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A Visit to the El Tulipe Archaeological Site

May 16, 2014 Travel to Ecuador No Comments
Yndio Yumbo

Yndio Yimbo – Antonio Salas Aviles

Hundreds of years ago, the Yumbo culture dominated the steamy midlands of present-day Ecuador. The cloud forests of the western slope of the Andes were their home, and they were masters of trade and their environment.

The Yumbo people were great traders, whose trench-like trails called culuncos connected the frosty highlands with the coast. Among their clients was the mighty Inca Empire, which had been masters of the city of Quito since the fifteenth century.

The Yumbo were a spiritual people, and their largest ceremonial center, El Tulipe, can still be seen today.

El Tulipe and the Yumbo

During their heyday, the Yumbo controlled about 1000 square kilometers of land, most of it on the misty western slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes. They traded in many things throughout their region, including peppers, cacao, fish, salt, coconuts and more. They remained in the region until 1660, when an eruption of Pichincha Volcano made them move over the Andes, where their descendants still live today.

Pueblo de Tulipe

Source: El Comercio

El Tulipe is the most important archaeological site yet discovered for the Yumbo culture. It was here that the Yumbo astrologers watched the stars and performed important rituals, such as divinations and transition ceremonies, such as when a boy became a man. El Tulipe was especially busy during important astrological events, such as solstices and equinoxes. It sits at about 1500 meters above sea level, only about three hours from Quito.

My Visit to El Tulipe

El Tulipe is on the road into the cloud forest reserve at Mashpi, and most guests who are headed to the famous Mashpi Lodge stop by for a visit on their way in or way out. I am no exception: I recently went to Mashpi Lodge with my family and we got to see the ruins on our way in (the driver said it was better this way: on our way out, it would be later in the day, and more likely to be rainy). On the day we visited, there were also a handful of college students from one of the universities in Quito on a field trip.

Pueblo de Tulipe

Source: El Comercio

The archaeological site is really well done. There is a small museum with relief maps of the area, exhibits about the Yumbo people and even a room dedicated to the recent settlers of the region and their lifestyle. There are some artifacts there, clay pots in display cases, and a short movie shows a little about Yumbo life.

Our tour guide was Cristina, a local woman who knew a great deal about the site and its history (at least, I wasn’t able to stump her with any of my questions). We were also accompanied by a friendly pack of semi-wild dogs who apparently reside at the site and live on snacks given them by tourists.

The highlight of the tour was the “pools:” these are dug-out holes in the lower part of the site which resemble, yes, swimming pools. They are about twelve feet deep and the walls are lined with rocks, which Cristina assured me were about 70% original (locals used the rocks for building materials in the olden days). These pools did hold water in Yumbo times, but only a foot or two of it at most and were used as a sort of astrological observatory.


Source: El Tiempo

My verdict? El Tulipe is definitely worth a stop if you’re going right past it, as we were. Otherwise…well, I liked it a lot, but I’m a history buff.

My parents liked what they saw, but the climate and terrain were a little rough and they didn’t make it the whole way through. My little kids were far more interested in the dogs.

There you have it. If you like history and native Ecuadorian cultures (or dogs), you should see it and maybe even go out of your way to get there!

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