So, what is Ecuador famous for? In this post you'll find out what makes Ecuador famous – the people, places, and things that have put Ecuador on the map.
What is Ecuador Famous For?
The list of what makes Ecuador famous is filled with some pretty impressive things. Some you may have heard about, and others that might be new to you.
If you notice something that we left out, please let us know by commenting at the end of the post.
Now let's find out just what makes Ecuador famous.
1. Panama Hats
Did you know that Panama hats are actually made in Ecuador? They have been handwoven in Ecuador since the 16th century (or before).
The Panama hat is a significant part of Ecuadorian culture and was added to the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list in December of 2012.
These hats became known as Panama hats in 1835 when they were exported to Panama (as were many other South American goods) before being shipped to their destinations in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. So the name reflects the location of their international sale, rather than where they were made.
The hat also gained popularity when president Roosevelt was photographed wearing one while in, you guessed it, Panama. He was visiting the construction site of the Panama Canal at the time.
The Panama hat is made from natural fibers, is lightweight, and offers protection from the sun. They offer a classic look and are popular among locals and tourists (but mostly tourists).
These are some of the most popular Ecuador souvenirs for foreign tourists.
2. Yasuni in the Ecuador Amazon
Yasuni is said to be one of the most biodiverse places on earth.
This article by Smithsonian.com sums it up nicely. And the following quote taken from the article tells the story of why Yasuni has made Ecuador famous…
“There is no definitive answer to the question of why or how Yasuní became so biologically diverse—the causes may include its high annual rainfall or low variation in temperatures. The park has also been called “an ecological bull’s-eye” due to the fact that it sits at the base of the Andes, along the Amazon and close to the equator—three distinct ecological systems converging to create a wholly unique area.”
This area in the Ecuador Amazon is both a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a national park.
The National Park covers an area of 9,820 square kilometers and boasts thousands of species, including:
- 596 species of birds
- 150 amphibian species
- 382 species of fish
- 200 species of mammal
- 121 reptile species
- 100,000+ species of insects
Yasuni also holds many world records including 3 world records for woody plant species and 4 for documented liana and tree richness.
There is also controversy in Yasuni because it sits on top of a large amount of oil, seven billion dollars worth!
The following video talks more about the situation. (We are simply sharing the video to show what makes Ecuador famous, not as part of the public service announcement.)
Video about Yasuni and the oil controversy:
Read more about what you should know before visiting the Ecuadorian Amazon.
3. The Galapagos Islands
When people ask “what is Ecuador famous for?” the Galapagos Islands are probably one of the first places that come to mind.
The islands are a UNESCO World Heritage Site (the first place to be named so back in 1978) and a national park. The ocean surrounding the islands is the second largest marine reserve in the world.
The archipelago is unique in the world because:
- It has a unique tectonic setting
- It's near the equator. The climate is consistent all year round.
- A number of oceanic currents flow through the area. This creates a nutrient-rich environment for marine life.
- A large number of animals found in the Galapagos are not found anywhere else on earth.
The islands are isolated from the mainland which caused the plant and animal life to developed in a unique way.
Many of the land animals arrived pretty much by mistake (caught in floodwaters from the mainland) and had to adapt to life on the islands.
And because the animals went without major predators for so long, they show little to no fear of humans.
The following video talks about why the Galapagos Islands are such a special place.
Galapagos Islands Video:
Read more about Galapagos animals.
For over 60 years Ecuador has been the world's leading exporter of bananas.
Ecuador is the world's third-largest exporter of cut flowers.
Roses grow especially well in the Andes Mountains (around 400 varieties grow in the highlands). The following video explains why the location makes a difference.
Ecuador Roses Video:
Ecuador is also famous for its orchids. It's said to be the orchid capital of the world.
Around 4,o32 species have been classified and there are another 400 in the process of being classified.
One of the best flower markets in the world is found in Cuenca.
6. Shrunken Heads
You probably remember how stories of headhunters and shrunken heads freaked you out as a child. Well, those stories could have had their roots in the Amazon of Ecuador.
In the past, the Shuar tribe living in the Ecuador Amazon shrunk human heads. The heads were seen as trophies and had religious significance.
A demand by museums and private collectors led to an increase in this practice, which led to the term headhunting and headhunters.
