The rugged geography, disparate climates and multiple ethnicities within Ecuador (a country slightly smaller than the state of Nevada) have resulted in the development of numerous distinct cultural groups, each with their own traditions.
 
43% of the nation’s 12.6 million inhabitants live in the central swath of Ecuador, known as the Sierra, or mountain highlands.   Another 52% reside along the Pacific Coast (the Costa).   A mere 600,000 reside in the Amazon region (4.7%) and 25,000, or less than 0.2%, in the Galapagos Islands.
 
No people are indigenous to the Galapagos Islands, but there are more than 14 indigenous groups on the Ecuadorian mainland.   The Huaoranis, Achuar, Shuar, Cofán, Siona-Secoya, Shiwiar and Záparo are the principal indigenous groups of the Amazon.   One small Amazonian group that still almost wholly follows traditional ways is the Tageri (related to the Huaorani).   Their struggles against oil development in Ecuador have drawn the attention of environmentalists and human rights activists as well as the government and oil industry.
 
In the highlands the principal indigenous groups are the Quichua, Cañaris, and Saraguros, with a small community of Awa in northern Ecuador.   The Chachis, Cayapas, Tsáchilas, and Huancavilcas are indigenous to the coastal region.   There are communities of Afro-Ecuadorians in the Valley of El Chota in northern Ecuador and along the coast.   Cities and larger towns are populated primarily by mestizos (persons of mixed Caucasian and indigenous heritage), with smaller groups of Caucasians, Afro-Ecuadorians and indigenous.
 
Spanish is the official language of Ecaudor, but Quichua*, Awapit, Cha´palachi, Tsafiqui, Paicoca, A´ingae, Huaotirio, Shuar-chichan, and Záparo, are spoken in areas with significant indigenous populations.
 
Ninety percent of the population is Catholic, but evangelist Christianity is gaining in popularity, and some communities maintain beliefs in worship of the earth, mountains, sun and moon.
 

*Quichua is the Ecuadorian variant of Quechua, the language spoken by many indigenous of Bolivia and Peru.