election of the Queen of Quito, national and international concerts, street dances, and fireworks turn Quito into the site of a national gala for an entire week. The celebrations are in honor of founding of Quito on December 6, 1534 by Sebástian de Benalcázar.
Another colonial area, outside the of Old Town Quito, is the suburb Guápulo. Perched on the eastern slopes of the city, Guapulo's most impressive sight is its famous sanctuary to the Virgin of Guápulo, the oldest sanctuary of its kind in the country.
In the center of the country lies Riobamba, the former Ecuadorian capital. Its colonial surface reveals beautiful churches such as the Cathedral, La Basílica, La Merced, and San Antonio. A rich collection of religious art is on display in El Convento de la Concepción. With its cobbled streets, the city lies alongside majestic snowcapped Chimborazo.
An old railway line, constructed at the beginning of the last century, runs from Quito to the south of the country, passing through Riobamba. Along the way it is possible to view the spectacular Andean Range with its paramos, mountains, forests, flora, and wildlife. Along the way, you'll pass the Devil's Nose (La Nariz del Diablo). Dropping down this hair-raising stretch of track from the height of the Andes to the western lowlands is a thrill for any passenger. This engineering marvel requires going up and down through a series of zig-zags. The spectacular setting is very close to the community of Huigra, in southern Ecuador.
To the north of Quito are the Cochasquí ruins, an archaeological site containing burial grounds that belonged to Quito's first inhabitants. The pyramids were erected with a material called "cangahua". The route leading to this area runs from Guayllabamba to Tabacundo.
Rumicucho is another complex of pre-Incan ruins. It can be found 4 km to the north of San Antonio de Pichincha. El Pucará de Rumicucho was a military fortress used strategically by the Incas in their conquest of the northern Andes. In the Valley de Intag, in Imbabura, you'll find the strategically located Gualimán, a pre-Incan ceremonial site with burial mounds, pyramids, and access ramps. The site is also home to a small museum filled with archaeological vestiges. In nearby Chimbo, in the province of Bolívar, the pyramid-shaped ancient burial grounds at Cerro Zumbi, are an interesting site. Another archeological hot spot is the Punín cementary, 30 minutes outside of Riobamba. Dating back to prehistoric times, Punín is known for housing fossilized remains of animals from the Pleistocene Era. Human remains dating back over 8,000 B.C. have been discovered in the same area in the Chalán Gorge. The area has a museum and also is home to the Sanctuary to the Lord of Chuypi.
The most important indigenous market in Ecuador and in South America can be found in Otavalo, in the province of Imbabura. Dozens of communities congregate in the Plaza de los Ponchos to display their textile works every Saturday. The techniques used to produce the clothing, blankets, and tapestries dates back to colonial times. There are also many other handicrafts offered including naive art, ceramics, personal accessories, jewels, bags, and more. In Saquisilí, in the province of Cotopaxi, there is another market gathering of eight different neighboring communities who offer every class of agricultural products, including cattle and sheep.
Artisan Goods and Handicrafts
Calderón, located 15 minutes from Quito, offers visitors a variety of products handcrafted from bread dough. Small objects and ornaments, smooth and colorful, that represent individuals synonymous with the country as well as other themes are also on sale. They are typically sold along the community's main avenue. Southeast of Ibarra, in the province of Imbabura, we find the small town of Cotocachi. Known as the "Musical Capital of Ecuador", it is also widely visited for its fine leather crafts. Small and large stores in the center of the community offer fine and delicate articles. Weekends are the best time to become familiar with the art of leatherworking. In La Esperanza and Zuleta, close to Ibarra, the woman skillfully produce fine multicolored embroideries. There are also artisans here dedicated to leatherworking.
