In Ecuador, about 25% of the population is indigenous. They are beautiful people and we can easily imagine that many could be descendants of the Incas … even though some say not.
At any rate, the largest group in the country (about 2.5 million people) is the Kichwa, and they speak Quechua. Quechua is spoken by over 7 million people in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. We can even hear it spoken by some of the locals here in Cuenca, when they are speaking among themselves.
Visit the Kichwa in Ecuador's Amazon basin
We took a trip into Ecuador's Oriente, the easternmost part of the country that is known as the Amazon basin. While there, we visited a Kichwa (Quechua) village to learn about their culture. A few of their adorable little children acted as welcoming committee. They took every chance they could find to pose for our cameras.
Here are some images of the Kichwa we met on our tour, both children and adults.
And a few I captured with my video camera ….
How the Kichwa paint faces
Our visit to the village included a demonstration of how the Kichwa traditionally paint their faces. Indigenous cultures paint their faces for different reasons. It could be for religious ceremonies, war, hunting, beauty, good fortune, or all of the above. Our guide was so immersed in explaining how it was done, he never explained why the Kichwa paint their faces. So if you have the answer, please let us know.
To create the beautiful, orange color, they use a seed pod from a native tree called Achiote. Also known as annatto, it is an essential ingredient in many Central and South American cuisines. It doesn't add any flavor, just a pretty saffron hue.
The seed pods may look prickly, but they are actually pretty soft. Our guide plucked a fresh pod and cracked it open just by squeezing it. He then pulled a palm frond stalk apart and peeled off some of the fiber to create a long stick, which he poked into the seed pod. After swirling it around for a few seconds, he brought it out, covered in the beautiful, bright hue.
“Who would like to be our model?”
You guessed it.
It stands to reason that I became the model, because Dan and I were by far the youngest members of our group. Erm, okay, I was the only one who had the courage to volunteer.
Everyone got a big kick out of watching the artist do his work, so he took his time and soaked up the attention. I think he gave me the royal treatment: lips, forehead, cheeks, AND hair. Then he told me it would take a week to wash off.
I was relieved when it all came off with soap and water later that day. He sure had me worried for a while.
Plan your own Ecuadorian Amazon experience
Here is some more information to help you plan your own trip. If this article was useful, you can thank us without paying a dime by using these links to make your plans. Some of these companies will pay us a referral fee, at no extra cost to you.
Where to stay in the Amazon
We stayed at Cotococha Amazon Lodge on the Napo River and wrote all about it.
Book a tour
If you prefer to let someone else make all the arrangements, check out Get Your Guide Amazon tours page for some unique options.
For longer, done-for-you guided tours, G Adventures offers some great itineraries. Click here for their best deals.
For more sightseeing, see our Ecuador photo albums here.
Transportation: This website shows how to get anywhere by plane, train, bus, ferry and car.
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- Sleeping in the Amazon at Cotococha Lodge