31 Jul Culture in Ecuador Off the Beaten Path – Modern Ancestors
ecuador's coastal undiscovered cultures
When seeking an experience that shows the depths of Ecuadorian lifestyle, one cannot miss La Entrada (The Entrance), in the southern province of Santa Elena. This multicolored jewel on the Ecuadorian coast is a tiny fishing village covered by murals. Each house displays its own piece of art, not necessarily related to the place itself, but that tells a story of the country. This vibrant stop is for those who are looking for a unique way to connect with the local culture.
The central coast of Manabí houses a particular community that lives inside Machalilla, the only National Park of the region. Due to its proximity to the clear ocean of protected beaches, such as Los Frailes and Puerto López, locals named their community-based tourism project Aguas Blancas (White Waters). They are dedicated to the conservation of their homeland, a beautiful place to experience first-hand the history and traditions.
A similar project to that of Aguas Blancas was created by the community of Estero del Plátano, settled in the Marine Reserve Galeras – San Francisco, in the south of Esmeraldas. The Inhabitants are mostly fishermen who value the importance of protecting the ocean. Sea turtles, humpback whales, cachalots, and whale sharks coexist in this coral reef paradise.
authentic acient culture off the beaten path in Ecuador
Halfway to the sierra, one may reach the picturesque province of Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas. As its name says, this is the home of the Tsáchilas. This ethnic group is mainly recognized by its particular red-colored hairstyle (picture at the top of this article), which is made with the help of the achiote (annatto) seed, vitally important the people. Centro Cultural Mishily, located in the Chigüilpe commune, is an ideal place to learn about this ancient culture, rich in ritualistic tradition and music.
Ecuadorian cultural treasures at the hidden route
Around 60 kilometers away from Quito, passing the bizcochos (biscuits) capital town of Guayllabamba, people often pass-by without noticing the Ruta Escondida (Hidden Route), one of the novel projects of the province of Pichincha. Puéllaro is the main entrance to the route, which leads you to a loop around five small communities, each with its own local characteristics.
Perucho is the first stop on the Hidden Route. With a great variety of vegetables and fruits, it offers lots of unique products such as its main drink: tangerine wine. Then comes Atahualpa, formerly called Habaspamba (Beans Land). In this area, it is possible to visit the old-growth forest of the Fuya Fuya Hill, and also a dozen of near but undiscovered waterfalls. Chavezpamba, located at the feet of the Itagua Hill, is nex on the route. A magnificent view of the entire parish (and even Quito) can be found after a short hike to the top of Itagua. Finally, in San José de Minas, there is an archaeological point of the tour. More than twenty tolas (ancient graves) are scattered along paths to remind us of the Tsáchila and Karanki ancestors who once inhabited the territory.
Ecuadorian andes cultures unseen by most tourists
A forgotten piece of history is also located in Pichincha, at the foot of Antisana Volcano. Taking the highway from Quito to Pintag or Baeza will lead to the Reserva Ecológica Antisana, where, if one asks the correct people, it is possible to find the House of Humboldt. This tiny adobe house was the place in which the famous German scientist rested after his great explorations of the Ecuadorian mountains.
Heading to the Central Andes, the province of Tungurahua is waiting to show its oldest parish: San Antonio de Quisapincha. This rural town, often abbreviated as Quisapincha, is located only thirty minutes away from the capital city of Ambato, and is known for its leather crafts. However, the principal attraction of the zone may be the organization of its inhabitants. Ayacuro Community is dedicated to sheep farming, so it is common to find beautiful coats locally embroidered by community members in the area. At the Pucará Grande Community, there is a medicinal herb and tea association that will openly show the drying, grinding, and packaging process of their healing beverages.
Another cultural glimpse into the Andes heritage may be found in Azuay. Chunazana, Shiña, Rañas, and other communities of cantón Nabón still preserve their native languages. There is also plenty of archaeological vestiges of the Cañari and Inca cultures in the surroundings. Rustic and unique landscapes are used as inspiration by the natives, who are mainly dedicated to handcraft activities. The most common material is wheat fiber and pucón (dry cob leaf), used to create exclusive decorative elements such as mirrors, hats, and dolls. Some of these creations can be found next to the Inmaculada Concepción Cathedral in Cuenca, where the Pasaje Cultural Santa Ana is located.
amazon culture of the beaten path
Moving on, at the amazon province of Zamora Chinchipe, near the Peruvian border, there are fascinating and remote communities as well. One of them is San Vicente de Caney, in Yantzaza. The colorful painting on the main wall of its local chapel explains the religious celebrations and traditions of the region. The Yaku Amarun Museum, in Napo, a fifteen-minute boat drive away from Archidona, also provides diverse information about the ancestors of these lands. Finally, in Tena, a northern province made up of almost 40% of the magnificent reserva of the Yasuní National Park, there are great places to enjoy the unique food and clothing of the jungle. Communities such as Arajuno, sixty kilometers away from Puyo, are always happy to share local experiences with visitors.
by: Juan Fernando Ricaurte
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