In Pujilí, in the province of Cotopaxi, the artisans are known for their ceramic painting and glass works. Ambato, the capital of the province of Tungurahua, is well known for the fine leather work of its craftsman. Nearby, is Pelileo, which has become an important industrial town, in addition to being a center of handcraft production. Pelileo's central attraction are the Salasaca Indians, who produce ornamental tapestries with wool and natural fiber. Today, San Pedro de Pelileo is most widely known for its production of denim clothes. In Bolívar we find San José de Chimbo, 20 km from Guaranda, widely known for its manufacture of guitars. Its woodworkers also participate in the construction of fireworks displays. Guano, 10 minutes from Riobamba, is an important artisan center for woolen textiles. The area's speciality is the production of rugs and carpets. Forty six km away is Guamote, with its rich artisan production of wool and natural fiber. Another textile and ceramics center is Alausí. Two hours away from theRiobamba, the town boasts a high level of commercial activity.
Several distinct indigenous groups all live in the Andean region. The Awá is Carchi's most prominent group. The Tsáschilas inhabit vast regions in both Pichincha and in Manabí. The Quichuas, the Andes largest single indigenous group, live primarily in the provinces of Imbabura, Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, and Bolívar. The major sub-groups of the Quichua are the Otavalos, Cayambes, Chibuleos, and Panzaleos. Of these groups, the Otavalos are the most well known, in Ecuador and internationally, due to their extensive textile industry.
Cuenca and the South Andes of Ecuador
Towns of Historical and Cultural Importance
Surrounded by mountains, traversed by four rivers, and home to beautiful 14th- and 15th- century architecture, Cuenca surprised nobody when it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In the Old Town, you will find Parque Calderón and other colonial parks and plazas, neighborhoods that date back to the first days of the Spanish conquest of the area, and religious art museums showcasing some of Ecuador's most impressive artwork. Also to be admired in this area are architecturally impressive buildings and churches such as the Old and New Cathedrals, Santo Domingo, San Sebastián, and San Blas, to name but a few. The city is also famous for hosting the International Art Fair. The most impressive of the city's many museums are as follows: Banco Central, Casa de la Cultura, Conceptas Convent, Remigio Crespo Toral, Artes Populares de América, Arte Moderno, and Instituto Azuayo de Folclore. With so much cultural heritage to offer the tourist, it's no surprise that Cuenca was chosen as the Cultural Capital of the Americas in 2002.
There are several ways to reach the Ingapirca - or the Temple of the Sun - located in Cañar. The Inca Trail is a walk that can take three days. It begins in the town of Achupallas, 25 km from Alausí. To undertake this journey it is important to bring the appropriate camping equipment. The help of a guide or a specialized travel agency can be especially useful, as well. Along the route, the hiker encounters great geographical variation - Mapahuiña hill, Las Tres Cruces Lake, the Quilloloma Hill, and the rock faces of Paredones de Culebrillas. The final destination is the village of Ingapirca with its ancestral ruins.
Built with perfectly shaped stones and natural mortar, Ingapirca, 53 km from Azogues, is the most important archaeological complex in Ecuador. It is located in the province of Cañar. The elliptically shaped "Templo del Sol", or Temple of the Sun, was the center of the ceremonies and rituals of the Cañari-Inca culture. It also had a variety of strategic military purposes. The ruins are made up of a cemetery, solar observatory, pathways, storerooms, priests' quarters, and an indigenous square.
Also located in the proximity of Cañar, Necrópolis watches over ancient pieces of ceramics characterized by serpent figures. The site is an old cemetery of the Cañari culture.
In Azuay, there are other vestiges of the same culture such as Todos Santos and Pumapungo, the latter being a site which reveals a complex of religious passageways leading to a special room for chosen women, storage areas, a sun temple, a mausoleum, and Incan gardens. All are connected with an exterior palace, the Residencia del Cacique. Thirty sculptures have been recovered from the site as well as offering wells. There is a also a museum located where various canals merge with intermediate pools and internal constructions that connect with Todos Santos.
Another site of archeological interest is the Chobshi Ruins' Cave. It houses inscriptions and paintings in the designs of quadrangular constructions of various sizes surrounding one another and protected by a stone wall.
