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  • About trip: Cuba Libre in Cuba

    About trip: Cuba Libre in Cuba Cuba was a very interesting country to travel because of its contrasts. I loved staying with the families as I felt I experienced more of Cuba that way. I enjoyed the home made mojitos, learning salsa and looking to the stars from our home stay family’s roof top. see more

    Danly Chan
    United Kingdom
  • About trip: Cuba Libre in Cuba

    About trip: Cuba Libre in Cuba It was an extra ordinary trip. Excellent organization with lots of varieties. It was a special experience to live in home stay families. It was great to see the old American cars and colonial buildings, to party in a real cave in Trinidad and chill on the beach in Baracoa. see more

    Barbara Honneger
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Cuba > General Information

Population: 13,212,742 (2004 estimate)
Languages: Spanish (official), Quechua
Religion: Roman Catholic (95%)
Monetary Unit: U.S. Dollar

Historical Overview

There is archaeological evidence of settlements established by hunter-gatherer groups as early as 10,000 BC along Ecuador’s southern coast and in the central highlands. Agricultural societies that followed produced some of the oldest pottery in the Western Hemisphere. These ancient peoples traded with others in Peru, Brazil, and the Amazon Basin, building a civilization sophisticated enough to construct large coastal cities by 500 BC. These city dwellers worked metal, and had navigational skills sufficient for them to trade with cultures as far away as the Maya in ancient Mexico.

The Inca ruler Tupac-Yupanqui invaded from the south in 1460 AD, but could not conquer the territories of three strong groups in Ecuador: the Canari, Caras, and Quitu. It fell to his son Huayna Capac to accomplish this in the next generation. The Incas brought their language, Quechua, to Ecuador, where it is still widely spoken today.

Huayna Capac celebrated his conquest by building the monumental Inca city of Tombebamba, whose ruins near Cuenca remain impressive today. This Inca city in Ecuador rapidly became as large and important in the empire as Cuzco in Peru. When Huayna Capac split the empire between his two sons at his death in 1526, he made Tombebamba the capital of the northern half. It was here that the last Inca ruler, Atahualpa, began his reign. Later, he defeated his brother Huascar in a civil war that weakened the empire just before the Spanish conquistadors arrived.

After Francisco Pizarro and his conquistadors conquered the Inca Empire in 1532, Pizarro made his brother Gonzalo the first Spanish governor of Quito, Ecuador. A few years later, Francisco was killed in a dispute among the Spanish conquerors, and Gonzalo Pizarro rebelled against Spain. He ruled Ecuador independently for over seven years, until Spanish forces defeated his army and executed him in 1548.

Spanish governors ruled Ecuador from Lima, Peru until the 18th century, after which Spain moved the seat of authority to Bogota in New Granada (now Colombia). In 1822, Simon Bolivar’s chief lieutenant Antonio Jose de Sucre brought an end to Spanish rule in the area, though it was not until 1830 that the nation adopted the name “Ecuador” and gained complete autonomy.

Following independence, civil war broke out between the conservatives of Quito and more liberal elements in Guayaquil, initiating a pattern of conflict between right- and left-wing groups which has persisted in Ecuador’s political life ever since. Dictators ruled the nation for the remainder of the 19th century. Ecuador’s 20th-century history has been an intricate series of alternating periods of democratic and military rule.

The last period of military rule in Ecuador ended with the presidential election of 1979. In 1984, conservative businessman León Febres Cordero Rivadeneira was elected president, and succeeded in putting down military rebellions to finish his term in office. He was followed in 1988 by Rodrigo Borja Cevallos of the Democratic Left, who in turn was succeeded by U.S.-born Sixto Duran Bellen in 1992.

Ecuador Today

Native Americans (“Indians”) make up about 40 percent of Ecuador’s present population. Their cultural traditions include the Quechua language, the ruana (shawl), and a social focus on their local communities, which are largely located in the mountains.

Mestizos, called “cholos” in Ecuador’s highlands, are people of mixed native and European ancestry. They constitute another 40 percent of Ecuador’s people, and form the bulk of the labor force for the rice, banana, and cacao plantations in the country’s coastal region.

About 10 percent of Ecuador’s people have black African ancestry. They are the descendants of Africans who were brought as slaves to work on plantations along the seacoast. Today they live mostly along the northern section of the coast.

