This week we’re back to South America as we explore an intriguing country shaped by the history of two great empires. Welcome to Ecuador.
- Ecuador Capital: Quito
- Largest City in Ecuador: Guayaquil
- Ecuador Population (2016): 16,550,829 (67th)
- Total Area of Ecuador: 283,560 km² (75th)
- Official Language of Ecuador: Spanish
- Ecuador Currency: US dollar ($) (USD)
History of Ecuador
Long before the Spanish ever arrived, Ecuador was populated by a number of different tribes. There was interaction and some consolidation of territory, but for the most part the region was divided between the separate groups. This all changed when the Incas came calling. Though it took a couple generations to complete, the vast Inca Empire eventually absorbed highland Ecuador. Some tribes both along the coast and in the Amazon were able to hold the Inca forces back and remain relatively independent.
Arrival of the Spanish
As is the story with much of South America, the Spanish arrived in the 16th century. The combination of the Spaniards conquistador-led armies and disease led to the collapse of the Inca Empire, and the subsequent forceful use of the native population as Spanish labour. In the year 1563, Quito was named the centre of the Spanish administrative district as a part of a larger viceroyalty. Though the Spanish ruled from Quito for nearly three centuries, it remained a relatively small settlement.
In 1820 the first Ecuadorian city gained independence (the coastal Guayaquil). Over the next two years, the Ecuadorian War of Independence was fought, which resulted in the secession of Ecuador from Spain. After 8 years as part of Gran Colombia (which included Colombia, Venezuela, and Panama), Ecuador formally separated in 1830 – becoming a self-governing country.
The Rocky Road
A chaotic political scene characterized the rest of the 19th century. This included a revolving door of rulers as well as drawn-out territorial disputes with neighbours (including Peru and Colombia). Some of these disputes erupted into full-blown conflicts including a Peruvian occupation (which resulted in the temporary loss of Guayaquil) as well as the Ecuadorian-Peruvian War in 1941 (also known as the War of ’41). It wasn’t until 1998 when a formal peace agreement was reached, ending the long-running dispute once and for all.
Military Junta and Democracy
Amidst all this, a military coup took place in 1972 led by General Guillermo Rodríquez. Rodríquez’s rule lasted four years before he too was ousted in a military coup. The Supreme Council (who led the country) shortly turned back towards democracy, and held elections just three short years later in 1979. Though it hasn’t always been smooth, democracy has persisted in the country since that election. Under the (domestically) popular President Rafael Correa, Ecuador looks set to tackle some of the long-standing economic and social issues in the country.
Most of the population of Ecuador is mestizo, meaning mixed descent of European (generally Spanish) and Amerindian. This is reflected in the country’s culture as a whole. Some common cultural traits of Ecuador include staunch Roman Catholicism, prevalence of the Spanish language (alongside several nationally recognized indigenous languages), and a long musical history – particularly around the Latin genre of pasillo.
Regionalism in Ecuador
Division between the different regions and cities in Ecuador is a strongly entrenched trait, which impacts everything from society to the economy. Those on the coast generally dislike those in the mountains (and vice versa), a divide which goes back generations. In addition, the country’s two main cities of Guayaquil and Quito share a mutual enmity, while other parts of the country dislike these cities due to their perceived centralism.
Flag of Ecuador
The Ecuadorian flag is known as La Tricolor (The Tricolor), and consists of a long yellow band covering half the flag with a smaller blue and red band underneath. In the centre is the coat of arms, which was added in 1900. The different colours each represent something important to Ecuador. Yellow denotes crops and fertile land, blue is the sky and ocean, while red represents the blood of those who fought for Ecuador.
One of the main distinguishing features of Ecuadorian cuisine and food culture is that lunch is considered the most important meal instead of dinner. As far as the cuisine itself goes, it varies from region to region. Meats such as beef, chicken, pork, and guinea pig are popular in the mountains, while other areas have their own staples (including the yuca plant in the Amazon). In general however, many meals are served in two parts – a soup and a rice platter.
Sports in Ecuador
Soccer is the most popular sport in Ecuador though baseball, volleyball, basketball, and tennis are also followed. The men’s national team struggled for a while but has grown considerably stronger over the last decade or so. They qualified for the World Cup in 2002, 2006 (where they made the knockout round), and 2014. Their most famous contemporary player is Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia.
Geography of Ecuador
Ecuador is the 5th smallest country in South America, though it features a wide array of geographic features within its borders. The country is divided into four different distinct regions. There’s La Costa (the coast) which is all the land west of the Andes along the, well…the coast. La Sierra (the highlands) is the Andean and other mountainous regions in the middle of the country. To the east is La Amazonía (also known as El Oriente or ‘the east’), which is unsurprisingly made up of the country’s Amazon rainforest territories. Lastly, there is La Región Insular, consisting of the Galápagos Islands about 1,000 kilometres off the Pacific coast of Ecuador.
Cities in Ecuador
Quito is the capital of Ecuador (as well as its 2nd most populous city). It is found in La Sierra at an elevation of 2,850 metres. Quito is renowned for its well-preserved and picturesque historic architecture and city centre. The largest city in Ecuador is Guayaquil, which is found in La Costa where the Guayas River leads into the Pacific Ocean. As such, it is the country’s most important port. The two cities share a mutual distrust and rivalry that dates back generations.
Facts about Ecuador
- Quito is the world’s highest (official) capital city
- Ecuador is named for the equator
- In 2008, Ecuador recognized the right of nature to exist
- ‘War’ with Peru lasted more than 100 years until the 1998 peace agreement
- It is the most biodiverse country in the world
- The Galápagos Islands and Quito were among the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1978
- The Panama hat comes from Ecuador
- Literate Ecuadorians between the ages of 18 and 65 are required to vote
- Crocodiles nearly 20 feet long can be found in Ecuador
- Ecuador is the world’s leading banana exporter
Our journey is just beginning! Join us later this week as we travel from the coast to the Andes and back down to the wilds of the Amazon in our Travel Guide.
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