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Architecture

In a very real sense, the history of Ecuador possesses a vast architectural heritage. Particularly the historic centers of Quito and Cuenca still maintain the colonial homes, churches and buildings. Quito has the highest concentration of pre-modern architecture of all of South America, which was declared by Unesco in 1978 as the First Cultural Patrimony of Humanity. Later on in 2000 this same honor was awarded to the city of Cuenca. All of this drives the country to be recognised internationally as a touristic destination. Additionally existing are impressive architectural monuments, which are worthy of being visited.
The first artistic manifestation that reached the New World started with the construction of the Conquistadors’ homes, made the European way with brick, adobe, stone, wood and tile. Later on the religious architecture appeared, with convents constructed by Iberian architects with anonymous contribution from the indigenous people.
In the XVI century the Church of the Veracruz or Belén was constructed; in the XVII century the Merced, Arco de Santo Domingo, San Francisco, San Diego and San Agustín temples were built. What stands out the most about these temples to local and visitors alike are their beautiful fachadas (fronts), like stone jewels of a classic style, with Ionian, Dorian and Corinthian columns. Prevailing in these is the Baroque style.
The Historic Center of Quito is the largest in America. It hosts churches, chapels, monasteries and colonial convents, squares, museums and charming indoor patios, republican buildings and interesting architecture from the beginning of the XX century, as well as notable contemporary works which make this a place of enormous historic, architectural and esthetic value.
Quito itself is a grand sight. It is at a height of 2,800 meters above sea-level. Not just that, but its natural geography seems to have been designed so that the city could be admired from any vantage point. And if this wasn’t enough, its architecture also is just as strategic to ensure to never take away one’s gaze from this rather flirtatious capital.

Art

Ecuador is also an excellent place to experiment Art and has been for many centuries. During the colonial period, the Quito School of Art had a special style, which reflects the mix and the clashing of cultures which occurred during the colonization, with clear indigenous touches which incorporate religious Catholic works. Quito is the native city of the known artist Oswaldo Guayasamín, whose art also has a clear touch of Latin America. Furthermore, there are many artesanal markets in all of Ecuador, where both new and old crafts of the indigenous communities are exposed. Since times immemorial, the crafts created by deft and able hands, passed on from generation to generation, have been an essential component of what is known as the “cultura popular” (popular culture). In Ecuador, this cultural manifestation reflects the country’s traditions: enigmatic, at times pure and mixed, urban and rural, unique and commercial.

Craftsmanship
This are linked to the elaboration of clothing and utilities for the diverse indigenous and countryman nationalities of the Mountain Range, Coast, and West. This has to do with the ancestral knowledge of the use of natural dyes, cloth instruments, decorations and confectionery. The main products are corsets, cloths, ponchos, quilts, hammocks, saddlebags, sacks, scarves, sombreros, jewels, musical instruments, etc. These products are commercialized in popular markets such as Otavalo, Riobamba, Cañar, Saraguro, etc., and are also exported mainly to Europe and the United States.
Other recognised crafts which are important rubrics of importation are the sombreros made of “toquilla” straw, which are undervalued in the country and have been recognised by brands outside of Ecuador. Handmade jewelry, ceramics, sculpted wood rafts, “tagua” (ivory), masks and waxes, artesanal painting, tinsmithing, ironworks, saddlery, the creation of musical instruments and fire games, all constitute a variety of artisanal production in the country. Ecuadorian craftsmanship is among the most admired in South America.

Cuisine

This is another one of the strongest cultural expressions in Ecuador, particular and specific to each area of the country. In the mountain range, cooking has a strong influence from the Andean world and the typical dishes are related to the Catholic festivities, a few examples being:
“fanesca” (soup) and “colada morada” accompanied by the “guaguas”, toast, “cuy asado” roasted guinea pig, “yaguarlocro” (soup), “papas con cuero” (potatoes with pig skin), geese, “mellocos” (leaf vegetable) and quinoa soup. In general, the soups, “locros” (stews), “coladas”, “chichas”, are all the basis of the cuisine in the mountain range in which grains and elements like corn, quinoa, “fréjol” (commonly known as frijoles), “papas” (potatoes), “ají” (chili), “cuy” (guinea pig) and pork, all predominate. One peculiar case is that of the cuisine in the province of Loja, where the culinary tradition is very different to the rest of the country.
Typical dishes of the area are prepared, for example “repe verde” (creamy soup), “fritada” (fried pork), “humas” (based from corn), “arvejas con guineo” (soup with bananas), “chanfaina” (stew), “mellocos” (known as balls of energy due to the vitamin B2), “sango” (yucca and corn pudding), “cecina” (jerky), “tamal” (dough wrapped in corn leaves), “miel con quesillo” (honey with cheese), “el seco de chivo” (braised goat stew) and lastly, “carne de burro” (donkey meat), for medicinal purposes.