Cuenca offers urban handicrafts in a rural setting - finely moulded, and rustically hand-decorated ceramics; outfits embroidered with multicolored threads; baskets of reed and bulrush; metal panel works; textiles; forged ironworks; straw hats; and fine filigree works of gold. These artisans exhibit their wares on las Herrerías street, in Rotary and Otorongo Squares, and in the neighborhood of la Convención del Cuarenta y Cinco. In Santiago de Gualaceo, there are Sunday fairs that offer diverse handicrafts (gold-work, basket-weaving, shoe-making, straw articles, ceramics, and embroidery).
Artisan Goods and Handicrafts
Cañar's capital city of Azogues, is well known for its production of paja toquilla (a variety of straw) hats, ceramics, and textiles. In Déleg, 25 km away, you can find colored handicrafts such as shigras (fiber bags), sashes, and ponchos of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Jatumpamba, in San Miguel de Porotos, is another place in the region where craftsman produce red ceramic utensils. The town of Chordeleg, on the other hand, is more known for its production of fine filigree as well as for its high-quality necklaces, pendants, rings, bracelets, and a variety of other accessories handcrafted from gold and silver. The town is also a small hub for ceramic production and sales, as well.
Another canton of Cuenca is San Bartolomé, where the locals manufacture guitars, mandolins, etc. San Fernando, also in the province of Azuay, stands out for its production of ponchos and blankets. In San Juan Bautista de Pucará, in the Nabón and Oña sectors, skilled artisans work with wheat stalks. In Loja, the tailoring of the indigenous skirts and pressed hats is an attraction. There are also woodcrafts, ceramic, reed baskets, and musical instruments made of wood.
In the southern region, you'll notice the presence of another part of the native Quichua population. It is divided between the Cañaris - an indomitable, valiant race who inhabit the Cañar Province - and the Saraguros, who conserve their identity in their lineage and customs. The Saraguros, one of the most important indigenous groups in America, have achieved great economic success due to their impressive work ethic.
Culture in the Pacific coast lowlands of Ecuador
Towns of Historical & Cultural Importance
Although the Pacific Coast may not be home to cities as well known for their cultural heritage as the cities of the Andes, the Coast is home to many sites where the history of centuries past lives on. A good example of one of the Coast's more colorful cultural heritage hot spots would be Guayaquil's colonial Las Peñas sector. Another great example of the Coast's rich cultural heritage is Vinces, in the province of Los Ríos. Known as "Little Paris", this area is famous for its colonial estates which once belonged to the area's rich cocoa growers. Another coastal spot of great cultural importance is the is Zaruma, located in the province of El Oro, in southern Ecuador. A tranquil village home to an abundance of impressive colonial architecture, Zaruma has been a National Heritage Site. Seven kilometers outside of Zaruma and eighty km from Machala, is Portovelo, a town known for being the home of the nation's oldest gold mines as well as displaying its beautiful colonial architecture. Another town displaying equally exquisite architecture is Piñas, 65 km from the city of Machala.
One of the nation's most impressive archeological sites is the island of Tolita, in northern Esmeraldas. This impressive site dates back to pre-Columbian eras and contains artifacts from some of Ecuador's earliest cultures. Some of the archeological finds Tolita indicate that the aboriginal cultures that inhabited the island worked with platinum centuries before the Europeans did. Apart from the archeological finds which abound on the island's beaches, Tolita is also home an archeological museum run by the community. Moreover, arriving in Tolita via motorboat from San Lorenzo, crossing the sea and passing thriving mangroves, is a treat in and of itself.
Another one of the Coast's more impressive archeological sites can be found along the central Ecuadorian Coast. Here, set amongst the beautiful backdrop of Machalilla National Park, we find Agua Blanca, a site containing vestiges of a settlement of the Manteño period which was home to an estimated 5,000 residents. According to researchers, Agua Blanca was once Salangome, the capital of an area which, in its most prosperous area, was home to more than 600 hundred buildings - remnants of which can still be seen with the help of a local guide. All in all, Machalilla is home to over 500 sites of archeological importance and interest.
