The smallest country of this Andes Overland journey is the Republic of Ecuador. Straddling the equator in western South America, Ecuador has territories in both the Northern and the Southern hemispheres. It borders Colombia to the north and Peru to the south and east. The Pacific Ocean is Ecuador’s western border. The capital of Ecuador is Quito however the most populated city is Guayaquil. Other important cities are Cuenca, Santo Domingo and Machala. Ecuador, 256,370 square kilometers in size, is split into 24 provinces, which, in turn, are split into 221 cantons. We can divide this beautiful Latino country in four regions: the Amazon, the Andes, the Pacific Coast and the Galapagos, with each its own climate, populations, flora and fauna. During this tour we are going to explore the Andes and the Amazon, two beautiful regions of all Ecuador has to offer.
The Andes Mountain Range crosses the country from north to the south. The Occidental and the Oriental Ranges are born from this mountain system as it divides the province of Loja, forming plains and valleys along the Andean Corridor. The Highlands Regions, commonly referred to as La Sierra, is made up of ten provinces, each of which have important peaks such as Chimborazo, the Illinizas, Cotopaxi, Cayambe, and Antisana. The highest peaks are found in central and northern Ecuador. Going from the Andes to the Amazon is quite a change of landscapes, weather and vegetation. The Amazon Region and its five provinces can be geographically divided into two sub regions: the High Amazon and the Amazon Lowlands. The Highlands comprise the Andean foothills which gradually descend to the Amazon Basin. Here we can find the Napo, Galeras, Cutucú, and Cóndor ranges. The Lowlands, to be found further to the east, are home to some of the nation’s most beautiful and important rivers: the Putumayo, the Napo, and the Pastaza. The beautiful adventurous surrounding of the Napo River is worth a visit and included in our tour.
Ecuador has always known different indigenous cultures. Most of them lived on the coast and in the highlands. The most famous were the rough Caras on the coast and the more peaceful Quitus in the Andes. Eventually the Caras won from the Quitus and they continued as the Shyri’s, named after their leader.
In the 15h century the Inca’s came from Peru to Ecuador where their leader Huayna Capac died in 1529. As a result of his dead the Inca empire got divided in two parts of which each part was bequeathed to one of his sons. One of them. Atahualpa, got the northern part in which Quito was the capital. In 1534, the Spaniards conquered Ecuador, they killed thousands of Inca soldiers and established the “very noble and loyal” city of San Francisco de Quito, which is still Quito’s official name. The Spaniards formed a new elite group while the indigenous population shrunk of weakness because of the hard work they were forced to execute. After 300 years, the freedom fighters defeated the Spaniards and conquered Ecuador which got reunited with the Republic of Great – Colombia of Simon Bolivar. However, 8 years later in 1830, Ecuador became and independent republic.
The nineteenth century was another period of instability, though finally the economy grew due to the increasing export of cacao which continued until the beginning of the twentieth century. During this century different dictatorial regimes were in power and a democracy seemed impossible attributable to the great amount of oil the country possessed. 1979 the contrary was proven and the first democratic government was born. Despite the efforts of several presidents to dispute corruption improvement of the economy remained out. Currently, with Rafael Correa as president of the country of Ecuador, the economic system has known economic growth and the social system improved.
Populations, language and religion
Ethnically, Ecuador is characterized by a mixture of (indigenous) cultures. In the three continental regions live 15 indigenous nationalities, each with their own traditions and worldview. The most famous indigenous nationalities of the Amazon are: Huaorani, Achuar, Shuar, Cofán, Siona-Sequoia, Shiwiar and zaparo. Some of them are, by the State indicated as “intangible”, because they live in voluntary isolation from the civilized world.
The most indigenous communities are integrated into the established culture, but some communities have retained their own use, especially those who live in the far reaches of the country. Then there are the Afro-Ecuadorians, mainly on the north coast in the province of Esmeraldas and the Chota Valley, who live between the provinces of Imbabura and Carchi. Exact numbers are hard to give, since a lot of people were not registered. An estimation is that mestizos (a mixture of Spanish and indigenous) make up 65% of the population, 25% would be indigenous and about 10% of the population are white descendants of the Spaniards or descendants of their African slaves.
Spanish is the main language throughout Ecuador, although most highland Indians are bilingual, with Quichua being their preferred language, while Spanish is only learned in schools. Most Native Americans in Ecuador became converts to the Roman Catholic faith during the years following on the conquest of South America by the Spanish. Recently, however, there has been a resurgence of native belief systems as the indigenous people reclaim their identity and voice. Native religions as ”Pacha Mama” (Mother Earth) emphasize the harmonious co-existence with nature.