On the Coast, the “montubia” cuisine is characteristic to the area, which is a mixture of traditions. On one side we have the Spanish tradition with “refritos” (rehash), “lácteos” (dairies), pork and yard birds; from Africa their taste for strong condiments; and from the aborigines, the use of yucca, corn, “maní” (peanuts), the way of preparing and presenting river fish, “tamales” (made with dough), and “humitas” (made with corn) wrapped in useful plant leaves known to them. The coastal cuisine is rich in dishes prepared with greens, yucca, fish, seafood and tropical fruit. The foods which stand out the most are “molo”, “el bolón de verde” (the green ball), “el caldo de bolas” (ball soup) “el caldo de la manguera” (soup with pig intestines) and “la sopa marinera” (seaside soup).

The Amazon region is characterized as having a cuisine connected to the ceremonious, and the “chontaduro”, yucca and “ayahuasca” drinks are the main ones, and the traditional cuisine incorporates wild animals such as: “guanta”, “guatusa”, “danta” (tapir), “sahino” (peccary), monkey, turtle, “ají”, “palmito” (palmetto), fish and sweets made of “naranjilla” (a plant) and “guayaba” (guava). The majority of the ethnic Amazonians preparar “ayampacos”, which is the meat of wild animal and/or fish wrapped in “bijao” leaves, and meat without seasoning, in which the vegetative leaf is extracted and the flavor and aroma are very unique.

The Climate

Being located on the Equator has its advantages. Ecuador is a country which can be visited during any season.
Ecuador enjoys a Spring-like climate throughout the year, which creates the perfect conditions for its flora and fauna to develop. Naturally, a different climate and a change in temperature exist between the different regions and altitudes. The region of high ground is very temperate, as it is found on the Equator, but at larger heights, there is a climate very similar to that of Spring. This can sometimes mean rain, but generally it is sunny throughout the year. The Coast and the Amazons are much warmer, but also fairly constant throughout the year. All of this means that there will never be a wrong time of year to visit Ecuador.

Festivals and “Fiestas”

Full of tradition, each year the festivities bring joy to both Ecuadorians and tourists, who enjoy the cultural and artistic programming in which each of these celebrations has something to offer.
Many of the traditional Ecuadorian “fiestas” come from a pre-hispanic era. Nowadays we can find aboriginal elements in the Andean civilizations, in some cases, mixed with other traditions which the Spanish brought in the colonization era.
As there is a large amount of festivities in the Ecuadorian terrain, we will highlight the most important ones below.

Dia de la región amazónica (Day of the Amazon Region): Celebrated the 12th of February, commemorating the discovery of the Amazon river. It is a very traditional regional festivity, which is accompanied by a drink which is just as native to Ecuador, the “chicha”.

Festival de las frutas y las flores (The Fruits and Flowers Festival): A traditional “fiesta” of the city of Ambato, which is celebrated before the “Cuaresma” (Lent), in tribute to the land. The celebration includes parades, shows, fireworks and beauty parades.

Fiesta del sol (The “Fiesta” of the Sun): Also known as as Inti Raymi, this indigenous tradition in honour of the sun takes place in the province of Ibarra on the 21 and 22 of June.

Corpus Christi: Regardless of the fact that this is a national religious celebration, which mixes together indigenous and catholic traditions, in Cuenca the festivities are more famous and prolonged. It begins to develop in June.

Yamor: This is another cultural demonstration of indigenous origin, celebrated in Otalvo during the first week of September, as a way of thanking Mother Earth. It particularly gives tribute to corn.

Día de los muertos (Day of the Dead): Every 2nd of November this is celebrated in Ecuador, in tribute to deceased. During this day, it is custom to visit the graves of our departed loved ones. It is also traditional to drink “colada morada” accompanied by “guaguas” (sweet breads).

El Pase del Niño (The Child’s Pass): A way of paying homage to Baby Jesus in Ecuador is with this parade, in which children walk through the streets of the Cuenca dressed as biblical characters.

The most popular and important “fiestas” during January and February in Ecuador are:

January 1st to the 6th: Diablara (The Dance of the Devils) in Píllaro in the province of Tungurahua. In this popular “fiesta”, men dressed as devils take over the streets, accompanied by folklore dances and “comparsas” (groups of singers and dancers).

February “Carnaval”: The celebration of the “carnaval” in all of Ecuador. It precedes Cuaresma (Lent) and therefore depends on the date that Easter takes place. In all of Ecuador it is a “fiesta” where the people play with water, and many towns they even play with flour and eggs, in contrary to the big cities where they prefer foam. The best known is the Guaranda “carnaval” which begins its celebrations several days before. It is traditional during this “fiesta” to drink “chicha”, a typical drink based from corn and a liqueur known as “pajaro azul” (bluebird).

The carnaval in Guaranda is celebrated every year and is characterised by parades, music, dancing, costumes, and never without the water and flour which is thrown at bystanders and visitors.

February 2nd: En Mira (Carchi) there is a “fiesta” of the Virgen de la Caridad (Virgin of Charity) with fireworks, dances, national ball games and crazy cow rodeos.

February 4th: Fiesta of the “Señor del Terremoto” (Lord of the Earthquake), in Patate (Tungurahua).

February 12th: On this festive day, the anniversary of the discovery of the river Amazon is celebrated, also known as the day of the Oeste (West). “Ferias” take place in Puyo, Tena, Macas y Zamora.

