There are estimated to be over 800 different indigenous groups throughout Latin America, numbering around 50 million people. Many of these people are the descendants of the great ancient civilizations such as the Aztecs, Maya, and Incas, and so are the living custodians of their ancient traditions.
There are estimated to be over 800 different indigenous groups throughout Latin America, numbering around 50 million people. Many of these people are the descendants of the great ancient civilizations such as the Aztecs, Maya, and Incas, and so are the living custodians of their ancient traditions. They are easily recognizable by their traditional way of dress and adherence to ancient customs and rituals. Bolivia and Guatemala both have a majority Indigenous population, whilst Mexico, Ecuador and Peru all boast significant populations. In these countries there are many wonderful opportunities to interact with these indigenous communities.Mexico
In Mexico’s Chiapas region close to San Cristobal de las Casas, you can visit the local Tzotzil and Tzetzal indigenous communities to learn about daily routines and their ancient techniques of making pottery. These highland Maya Indians share the municipio of Pantelhó, which means "bridge over water" in the highlands among mountains, volcanoes, and valleys. Since they live in a cooler climate, they breed sheep exclusively to obtain their wool and turn it into beautiful garments.
The Aymara are the indigenous people who live at 3,000 meters in the altiplano (high plains) of the Andes Mountains of Bolivia. Known for their bowler hats and full skirts, with richly embroidered scarfs around their shoulders, the Aymara believe in the power of spirits that live in mountains, in the sky, or in natural forces such as lightning. The strongest and most sacred of their deities is Pachamama, the Earth Goddess. She has the power to make the soil fertile and ensure a good crop.
Argentina and Uruguay
The Gaucho is a national symbol in Argentina and Uruguay, but is also a strong culture in southern Brazil. A brave and skilled horseman, gauchos became greatly admired and renowned in legends, folklore and literature and became an important part of their regional cultural tradition. Their cousins are known as various names - from Pantaneiros in the Pantanal to Llaneros in the Llanos - living the same cowboy lifestyle around the continent. There are incredible gaucho festivals worth experiencing in Argentina and Uruguay.
In Guatemala, visit Lake Atitlan and search the hidden alleyways of Santiago village for the mischievous folk-saint, Maximon, whose origins come from ancient Mayan beliefs mixed with Spanish Catholicism. The statue is guarded in a different villager’s home every year and locals come to pray to Maximon for things that they would not dare pray to the other saints.
Ecuador's Otavalo market is a place of history and tradition, continuing centuries-old artisan practices from around this northern town. The indigenous Otavaleño people, who make up approximately 50% of the town’s population, have been weavers since pre-Incan times. In colonial days, their skills resulted in many of them being forced into obrajes (textile workshops), creating a textile trade that continues freely today. The market is the public face of the region's craft industry but around it is a string of villages that are noted for its artisanal skills, particularly with leather and weaving.
In Peru, travel to the Sacred Valley and spend the day with the Quechua community - often described as the direct descendants of the Incas. Textiles play an important cultural and economic role for the Andean people. Some communities, such as Chinchero in the Sacred Valley and Taquile on Lake Titicaca, are renowned for the high quality of their textiles. The wool of llamas, alpacas, and sheep is spun, dyed in vibrant colors, and woven into blankets and clothing.
The Indians who live on the banks of the Uaupés River and its tributaries - the Tiquié, Papuri, Querari and other minor rivers - today belong to 17 ethnic groups, many of which also live in Colombia. Head deep into the Brazilian Amazon and visit the local indigenous community of the Dessana tribe. Dressed in feather headdresses and covered in body paint, the Dessana continue their ancestors’ traditions. Though they currently live only a short distance from the Amazon city of Manaus, the tribe has managed to keep their preserved culture alive.
As the original inhabitants of Easter Island, the Rapa Nui people have some fascinating customs that include the mystery of massive Moai statues scattered around the island and worshiping a bizarre birdman cult. Their culture is similar to other Polynesian societies and their traditional dress includes feather headdresses and simple loincloths, while carvings are composed of stone or wood and jewelry from coral or seashells. We highly recommend timing your trip with Tapati Rapa Nui, an annual, two week long festival held in the beginning of February.
In the far north, indigenous people have inhabited the Arctic for thousands of years, includeing the Saami in the circumpolar areas of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Northwest Russia; the Nenets, Khanty, Evenk and Chukchi in Russia; the Aleut and Yupik; and the Inuit (Iñupiat) in Alaska, Inuit (Inuvialuit) in Canada and Inuit (Kalaallit) in Greenland.
Whether they are in their traditional or western clothing, you will surely come across indigenous people during your trip. We recommend that you buy local goods and produce from people on the ground rather than larger shops or big city markets, spend generously in small local restaurants or street food stalls and use local guides wherever possible. Ask your A2A Journeys contact about appropriate tips in restaurants and hotels. Every dollar you spend in a responsible way can make a difference to the locals.