The Best Pre-Incan Sites to Visit in Ecuador

© KalypsoWorldPhotography/Shuttestock
© KalypsoWorldPhotography/Shuttestock
Photo of Angela Drake
Founder, Not Your Average American15 August 2017

While many tourists flock to South America to see ancient Incan ruins, few realize that the remains of several older and more ancient cultures exist throughout Ecuador. Many of these cultures existed long before the arrival of the Inca and what we know about them has been gleaned from many of the scientific excavations at these archaeology sites.

Museo de Sitio de Tulipe

The Yumbo tribe of Ecuador lived to the west of Quito around 800 CE until leaving the region in 1660 after the eruption of the Pichincha Volcano. They designed a complex system of large pools connected by an aqueduct. Archaeologists debate whether these pools were used as huge reflecting ponds to better read the night sky or if they were ceremonial baths. Regardless, these archaeological remains are striking in their design and structure.

Museo de Sitio de Tulipe, Pichincha, Ecuador

Museo de Sitio La Florida

The Quitu tribe lived in the area around modern day Quito from about 2000 BCE until the arrival of the Spanish. Many of their archaeology remains are hidden under the modern city but one site in the neighborhood La Florida holds an ancient burial ground. Archaeologists excavated a tomb of a family of four, complete with urns, offerings and human remains. While the tomb itself was recently back-filled to prevent a cave-in like the one threatened by the April 2016 earthquake, the small museum is still open. Highlights include clothing hand-beaded from small pieces of Spondylus shells and an excellent collection of ceramics.

Museo de Sitio La Florida, Antonio Costas, Quito, Ecuador

Complejo Arqueologico Rumipamba

A walking path through the Rumipamba Archaeology Park connects nine different excavation sites that provide clues to the Quitu tribe who lived in this region from 500 CE until the arrival of the Spanish. The ruins are a combination of large buildings meant for community purpose and smaller buildings that were probably homes. A portion of the original road used by the Quitu, a type of open tunnel covered by vegetation, is on display. The outdoor museum takes about 90 minutes to see.

Complejo Arqueologico Rumipamba, Mañosca N35-86, Quito, Ecuador

Museo de Los Amantes de Sumpa

Just outside the resort town of Salinas lies a small museum dedicated to the preservation of an ancient burial ground that could be up to 7,000 years old. One attraction has become the heart and soul of the museum – a pair of skeletons. They are called the Lovers of Sumpa, a man and woman in their twenties who appear to have died while embracing one another. The museum also has a collection of ancient objects and displays explaining both ancient and recent history of the Santa Elena province.

Museo Amantes de Sumpa, Santa Elena, Ecuador

Museo de Valdivia

Not far from the beach at Montañita is the town of Valdivia, the namesake of the culture that existed here from 3,500 to 1,800 BCE. Hundreds of small figures representing women have been discovered in this region. Most are very basic, with breasts and a small indent for a vulva, reminiscent of similar pieces from Paleolithic Europe. While many have been taken to museums in Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil, this small museum in Valdivia has collected excellent examples of not only the Valdivia culture but several other ancient, coastal cultures as well. While this museum lacks good lighting and well-presented exhibits, the collection is an object of pride for the local community.

Museo de Valdivia, Valdivia, Santa Elena, Ecuador

Museo de Agua Blanca

The community of Agua Blanca, which lies just outside of Puerto Lopez, is part of the Machalilla National Park. Ruins at the site included objects found from six different cultures – Valdivia, Machalilla, Chorrera, Bahía, Guangala and Manteña. Many of these pieces – such as obsidian arrowheads, seats carved from stone, figurines in the shape of monkeys, birds and pigs – are displayed in the small museum. The location of the archaeology dig is easily visited just a few steps away.

Museo de Agua Blanca, Machalilla, Manabí, Ecuador

Cultura y arqueología es la oferta de Agua Blanca. Un hermoso museo y aguas termales son parte del recorrido. #ViajeDeLaSemana

Museo de Sitio Cerro Hojas Jaboncillo

The museum at Cerro Hojas Jaboncillo is both an indoor collection of ancient objects and an outdoor archaeology excavation located with views of the surrounding coastal landscape. Archaeologists have uncovered over 600 structures belonging to the Manteño culture. The museum also holds one of the best collections of the “seats of power,” large stones carved with a u-shaped seat, often with a decorative pedestal, that some scholars believe were used by Manteño royalty.

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