Ecuador is a tiny country by South American standards, evidence if proof were needed that the best things come in small packages. Bisected by the equator, one part lying in the southern hemisphere and the other in the northern, it’s the smallest of the Andean nations and it is a sort of South America in miniature, a microcosm of everything that is exceptional and appealing about this fascinating continent.
Tucked between Colombia to the northeast, Peru to the south and east and bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, Ecuador manages to hold its own against these heavyweights, by being compact, with a good infrastructure, and small enough to travel round easily. It has such an extraordinary geographical and biological diversity that all itineraries make for excellent excursions. In a single days’ drive it’s possible to breakfast on exotic jungle fruits and then drive from the Amazon and the heavily forested interior, across a range of volcanoes, through verdant cloud forest to arrive on the Pacific coast in time to dine on fresh, exquisite seafood.
It was this diversity that initially attracted early scientists and explorers, including Charles Darwin. These days you don’t have to be a pioneer or an academic to appreciate everything that you’re seeing and discovering for yourself. This is especially true if you get off the beaten path, Although the main cities boast contemporary facilities and a wide range of hotels, cafés, restaurants and bars, Ecuador is essentially still a wild, natural, culturally authentic place.
It is a land divided into three distinct geological regions – Costa, Sierra and Oriente. These regions seem like three different planets squeezed into one tiny country. In addition, Ecuador controls the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago that is even more like a distant universe.
The Andes range runs through the centre of the country, with the highest peak towering well above 6,000m (19,685ft). Still, the country is full of startling contrasts in scenery and landscape, boasting tropical rainforests, windswept highlands, snow-capped volcanoes and palm-fringed beaches. What’s more, all of these are within easy reach of the capital, Quito.
Quito itself is one of the tourist centres of South America. The second highest capital, it boasts a spectacular location and has UNESCO World Heritage status. Smaller towns such as Guayaquil, Cuenca, Otavalo and Banos have an even more authentic atmosphere and a multitude of attractions and reasons to tarry. As you travel, look out for attractive colonial architecture, colourful indigenous markets or traditional fiestas and archaeological sites that hint at the country’s rich history.
Ecuador has lots of national parks and reserves, and is one of the richest places for birdlife in the world. The Galapagos are also a world-class wildlife destination, making the country as a whole ideal for eco-tourists.
Ideal for birdwatching and nature tourism, Ecuador also has superb diving and snorkelling on offer. For those that want to remain on dry land there are some exceptional treks and breathtaking climbs. Explore the country on two wheels or four hooves; choose to raft, kayak, surf or paraglide. Whatever adventures you seek out, you’ll certainly find them in Ecuador.
Sports and natureHaving so much untamed wilderness within easy striking distance of major population centres, Ecuador is a superb destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Traditionally it’s been a target for climbers, boasting ten volcanoes over 5000m, including the beautifully symmetrical Cotopaxi, and the point furthest from the centre of the Earth, the summit of Chimborazo. Ecuador has been making a name for itself in international rafting and kayaking circles and has a broad range of exciting runs packed into a small area. Hiking, mountain biking, surfing, diving, fishing and horseriding are all also widely available. Birdwatching is one of the biggest draws, with Ecuador’s extraordinary biodiversity supporting more than 1600 bird species, almost a fifth of the world’s total.
NightlifeA comprehensive info on Ecuador entertainment, bars, nightlife, restaurants and theaters in Quito, Cuenca, Guayaquil, Banos and Riobamba. Ecuador is full of interesting places, where one can easily pass many hours enjoying the entertainment that can be found in major cities of Ecuador. There are a wide range of bars, cafes and clubs all over Ecuador. Quito and tourist spots in Ecuador hava some of the most popular clubs in the country. Whatever type of bar or club you are looking for, you will find it in Ecuador.
