The Inca Empire extended over the highland region to an area near Quito when the first Europeans reached the country in 1526. The Spanish colonists established themselves, and ruled for nearly three centuries. Archaeologists trace the first inhabitants as far back as 10,000 BC, when hunters and gatherers established settlements on the southern coast and in the central highlands. By 3,200 BC three distinct agricultural-based civilizations had emerged, producing some of the hemisphere's oldest known pottery.
Independence was won by the armies of Simon Bolivar in 1822, and after an unsuccessful federation with Colombia and Venezuela, Ecuador became an independent nation in 1830. During the first century of its independence, Ecuador changed its constitutions 13 times. Quito was chosen as the capital of Ecuador and Catholicism became the oficial religion of the State. In 1942, in a war with Peru, Ecuador lost a significant portion of its Amazon Basin territory. After numerous battles, peace was finally negotiated in late 1998 that has eased tensions along the border. Despite the history of intense internal rivalry and border conflicts, Ecuador has remained peaceful in recent years and is, at present, one of the safest countries to visit in South America.
By far, the largest ethnic group is the Andean Quichua, who number more than two million. The Quichua, the Otavalenos, Salasacas, and Saraguros - all residing in the Ecuadorian Andes - keep the languages of the ancient Incas alive. Read more about Ecuador's culture and people here.