Ecuador is famous for being home to the Galapagos Islands, but there is so 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 12 amazing things you didn’t know about Ecuador.
Oldest civilization in South America
Many ancient ruins sit very close to the Equator, including the ancient pyramids at Cochasqui. Only 52 kilometers (32.3 miles) from the capital city, Quito, this archaeological site remains an important ceremonial site for modern Quichua on festivals taking place during the fall and spring equinoxes and the winter and summer solstices.
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. Of course, 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 age of each application by the quality of reflected light.
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.
The first UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The Galapagos 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 1978. Since that time, Ecuador added both Cuenca and Sangay National Park; seven other locations, including the archaeological site at Ingapirca, have been nominated and are under evaluation.
Over 6,000 species of orchids
Experts discover new species of orchids every year and not just in the jungles of the Amazon Basin. Orchids are everywhere, 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.
Over 20 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.
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 Pinnochio lizard
New species and those thought to be extinct are being (re)discovered all the time. The Pinnochio 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 lizard and amphibian species every year.
Closest point on earth to the sun
Move over, Mount Everest: because the earth bulges at the Equator, measurements taken from the center of the earth rather than from sea level prove that the Chimborazo Volcano near Riobamba, Ecuador is the point on Earth closest to the sun. A team of French and Ecuadorian scientists confirmed this measurement in 2016.