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Ecuador has been a popular destination of travelers explorers and adventurers from Alexander Von Humboldt to Thor Hyerdahl. Named for the equatorial line running through the country, Ecuador contains a rich diversity of culture and its ethnic diversity is impressive. With more than 10 native ethnic groups and subgroups, along with ancient arrivals and mixed races, Ecuador is probably the most culturally diverse country in South America.  Each ethnic group regards itself as a distinct nationality with its own culture and language.

Ethnic populations have traditionally been divided along geographic borders within the three main regions of the country: the coast (costa), the Andes mountains (sierra), and the Amazon region (oriente). The most numerous are the Quichua (now spelled Kichwa) of the Andes, relatives of the Quechuas of Bolivia and Peru. Their language, as well as their name, is believed to be that of the Incas. Although traditional clothing generally requires a hat and poncho or shawl, the color and style vary dramatically throughout the Andes. 

Kichwa of the Oriente

photo: South American Explorers, Quito

Saraguros of the Sierra

The oriente is populated by various indigenous groups such as the Shuar, Huarani, Cofan, Ashuar, Secoya, Kichwa, and more. During the Agrarian Reform of the 1960s, land in the oriente was given to families to be used in agriculture.  As a result, people from all parts of Ecuador can be found in the oriente.

Tsachilla of the Costa

Kichwa Shaman

Yachana Lodge

The Tsachillas inhabit the Ecuadorian coast. The brightly colored hair of the Tsachilla men is dyed with the seed of the achote, which is also used as a colorant in food. The native dress of the women include multicolored striped skirts.

Afro-Ecuadorians populate much of the coast and some inland communities. They are descendants of slaves brought over in previous centuries by the Spanish and Portuguese. The province of Esmeraldas is populated by black peasants who have been linked to shipwrecked slaves off Ecuador's coast.

Afro-Ecuadorian man of the coast

Ministry of Tourism, Ecuador

The influence of the Catholic church is heavy in Latin American cultures. Yet many ethnic groups retain at least part of their tradition in music and art. In religious paintings such as the "Last Supper", the table is often graced with traditional food such as cuy (guinea pig), llapingachos (stuffed mashed potatoes), or bollas de verde (plantain balls). In Ecuador, Jesus can be found in traditional Andean clothing.

Coastal fishermen    

Insight Guide to Ecuador

Woman of the Andean highlands

Traditional  music is still a part of most Ecuadorian communities.

A traditional Andean skirt adorns Christ in this painting.

Ecuador is home to many wonderful modern artists whose contributions to the world of art can be seen in the many museums and public art exhibits in the country. The most famous Ecuadorian artist is probably the late Oswaldo Guayasamin, whose distinct portraits of human strife and Ecuadorian landscapes demonstrate the complexity and beauty of Ecuador. 

Sculptures at the Museo de Guayasamin in Quito

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