Outside of Machalilla, another point of archeological interest is the valley of Julcuy. Among its many historical riches is an artificial ceremonial mound of the Valdivia-Machalilla epoch, almost 5,000 years ago.
Nearby Salango, with an archeological museum dedicated to the area's marine culture as well as the history of southwestern Manabí and its former societies, is another site of cultural interest.
In the province of Guayas, Valdivia stands out for its archaeological riches. Remains of this culture are found in communities throughout the region.
Artisan Products and Handicrafts
Unbeknownst to most, Manabí, Ecuador, is the center of production of straw hats known internationally as "Panama Hats". Here, you can witness the craftsmen of these fine hats at work, weaving the product using the a process that dates back centuries. Montecristi and Jipijapa are the most well known selling outlets for locally produced hats, bags, chairs, and other accessories and furniture. A visit to the artisan centers where these products are made offers an insight into the vast richness of a culture dating back centuries. Another famous center in the same province is La Pila, where artisans make sculptures of various themes and also replicate pre-Colombian ceramics.
In the province of Esmeraldas, we find the indigenous groups of the Chachi o Cayapa (seven thousand inhabitants), and the Awá. Their official languages are Cha´palaa and Awapit respectively. The Awá share territory with the Carchi Province. Their population is close to four thousand inhabitants. In Guayas, are the Huancavilcas, another indigenous community.
Galapagos Islands Culture - Scientific Tourism and Travel in the Galapagos Islands
Ecuadorian and foreign scientists are at work constantly in Puerto Ayora, on the Islands of Santa Cruz, doing research and developing projects for the preservation of reptile, bird, and plant species. The Charles Darwin Research Station, created in 1959, carries out educational projects while helping to serve the Galapagos National Park. The station's primary programs focus on the conservation of natural resources, at the same time implementing other initiatives to help with the management of flora and fauna in the area, including programs to help manage the extraction of natural resources. Other programs run by the station are related to environmental education, marine resources, and marine agriculture, mainly through control and vigilance. The center's objective is to maintain the delicate habitat of the area while permitting tourists to experience the unique and endemic species of this protected Reserve that, in the 19th century, served as home to pirates and buccaneers in search of food, water, and shelter.
Ecuador's colonial roots are not confined to the history books, they are visible in everyday life even after almost two hundred years of independence from Spain.
Four key themes remain essential to understanding Ecuador:
First, the vast majority of the nation's wealth sits in the hands of a very few, a diminutive middle class struggles to survive, and more than half of the country's population exists at or below the poverty level. Ecuador's highly inequitable economic and social structure can be traced to colonial era racial discrimination and land tenure patterns, and to its dominant European cultural expressions.
Second, the large-scale, export-oriented agricultural enterprises of Ecuador's coastal region, represented by Guayaquil, continue to compete with the smaller farms and businesses of the Andean highlands, represented by Quito. This persistent regional rivalry often determines the outcome of key national issues and frequently paralyzes the government.
Third, the economy continues to enjoy periods of "boom" and suffer periods of "bust" on account of its reliance on a few export commodities. The constant rise and fall of the economy makes it very difficult for Ecuador to realize any meaningful economic, social or political changes. It seems that just when something is about to change for the better, the country enters a period of economic decline. Finding a way to break the boom-bust cycle is imperative to the stabilization of the countries economy, political system, and to the advancement of social reform.
Fourth, the political system lacks strong, stable institutions. Since achieving independence there have been more than ninety changes of power. On average, every two years a new civilian or military government takes control. Governmental institutions, without opportunity to mature, have been unable to address Ecuador's constantly re-emerging problems. Ecuador's lack of a stable political system is both the result and cause of the nation's disparate class structure, regionalism, and roller coaster economy.
The new millenium holds as much challenge for Ecuador as it does promise. Social change, economic growth, the healing of regional wounds, and the stabilization of its political system can only be achieved if Ecuador considers and learns from its past.
Sources: Ecuador Ministry of Tourism vivecuador.com
Amazon rainforest cultures in Ecuador