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How You Can Have Your Face Painted in the Amazon

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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 ….

Kichwa girl with camera (6)

Smiling Kichwa boy, with red t-shirt

One Kichwa girl whispers to another. two children in background

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 prickly seed pods of the achiote tree.

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.

Kichwa face painting with achiote

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 washed off with soap and water later that day. He had me worried for a while.

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.

Plan your own trip

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.


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Spend an exciting day among the Kichwa people in Ecuador's Amazon basin. You will learn about their fascinating Quechua culture and find out how people survive in the wild Amazon jungle.

Please share this story with your friends.

Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages has inspired her to create As We Saw It with her husband Dan, a professional photographer. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

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6 thoughts on “How You Can Have Your Face Painted in the Amazon

  1. Wearing that face paint like a warrior Linda! Love it. I dig the pictures of the kids too. Beautiful snaps. My wife visited the Amazon but in Iquitos, Peru, for ayahuasca. Definitely a different experience for her LOL. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Hey Ryan! We tried chicha later on … between you and me, the drink was less than impressive That ayahuasca, on the other hand, is supposed to give mind-altering experiences. What did Kelli think of it?

  2. Great shots, the children seem to love having their photo taken. I so want to visit the Amazon one day. I love the painting on your face 🙂

    1. Haha, Freya, turnabout is fair play! We want to visit Machu Picchu like you did!

      Thanks for the compliment on the face painting … I haven’t done that since I was a kid.

  3. These children are so cute and really they know how to welcome. Impressive. This village seems a hub of good people. I like the way you draw these painting on your face.

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