Amazing Things You Didn’t Know About Ecuador

Tourist hiking on North Seymour, Galapagos Islands
Tourist hiking on North Seymour, Galapagos Islands | © Maridav / Alamy Stock Photo

Founder, Not Your Average American

Ecuador is famous for being home to the Galápagos Islands, but there’s much more to the fourth-smallest nation in South America. From its historic links to the ancient Inca to unusual modern-day exports, here are some amazing things you might not have known about Ecuador.

Want to discover Ecuador with a local expert at your side? Join our eight-day adventure to discover its cultural and natural highlights with a dedicated guide and a small group of culturally curious travelers.

The Oldest Civilization in South America

Ecuador is home to one of the oldest civilizations in South America. The Las Vegas tribe lived about 10,000 years ago near modern-day Santa Elena on the Pacific Coast just north of Guayaquil.

The Ancient Pyramids

Many ancient ruins sit very close to the equator, including the ancient pyramids at Cochasqui – just 52km (32.3mi) from the capital city of Quito. This archaeological site remains an important ceremonial site for modern Quichua at festivals taking place during the fall and spring equinoxes and the winter and summer solstices.

The ancient pyramids at Cochasqui, Ecuador

The Last Inca was Half Ecuadorian

Some Spanish chroniclers believed that the last emperor of the Inca, Atahualpa, was born to the princess of the near-mythical Reino de Quito while his father, Huayna Cápac, lived in Quito. Controversially, Peruvians and most modern historians believe he was the son of an Inca princess born in Cuzco, Peru.

A Church Bathed in Gold

The Iglesia de la Compañia in the Unesco World Heritage Site of Historic Quito has an interior bathed in gold. The various altars glow with so much gold that it is possible to tell the difference in the age of each application by the quality of reflected light.

The church bathed in gold known as Iglesia de la Compania in Quito, Ecuador

The Original Panama Hat

When President Teddy Roosevelt visited the building of the Panama Canal, he was enamored with hats worn by many of the workers. He called them ‘Panama Hats’, making them famous without ever knowing that both the workers and their hats came from Ecuador.

A local woman making an authentic Panama Hat in Ecuador, South America

The First Unesco World Heritage Sites

The Galápagos Islands and the city of Quito were two of 12 locations placed on the world’s most famous preservation list at the first meeting of the Unesco World Heritage Committee in 1977. Since then, Cuenca, Sangay National Park and the Qhapaq Ñan Andean Road System – an ancient trade and defense network of roads covering 30,000km (18,641mi) – have been added to the list.

Find out more about how the Incas shaped Ecuadorian culture and landscape.

The Unesco World Heritage site and city of Quito, Ecuador

Over 4,000 Species of Orchids

Experts discover new species of orchids every year and not just in the jungles of the Amazon Basin. Orchids are everywhere here – from the dry coastal forests along the Pacific Coast to the damp Cloud Forests of the high Ecuadorian Andes.

More Than 130 Hummingbird Species

Hummingbirds thrive in Ecuador. Some species are visible in only very limited habitats – such as the stunning Star of Chimborazo hummingbird – while others, such as the Sparkling Violetear, are easily spotted in parks and gardens around Quito.

An Ecuadorian Hillstar rests on a flowering plant in the highlands of Ecuador

Over 10 Indigenous Languages

Ecuador is home to many native peoples and few speak the same language from birth. Throughout the Ecuadorian Andes alone, there are nine dialects of Quichua – related to Peruvian Quechua. And in the Amazon Basin, each tribe – from Shuar to Waorani – speaks differently. In fact, there may yet be languages of uncontacted tribes that remain undocumented.

The Major Exports Include Roses, Broccoli and Shrimp

While most people know that Ecuador exports bananas and oil, few realize that roses, broccoli and shrimp make up a large portion of the export economy. Increasingly, Ecuador also exports coffee and cacao.

The Pinocchio Lizard

New species and those thought to be extinct are being (re)discovered all the time. The Pinocchio lizard is perhaps the most famous example. With its strikingly long proboscis, this incredible lizard is not hard to identify – but went unseen for 40 years. Headlamps and modern photography help document not only this anole but many other lizards and amphibian species every year.

The Closest Point on Earth to the Sun

Move over, Mount Everest. The Earth bulges at the equator and measurements taken here – rather than at sea level – prove that the Chimborazo Volcano near Riobamba is the point on Earth closest to the sun.

Wild Vicunas graze near the Chimborazo Volcano, Ecuador

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