The Ecuadorian government outlawed trafficking in heads. This caused counterfeiting and it's estimated that 80% of the shrunken heads on display in museums and private collections are fake.
7. The Equator
Ecuador is named after the equator, Ecuador means equator in Spanish.
The highest point from the center of the earth (on the earth's surface) is found in Ecuador. Because of its location on the equatorial bulge the summit of Chimborazo (6,623m above sea level) is the location farthest from the earth's center.
It is the highest peak near the equator and the highest mountain in Ecuador.
8. Spanish Colonial Architecture
You'll find some of the best-preserved Spanish colonial architecture in all of Latin America in Ecuador.
9. Four Worlds in One
Ecuador may be a small country but it's big on geographic regions!
There are four distinct geographic regions in Ecuador:
- Coast (la costa)
- Andes mountains (la sierra)
- Amazon (la amazonia/el oriente)
- Galapagos Islands (la región insular/los galápagos)
The saying that Ecuador is four worlds in one, comes from these four regions and how much they differ from one another.
In the Andes, you could hike snow-covered mountains and a few hours later visit the Amazon rainforest where you're watching monkeys jump in the treetops.
This diversity helps Ecuador take its place as one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world.
10. A Top Destination for North American Retirees
Ecuador has become a hot spot for North American retirees. It has even made a popular top 10 list.
The lower cost of living, use of the American dollar, and the climate are some of the reasons why.
Many retirees are drawn to the Andean city of Cuenca.
11. WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden
- Julian Assange (founder of WikiLeaks) was granted asylum by Ecuador and was living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London from 2012 to 2019.
- Edward Snowden applied for political asylum in Ecuador (along with 21 other countries) and while a temporary travel document was offered, it was later withdrawn. Snowden has been in Russia since 2013.
Ecuador produces some of the best chocolate in the world. And Guayaquil was home to the world's first cocoa port.
It was the world's largest exporter of cocoa until the beginning of the 20th century. Then West Africa became the leader with what are called “ordinary” beans. But with the demand for “fine” beans on the rise, Ecuador is again gaining momentum.
Chocolate is like wine in the way that the region where the beans are grown affects the flavor of the chocolate.
Santiago Peralta (founder of Pacari) says that the quality of Ecuador's chocolate is due to Ecuador's location on the equator and the diversity in the country's terrain.
And according to Sarah Jane Evans (writer of the book Chocolate Unwrapped) the fine cocoa of Ecuador has “a floral profile with blackcurrants and spice.”
If you're not planning a trip but would like to try some of Ecuador's fine organic chocolate you can find it here.
Read more about how to taste dark chocolate.
Learn more about sweets in Ecuador in our post about 16 Ecuador desserts.
13. Dora the Explorer & Beavis and Butt-Head
If someone asked you “what is Ecuador famous for?” would Beavis & Butt-head or Dora the Explorer come to mind? Probably not, right?
And while they may not actually add to the fame of Ecuador, the people involved in those two shows have connections to Ecuador, which at the very least, make them interesting in a post like this.
So, where's the Ecuador connection with Beavis and Butt-Head? Even if you've never seen it (like me) you've probably heard that name – it's not easily forgotten. Well, a writer and producer on that program is Mike Judge, he was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
Now we have Dora the Explorer. It's a pretty popular cartoon for kids, my daughter loved it. I thought it was pretty cool to find out that Fatima Ptacek is the current voice of Dora and that her mom is Ecuadorian.
14. Cuy (Guinea Pig)
You may (or may not) have been waiting for this one. It causes a bit of controversy for some.
Cuy (guinea pig) is a famous dish in Ecuador, often eaten on special occasions.
Some people think of it as a pet that shouldn't be eaten, while others see it as an animal that is farmed for its meat, much as a chicken is in North America.
But no matter how you see it if you come from Western culture – once you hear that they eat guinea pig in Ecuador, you don't forget it.
Read more about eating cuy in Ecuador.
Drum roll, please… Ecuador holds the world record for hummingbird species. There are over 132 species!
That's around 40% of all hummingbird species.
16. Bird Species
Ecuador has more bird species per square mile than any country in the world. There are over 1,640 species in Ecuador!
How Would You Answer, “What is Ecuador Famous For?”
Well, there you have our list of 16 things that make Ecuador famous.
I learned some interesting things while researching this post, and I hope you did while reading it. If I missed anything please add it by commenting on this post.