The remaining 10 percent of the population is of Spanish descent and is concentrated in Ecuador’s largest cities. People of primarily Spanish background tend to hold the positions of highest social and economic status in the country.

Landscape and Climate

Ecuador is roughly the size of the state of Washington and straddles the equator between Peru and Colombia. Ecuador has a striking diversity of landscapes for a country of its size. Tropical forests in the Amazon Basin dominate its eastern section, the Oriente. The Eastern and Western Cordilleras of the Andes make up the Sierra region that bisects the country, topped by the towering peaks of Cotopaxi (19,347 feet) and Chimborazo (20,702 feet). The “costa” is the Pacific coastal plain, which constitutes about one-quarter of the country.

Ecuador´s climate is tropical in the lowlands but distinctly cooler, especially at night, at higher elevations like the city of Quito (9300 feet above sea level). In the lowlands, the seasons are defined more by rainfall than temperature. A warm rainy season lasts from January to April. From May through December the weather is cooler and drier.

The Galápagos Islands
Ecuador’s fourth distinct region is the Galápagos Islands (“Archipielago de Colon”), on the equator 600 miles offshore, which are like a world of their own. Like the Hawaiian Islands, they were created by volcanic activity that continues to create new islands to the east of the present group of 60. Most volcanic cones on the islands are extinct, but there was a significant eruption on Isla Isabela in September 1998. Fernandina, Isabela, Baltra, James, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal are the major islands in the group.

Spanish bishop Fray Tomas de Berlanga named the islands “Galápagos”—tortoise—in 1535. Naturalist Charles Darwin’s 1835 visit on the H.M.S. Beagle, during which he saw how unique flora and fauna had developed here, had a significant impact on his development of the theory of evolution. About 20,000 people live on a few of the large islands today, with many smaller islands uninhabited and reserved for nature study in what is now an Ecuadorian national park.

In the Galápagos Islands, temperatures are comfortably mild throughout the year. From December through June, high temperatures are in the mid-to-upper 80s. This is the rainier season, though there is still quite a bit of sunshine—in the desert climate of the Galapagos the amount of rainfall is miniscule compared to the Amazon rainforest! From July through November, high temperatures are in the upper 70s to low 80s. During this part of the year, the Humboldt Current cools the ocean water to about 68 degrees and the mist called garua often occurs in the higher terrain.

Shopping in Ecuador

Ecuador offers many fine craft items at good prices. Traditional souvenirs include Tagua vegetable ivory nut jewelry and sculptures, old and new weavings, ceramics, paintings, woolen clothing, hand-knitted alpaca sweaters, Panama hats, gold and silver jewelry, and leather goods.

If you plan to make a major purchase, we strongly recommend that you research the prices and quality available at home before your trip. Just one visit to an import shop or gold dealer will put you way ahead when you get to the market or local shop. This is the only way to know if you are getting a good price. OAT cannot be responsible for any delays or problems you may have with shipping your purchases overseas.

It is Overseas Adventure Travel´s goal to identify and provide you with shopping opportunities that highlight unique locally produced products with good value from reliable vendors. Overseas Adventure Travel cannot be responsible for purchase you make on your trip.

Some shops have fixed prices. In other places, merchants enjoy negotiating over prices. If this is your first experience at bargaining, don’t worry—you’ll quickly find your own style. Your opening offer should be well under the asking price. The only rule is that, if you make an offer, you should be prepared to buy at that price. And remember, whatever price you pay is okay, as long the item is worth that price to you.

U.S. Customs Regulations
Articles totaling $800, at fair retail value where they were acquired, may be imported free of charge if you bring them with you. A flat 10% rate of duty will be applied to the next $1,000 worth of merchandise. The value of your items is determined by the U.S. Customs Inspector when you return to the U.S., not by your bill of sale. However, in almost every case a genuine bill of sale will be honored.

Items shipped home are always subject to duty when received in the U.S. There will also be charges for clearing the shipment through customs. The U.S. Customs Service says, “The most cost-effective thing to do is to take your purchases with you if at all possible.”

U.S. Customs will seize products made from endangered animal species. Items made from animal skins, feathers, turtle shells, etc. are sold commonly in South America. This trade contributes to the extinction of wildlife in the rain forest. These items will be seized, as well as most furs, coral, tortoise shell, reptile skins, feathers and plants.