Ecuador is the second-smallest country in South America, with a population of 15.7 million. It is home to multiple World Heritage Sites, including the Galápagos Islands and colonial Quito. While Ecuador prides itself on its ties to history, it has yet to develop a 21st century infrastructure. Recently, Ecuador’s economy has strengthened, and there are reasons to believe that the country is on the cusp of a bright future.
Ecuador is a developing country with immense natural resources, but it lacks the infrastructure or capital necessary to take full advantage of its oil, gold, and copper deposits. Even so, the country may be in the process of realizing its full potential. Ecuador recently re-entered the bond market, after defaulting on $3.2 billion dollars of debt during the 2009 recession.
Currently, both Ecuador's government and economy are on the upswing — making positive strides across the board. Unemployment has fallen to 4.9 percent. Spending on education has increased; impoverished children no longer have to pay school fees, and are eligible to receive subsidized lunches. Rural poverty is still around 50 percent, but that’s an 8 percent drop from the rural poverty rate seen during the 2009 recession.
Elements of modern day Ecudaor can be traced back to the country's historical roots Ever since the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, the Catholic Church (the predominant religion in Eucador) has dictated societal mores. In a 2012 survey, around 80 percent of Ecuadorians identified themselves as Catholic. Ecuador also has the highest population density in South America. During the mid 20th-century, Ecuador had an extremely high birth rate, with around 7 births per woman. While this rate has steadily declined, Ecuador is still recovering from its massive population boom.
The people and culture of Ecuador are all for modernity, but have a very specific way of interacting as a society — despite their notoriously relaxed attitude. You’ll probably notice a striking difference in gender roles while traveling in Ecuador. Women often spend their entire lives in the domestic sphere. As in much of Latin America, machismo is ingrained into the Ecuadorian male identity. Given the economic troubles Ecuador faces, there are many other social ills that Ecuadorians are prioritizing over feminist progress in the workplace.
The culture of machismo, mixed with Catholic morals, also affects the quality of life for the country’s homosexual population. Many Ecuadorians view homosexuality as a problem that can be fixed or cured. Homosexual acts are still largely considered criminal, and it is unusual to find overtly gay or lesbian culture in Ecuador.
It is difficult for many Ecuadorians to find a job that pays well enough to sustain a good quality of life. According to a 2013 census, 25 percent of Ecuador’s population lives beneath the poverty line. Locals often rely on subsistence farming. Many Ecuadorians have also immigrated to the United States in search of better-paying jobs.
Ecuador’s economy relies heavily on exports. It is the top exporter and 4th-largest producer of bananas in the world. Fruit, seafood, flowers, and petroleum constitute much of Ecuador’s GDP.
Ecuador is a member of OPEC. Oil has been extracted from Ecuador’s Amazon jungle for decades. Drilling practices have become the topic of heated political debates. For decades, Ecuador has been locked in a lawsuit with Chevron, an American gas company that is being held responsible for environmental damage at drilling sites in the Amazon. A U.S. Court of Appeals determined that fraud had influenced the outcome of the court case, but the case is still being pursued in Ecuadorian courts. Now PetroEcuador, an Ecuadorian gas company, faces similar scrutiny for irresponsible drilling practices. PetroEcuador also face allegations of mismanaged funds and corruption.
Because the Ecuadorian economy relies so heavily on oil, the economy endures frequent recessions based on the fluctuating price of oil. In the 1990s, the oil crisis created a widespread economic downturn in Ecuador.
Ecuador’s low cost of living has made Ecuador an increasingly popular place for North Americans to retire abroad. English is a popular second language, and foreigners have found it easy to navigate the country’s affordable health care system. Visitors will also appreciate the supremely low cost of dining, transportation, and entertainment.
Foreigners often immediately notice a casual attitude that permeates Ecuadorian culture. Appointments and shop hours don’t carry the same amount of urgency as they do in North America — shops often close for a few hours around lunchtime, for example. It can also be difficult to get used to driving, as Ecuadorian drivers often take traffic signals as suggestions.
There are serious differences between Guayaquil and Quito, Ecuador’s two largest cities. Guayaquil has a thriving nightlife, whereas Quito’s restaurants and bars typically close before midnight. Quito was the capital of colonial Ecuador, and has a legacy as the country’s most politically powerful city. These differences play out in fiercely competitive soccer matches between the two cities.
Quiteños pride themselves on their European heritage. Historians prize Quito’s historic district, a fully intact example of a Spanish city center built in the New World. But Guayaquil is the most economically prosperous place in Ecuador, the port city at the center of the country’s bustling export economy. It has become an increasingly attractive destination, although only a couple of decades ago it was considered too dangerous for tourists. Now visitors frequent the city’s waterfront and nightclubs.
Cuenca is the 4th-largest city in Ecuador. There is not as strong of a rivalry between Cuenca and the other two cities, but it holds its own as an important cultural center. This little city is home to some of Ecuador’s most compelling architecture (La Catedral Nueva) and its best museums (Museo del Banco, Pumapungo Ruins, and La Catedral Vieja).
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