Culture and historyThe land of fire and ice certainly has a tumultuous history. Since becoming an independent nation in 1830, Ecuador has gone through nearly 100 changes in government and 20 constitutions – the most recent drafted in 2008. Fueling the Andean nation’s volatility are rivalries both internal (conservative, church-backed Quito versus liberal, secular Guayaquil) and external (border disputes with Peru). Ecuador’s varied peoples have seen the rise and fall of leaders great and small, who have left a mixed legacy in this Andean nation. For scholars, the unsung heroes of Ecuadorian history are its resilient indigenous groups, descendents of some of the great cultures that once flourished in the Americas. Early Cultures Although the majority of indigenous people today live in the highlands and the Oriente, in pre-Spanish (and pre-Inca) times the coastline supported the densest concentration of peoples. The coastal cultures of La Tolita, Bahía, Manta, Valdivia and Machalilla are paramount to Ecuadorian identity, their importance in many ways even eclipsing the Inca, who didn’t arrive in present-day Ecuador until a half century before the Spanish. It’s now generally accepted that Ecuador was populated by people migrating west from Brazil, who were drawn to the habitable landscapes along the shore. Ecuador’s first permanent sedentary culture was the Valdivia, which developed along the Santa Elena Peninsula more than 5500 years ago. One of the oldest settled cultures in the Americas, the Valdivia are famous for their finely wrought pottery, particularly the ‘Venus of Valdivia.’ These were feminine ceramic figurines with exaggerated breasts and genitalia, depicted in various stages of pregnancy and childbirth. They were likely used in fertility rituals. While the Valdivia was the first of Ecuador’s settled cultures, the Chorrera was the most widespread and influential of the groups that appeared during this so-called Formative Period (4000 BC to 300 BC). Both the Chorrera and the Machalilla culture (which inhabited southern Manabí and the Santa Elena Peninsula from 1500 BC to 800 BC) are known for the practice of skull deformation. As a form of status, they used stones to slowly elongate and flatten their craniums, and they often removed two front teeth to further enhance their appearance. Beginning sometime around 600 BC, societies became more stratified: they were ruled by an elite caste of shamans and merchants who conducted highly valued long-distance trade. These included the Bahía, Jama-Coaque, Guangala and La Tolita cultures on the coast and the Panzaleo in the highlands. It is likely the Panzaleo was the first culture to practice the technique of tzantza (shrinking heads) for which the Shuar of the southern Oriente are much more famous (they practiced it until the mid-20th century). Slowly, beginning probably around AD 800, cultures became integrated into larger, more hierarchical societies. These included the Manteños, the Huancavilcas and the Caras on the coast; the Quitus (from which the city of Quito takes its name) of the northern highlands; the Puruhá of the central highlands; and the Cañari of the area around present-day Cuenca. Around the end of the 1st century AD, the expansionist Caras of the coast conquered the peaceful Quitus of the highlands and the combined cultures became collectively known as the Quitu-Caras, or the Shyris. They were the dominant force in the Ecuadorian highlands until about the 1300s, when the Puruhá of the central highlands became increasingly powerful. The third important culture was the Cañari, further south. These were the cultures the Inca encountered when it began its expansion into the north. The Inca Empire Until the early 15th century, the Inca Empire was concentrated around Cuzco in Peru. That changed dramatically during the rule of Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, whose expansionist policies set into motion the creation of the vast Inca Empire, Tahuantinsuyo, meaning ‘Land of the Four Quarters’ in Quechua. By the time the Inca reached Ecuador they were under the rule of Tupac Yupanqui, Pachacuti’s successor, and were met with fierce resistance. The Cañari put up a resolute defense against the Inca, and it took some years for Tupac Yupanqui to subdue them and turn his attention to the north, where he was met with even greater resistance. At one point, the Cañari drove the invading army all the way back to Saraguro. When they were finally overcome, the Inca massacred thousands of Caras and dumped them into a lake near Otavalo, which supposedly turned the waters red and gave the lake its name, Laguna Yaguarcocha (Lake of Blood). The subjugation of the north took many years, during which the Inca Tupac fathered a son with a Cañari princess. The son, Huayna Capac, grew up in Ecuador and succeeded his father to the Inca throne. He spent years traveling throughout his empire, from Bolivia to Ecuador, constantly suppressing uprisings from all sides. Wherever possible, he strengthened his position by marriage and in the process produced two sons: Atahualpa, who grew up in Quito, and Huáscar, who was raised in Cuzco. When Huayna Capac died in 1526 he left his empire not to one son, as was traditional, but to two. Thus the Inca Empire was divided for the first time – an event that fatefully coincided with the mystifying appearance of a group of bearded men on horseback in present-day Esmeraldas province. They were the first Spaniards in Ecuador, led south by the pilot Bartolomé Ruiz de Andrade on an exploratory mission for Francisco Pizarro, who remained, for the time being, further north. Meanwhile, the rivalry between Huayna Capac’s two sons worsened, and the Inca nation broke into civil war. After several years of fighting, Atahualpa finally defeated Huáscar near Ambato and was thus the sole ruler of the weakened and still-divided Inca Empire when Pizarro arrived in 1532 with plans to conquer the Incas. The Spanish Conquest Pizarro’s