• Colombia!

    Colombia: Caribbean Sea coast. Go Now!

    Although most of the people live inland, Colombia also has its share of coastline along the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea (pictured). Go Now!

  • Ecuador!

    Ecuador: Sally Lightfoot Crab. Go Now!

    The Galapagos Islands and Ecuador are home to incredible wildlife, such as the famous Galapagos Turtle and the lesser known, but more common Red Rock or Sally Lightfoot crab (pictured). Begin Your Journey!

  • Chile!

    Chile: Torres del Paine National Park. Go Now!

    The Andes dominate much of Chile, including the breath-taking Torres del Paine National Park (pictured). However, the country also hosts the world's driest desert and a thriving metropolis. Begin Your Journey!

  • Venezuela!

    Venezuela: Los Roques. Go Now!

    Rooted in Europe, Venezuela boasts an impressive history, culture, and beauty, including the Caribbean Coast (pictured). Explore Venezuela!

  • Bolivia!

    Bolivia: Salt flats. Go Now!

    This hidden gem is full of surprises, from the impressive salt flats (pictured) to the migrating flamingos. It also clings to the most historic indigenous culture on the continent. Explore Bolivia!

History of Ecuador

It's not known when Ecuador was first settled. The earliest people may have arrived as early as 13,000-9,000 BC, but little is known about them. It seems these people lived simple lives with their focus on survival, which meant most of their days were spent hunting, gathering, and fishing. In about 6000 BC organized farming also began, an occupation that most people later took up. This led to the settlement of these formerly semi-nomadic people.

Once settled, it appears that the Valdivia people in the region were the first people in the Americas to discover and create pottery. Later another culture in the region of modern day Ecuador appears to have been the first to grow maize in South America. Over time these people organized politically as they expanded their power and influence.

The Mantenos, a later group in the region created a very successful political structure and economy as their focus shifted to arts and trade. They became craftsmen, metal smiths, and traders as their goods have been found as far as Chile and Mexico.

Despite the advanced art forms of the people in the region, they had little hope to defend themselves against the Incans when they arrived in 1463. By 1500 nearly the entire region of modern day Ecuador was ruled by the Incans, although their empire was influx due to smallpox killing many of the members of its royal family in the early 1500s.

The Incans altered the indigenous people, the economy, and their culture by changing farming techniques, transportation, communication, language, food, and multiple other things. However only some of these changes stuck and with the impending Spanish arrival nearly all were short-lived.

In 1531 Francisco Pizarro arrived to Ecuador. He sent his brother and Hernando de Soto to the new Incan king, who was living in Quito at the time. This king, Atahualpa (whose title was actually "Inca"), was easily defeated and the Spanish took Atahualpa ransom and the Incans gave them a room full of gold and silver. Seeing this wealth the Spanish killed Atahualpa and began their takeover of these lands, which they believed were filled with more silver and gold.

Once the Spanish had successfully taken over the Incans, and the region as a whole, Ecuador became a part of the Viceroyalty of Peru so fell out of the direct power chain. Despite this, many Spanish settled the lands as farmers and herders. In order to gain labor, these Europeans often enslaved the local people; this slow process eventually led to the European takeover and direct control over most of Ecuador's arable land by 1700.

The Spanish also sent in numerous Jesuit missionaries to convert the indigenous people. This campaign was very successful as most of the local people converted to Catholicism. The missionaries also set up a system of schools and healthcare facilities, improving the overall state of affairs in the region.

One area the Spanish didn't control for some time was the coastal area in the north, in which an odd culture arose. A ship of slaves crashed and found themselves in this area in 1570. They created a settlement as they married the local indigenous women and killed the men. This mix of African and Indigenous (called zambos) created a new culture that lasted for centuries and continues to exist in some form even today. Other than this region, the Spanish fully conquered the region fairly quickly.

Ecuador's economy under early Spanish rule thrived on farming, ranching, and trade. However this system was heavily reliant on demand and when demand fell in the 1700s, so too did Ecuador's economy. Many of the wealthiest people moved away to more prosperous areas, essentially areas which held political power like Lima or Colombia. Most of the missionaries left as Spain recalled the Jesuits and much of the remaining population fell into poverty.

Large land tracts fell apart as many people moved to the cities to find work. As the European population slowly urbanized, the indigenous population re-gained their freedom and in many cases moved to more rural areas or to heavily populated indigenous cities and towns. In many ways this created a re-founding of their culture and historic way of life, although changes were numerous as most of these people spoke Spanish and were Catholic by this point.

The economic, political, and social unrest came to a head in 1808 when France took over Spain. This led to chaos in many of Spain's colonies, including Ecuador. Many of the wealthy Spaniards in Ecuador, known as Peninsulares, supported the exiled Spanish king, but most of the population, including the criollos (lower class Spaniards) and the mestizos sought independence.

Independence didn't actually arrive until 1822 with the help of Simon Bolivar from Venezuela. After a brief war, Bolivar and those seeking independence won, but Ecuador was incorporated into the Republic of Gran Colombia, which was obviously centered in Colombia. Despite independence, Gran Colombia stationed its troops in the region of Ecuador to liberate Peru, then Gran Colombia and Peru got into a war over their border, which happened to be Peru's border with Ecuador, so these battles fell on Ecuador's soil. Finally, in 1830 Venezuela withdrew from Gran Colombia and Ecuador quickly did the same.

With independence from Gran Colombia, Juan Jose Flores took power; however he rose through the ranks of the military and knew very little about running a country. In 1845 he was removed from power, at which point it became clear that Ecuador didn't yet have an independent identity. The people fought amongst themselves for power and argued over the direction of the country. All the while Flores was constantly attacking the country her formerly ruled to re-gain power. This chaotic state continued until 1860.

From the 1860s the political scene settled down a bit and the economy stabilized. This was a time of searching for an identity and an ever altering culture in Ecuador. As the people changed the political scene and various opinions could be heard, distinct groups were created, but the country also progressed as a whole in numerous ways. The people began to unite as one nation, while various sub-cultures were formed. The liberal cities were well educated and trade dominated the economy, while in the conservative rural areas farming was again big business as cacao became the country's largest export.

In the 1890s this progress continued as a new political party, the liberals, came to power. Infrastructure was vastly expanded, education was encouraged, healthcare was improved, and the country became, as a whole, more liberal as the church and state were separated and free speech was allowed to a greater extent than it had been in the past. Again this continued to change the people as Ecuador continued to gain a stronger and more independent identity.

This progress slowed and the economy choked up over time and in 1925 a coup overthrew the government. Although this seemed to ignite many of the people tired of the government, it did little other than begin another long period of instability. With the worldwide financial crisis of the late 1920s and 1930s, Ecuador also struggled as demand for their goods fell. Then in 1941 war again broke out with Peru over a border dispute, leading to another government being overthrown.

Not surprisingly, this overthrow just led to more instability in Ecuador. Since the 1940s the country has gone through numerous politicians, many of whom didn't finish their term. The economy has shifted dramatically with changing demand on the international market, the country has continuously fought Peru over their border, and many people have turned to growing and selling drugs on the black market as the most consistent way to make a living.

Since the late 1990s the political situation has settled down substantially, but the economy has still been quite unpredictable, despite a number of efforts to stabilize it. The people also remain divided in a number of ways; they disagree politically, economically, and socially as most political moves made have benefited the rich or the poor and few have led to true progress for all of the people. None-the-less, the people tend to unite as one nation when it comes to international affairs and arguments with neighboring countries.

This page was last updated: February, 2013