Cultural Diversity

Aside from Ecuador’s biodiversity, it also has a lot of cultural diversity. Approximately 70% of the population is mixed, that is to say, a mixture of Indians and Spaniards, while 22% are indigenous with 14 nationalities which possess their own cultural identities and speak 12 different languages; some of which, especially in the Amazon region, have had little contact with modern civilization and maintain the worldview of their forefathers and the rest of the 8% are of other ethnicities, including people of African descent. These groups vary a lot according to the particular geographic region and each one has its own special customs and traditions to share.
Twenty-five different ethnic groups, each one blessed with a rich cultural heritage, coexist peacefully in Ecuador. Perhaps the most gratifying for a visitor is the opportunity to actually take part in the festivities rather than just being an observer.

Four Worlds in One

The best things in life come in small packages, and this is certainly the case in Ecuador. Not only does Ecuador have all of the diversity mentioned in the last three points but it is also within an area the size of the state of Nevada or the United Kingdom and Belgium put together. The majority of international airlines offer daily flights to Ecuador from North America, South America, and Europe. Modern international airports in Quito and Guayaquil, a good internal air and land transport system, and a wide range of hotels and touristic services, all make it easy for travellers to explore Ecuador.
The distances are always short: one country and four worlds which can be seen in just ten days. The national airlines connect the country’s main cities with several flights a day during the week. This means that it is easy to explore all of this diversity in a short period of time and it means that travelling within the country itself is quick and flexible. Larger countries have the main attractions further apart, and require more careful planning in order for the traveller to visit all of what he or she wishes to. However, in Ecuador, there is nothing longer than a 14-hour bus-ride from the capital, making one’s travel planning very flexible. Ecuador is a destination that offers various alternatives: from adventure tourism to ecotourism, bird-watching, agrotourism, volunteering, history and culture, water sports, incentive and convention travelling, Spanish courses … The options are endless.
Ecuador has a geographic area of 256,370 km2, and is made up of four regions which vary from the topographic diversity of the Amazons, to the natural and cultural beauty of the Andes, to the ecological beaches of the Coast, to the legendary Galapagos Islands. Each region represents a unique ecosystem. The country boasts the largest diversity in the world by square kilometer.

Landscapes

Ecuadorian Andes
In the Ecuadorian Andes, the afternoon sun covers extensive areas of untouched moors, while further below in the valleys, it lights up fields of corn, barley, wheat and quinoa, dying them with tints of gold, amber, lilac, and amethyst which change in accordance with the inconstant clouds.
In the Andes, in the lands of eternal games of light and shade, nature and human activity, there is not a single day which is the same.
Considered the most important region of Ecuador, and commonly known as the “range”, it is the most visited area in the whole country. Its huge natural and cultural diversity emcompasses moors, clouded forests, lakes, active volcanos, thermal waters, indigenous markets, cities, villages and colonies.

The Amazonian Jungle

Charming and touristic, these lands constitute a hymn of creation, an idyllic place where the tourist will be fascinated by its wild sceneries and its clear lagoons with a variety of fauna. Due to its privileged location in the great Amazon basin, this region is characterised by its great natural richness and impressive biodiversity which makes it paradise-like. Its afternoons have unique colors which are reflected in the waters of its crystalline rivers and lagoons which are accompanied by birds’ song and the roar of wild animals.

Its People

According to the study carried out by investigators of the State University of Michigan, the University of Chicago and the University of Indiana, the countries which form the Top 10 are the ones in which people can relate to one another more easily through “an emotional connection with another person’s experiences”, in other words, “sharing your feelings”. The research was based on concepts such as: collectivism, friendliness, self-confidence, mood, subjective well-being and pro-social behavior.  
Ecuadorians are naturally friendly and helpful. They enjoy receiving visitors and are proud of the fact that foreigners travel to Ecuador. Therefore, Ecuadorians are happy to help if they get lost or are simply just looking for advice on places to go and how to get there. In a lot of the smaller towns, in family-owned hotels and youth hostels, guests are treated like part of the family and are truly well attended by the owners. Ecuadorians are very proud of their culture, passionate about their traditions and keen to share their customs and rituals.

Flora and Fauna

With 46 different ecosystems, Ecuador is one of the 17 most biodiverse countries in the world. Ecuador is one of the best naturally preserved countries in the world, and its geographic and latitudinal positioning as well as its climate and terrain make it the country with the most animal species of the region, and one of the 10 countries with the highest endemism worldwide. Ecuador has 10% of all of the species of plants on the planet. Of this percentage, a great quantity grows on the range of the Andes mountains in the northwest region, where it is calculated that there are 10,000 species. In the Amazons region there is also a large amount of vegetative species, around 8,200, and 4,300 orchid species have been identified in the country. In Galapagos, on the other hand, there are around 600 native plant species and another 250 introduced by man. Of the dozen key biodiversity zones identified by the naturalist Norman Myers, three have been found in the Ecuador continental. The climatic diversity has resulted in more than 25,000 species of trees. Ecuador offers many opportunities to observe all of its biodiversity, in its 51 protected areas.