advance was rapid and dramatic. His horseback-riding, armorwearing, cannon-firing conquistadors were believed to be godlike, and although they were few in number, they spread terror among the local people. In late 1532, a summit meeting was arranged between Pizarro and Atahualpa. Although Atahualpa was prepared to negotiate with the Spaniards, Pizarro had other ideas. When the Inca arrived at the prearranged meeting place (Cajamarca, in Peru) on November 16, the conquistadors captured him and massacred most of his poorly armed guards. Atahualpa was held for ransom, and incalculable quantities of gold, silver and other valuables poured into Cajamarca. Instead of being released when the ransom was paid, however, the Inca was put through a sham trial and sentenced to death. Atahualpa was charged with incest (marrying one’s sister was traditional in the Inca culture), polygamy, worship of false gods and crimes against the king, and he was executed on August 29, 1533. His death effectively brought the Inca Empire to an end. When Atahualpa was executed, his war-general Rumiñahui was supposedly on his way to Cajamarca with large quantities of gold and treasure as ransom for the Inca. Legend has it that, upon hearing of Atahualpa’s death, Rumiñahui stashed the treasure in the impenetrable mountains of present-day Parque Nacional Llanganates; it has never been found. Rumiñahui then continued to fight against the Spaniards for two more years. The general was so fierce that according to legend he dealt with a Spanish collaborator (and possible heir to Atahualpa’s throne) by murdering him, breaking all the bones in his body to bits, extracting them through a hole, and stretching the body – with head and appendages intact – into a drum. By the time Pizarro’s lieutenant, Sebastián de Benalcázar, had finally battled his way to Quito in late 1534, he found the city razed to the ground by Rumiñahui, who preferred to destroy the city rather than leave it in the hands of the conquistadors. Quito was refounded on December 6, 1534, and Rumiñahui was finally captured, tortured and executed in January 1535. Despite the Inca’s short presence in Ecuador ( just over 100 years), they left a indelible mark on the country. Quechua (now Quichua in Ecuador) was imposed on the population and is still spoken today by a quarter of all Ecuadorians. The Inca built a vast system of roads that connected Cuzco in the south with Quito in the north, and part of the ‘royal highway’ – the Inca trail to Ingapirca – can still be hiked today. Ingapirca itself is Ecuador’s most important Inca archelogical site and has splendid examples of the Inca’s mortarless stonework. The Colonial Era From 1535, the colonial era proceeded with no major uprisings by indigenous Ecuadorians. Francisco Pizarro made his brother Gonzalo the governor of Quito in 1540. During the first centuries of colonial rule, Lima, Peru, was the seat of Ecuador’s political administration. Originally a gobernación (province), in 1563 Ecuador became the Audiencia de Quito (a more important political division), which in 1739 was transferred from the viceroyalty of Peru to the viceroyalty of Colombia (then known as Nueva Grenada). Ecuador remained a peaceful colony throughout this period, and agriculture and the arts flourished. New products such as cattle and bananas were introduced from Europe, which remain important in Ecuador today. Churches and monasteries were constructed atop every sacred indigenous site and were decorated with unique carvings and paintings that blended Spanish and indigenous artistic influences. This so-called Escuela Quiteña (Quito School of Art), still admired by visitors today, left an indelible stamp on the colonial buildings of the time and Ecuador’s unique art history. Life was comfortable for the ruling colonialists, but the indigenous people (and later the mestizos, people of mixed Spanish and indigenous descent) were treated abysmally under their rule. A system of forced labor was not only tolerated but encouraged, and by the 18th century there were several indigenous uprisings against the Spanish ruling classes. Social unrest, as well as the introduction of cocoa and sugar plantations in the northwest, prompted landowners to import African slave laborers. Much of the rich Afro-Ecuadorian culture found in Esmeraldas province today is a legacy of this period. Independence The first serious attempt to liberate Ecuador from Spanish rule was by a partisan group led by Juan Pío Montúfar on August 10, 1809. The group managed to take Quito and install a government, which lasted only 24 days before royalist troops (loyal to Spain) regained control. Independence was finally achieved by Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan liberator who marched southward from Caracas, freed Colombia in 1819 and supported the people of Guayaquil when they claimed independence on October 9, 1820. It took almost two years before Ecuador was entirely liberated from Spanish rule. The decisive battle was fought on May 24, 1822, when one of Bolívar’s finest officers, Mariscal (Field Marshal) Antonio José de Sucre, defeated the royalists at the Battle of Pichincha and took Quito. This battle is commemorated at a stunningly situated monument on the flanks of Volcán Pichincha, overlooking the capital. Bolívar’s idealistic dream was to form a united South America, and he began by amalgamating Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador into the independent nation of Gran Colombia. This lasted only eight years, with Ecuador becoming fully independent in 1830. In the same year, a treaty was signed with Peru, drawing up a boundary between the two nations; this boundary is the one shown on all Ecuadorian maps prior to 1999. The border had been redrawn in 1942 after a war between Ecuador and Peru, but was not officially acknowledged by Ecuadorian authorities until a peace treaty was signed with Peru in late 1998.
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