Is Ecuador a Third World Country?

town with lights far from mountain field with snow

Yes, it is. However, the phrase ‘third world’ (tiers monde in French) has undergone the process of evolution. What “third world” means to a historian conversant with the cold war contradicts modern-day usage. Hence, the wavering between a linear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

If you’re hungry to know more, this article paints a clear picture that’d help you understand why Ecuador is categorized as a third-world country.

Let’s dig in!

What Counts as a Third World Country?

The phrase ‘third world’ was coined on August 14, 1952, by a French anthropologist, Alfred Sauvy. It was used to describe nations of the world that had no political alignment either with NATO or the Communist Bloc during the cold war.

They were majorly countries in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, and some European countries like Switzerland, Finland, and Austria.

Over the years the phrase got a makeover. When some non-aligned nations came together to form the Non-aligned Movement in 1961, the term was used to describe the member nations of the movement.

Since most of the non-aligned nations were either poor and developing or developing nations, the phrase became a conventional way to describe such nations after the cold war.

However, since some non-aligned nations like Switzerland and Austria are developed, the conventional meaning of the term is said to be outdated and demeaning. Hence the phrases ‘developing nations’ and ‘least developed nations’ were coined.

To them, it’s a precise and non-derogatory way of classifying nations according to their economic growth and development. With this, it will interest you to know that Ecuador was neutral during the cold war and is currently classified as a developing nation by the United Nations.

Now, let’s discuss the attributes of a third-world country in detail.

Characteristics of a Third World Country

Here are the common attributes of a third-world country.

1.   Human Development Index Is Poor

The United Nations created the Human Development Index (HDI) in 1990. It is an index that uses human development as a parameter for determining a nation’s development level.

There are three indicators used for calculating HDI. Here is a list of the indicators.

  • Life expectancy at birth
  • Expected years of schooling and mean years of schooling
  • Gross National Income (GNI) per capita

These indicators are graded using a scale of 0–1.0. Third-world countries score between 0–0.8, which is not considered a very high score. Ecuador’s current HDI is 0.759.

2.   Gross National Income Per Capita is Low

Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is a comparison tool used by the World Bank to measure a nation’s development level. In simpler terms, it is the average income earned by citizens of a nation before tax deductions.

Using the GNI, countries are divided into categories by the world bank. Developed countries are classified as high-income economies with a GNI per capita of 13,200 or more. However, third-world countries fall within any of the following categories.

  • Low-income economies with GNI per capita of $1,085 or less
  • Lower middle-income economies with GNI per capita between $1,086 and $4,225
  • Upper middle-income economies with GNI per capita between $4,256 and $13,205

Ecuador is an upper middle-income economy with a GNI per capita of $5,930. This is 7.4% higher than that of 2020, which was $5,540 in 2019. To drive economic growth, the government of Ecuador is gravitating toward private sector investment.

3.   Dependence on Developed Nations for Support

Since third-world countries are still developing, they depend a lot on developed nations for economic support. Most of the time, they also seek military aid from them during periods of crisis.

These aids obtained from developed countries deal with the issues faced by third world countries superficially. Only momentary reliefs fail to solve the root cause of the issues impeding development.

4.   Political Instability and Infringement of Rights of Citizens

The slow rate of development in third-world countries is sometimes attributable to political instability. This could be corrupt governance, political upheavals, or bad policies.

Where there is political instability, the citizens of a nation bear the brunt of such instability as their civil and political rights are infringed upon.

5.   Non-Alignment

Historically, the term third world meant non-alignment. Countries that were politically neutral during the cold war were called the third world. This was a convenient term for distinguishing them from those aligned with NATO. They were referred to as the first world while nations with the communist bloc were called the second world.

What’s Special About Ecuador?

Regardless of the third-world label, Ecuador is still a center of attraction for several reasons. Here are some of them.

1.   The Landscape Tells Stories

The Inca ruins in Cañar Province echo the stories of the Incar and Cañari people. Itiñar Solar Museum tells you of the local people while Mitad Del Mundo—the middle of a world monument shows you where French explorers stood to determine the equatorial line in 1736.

But that is not all. Other cultural, natural, and religious sites say a lot about the history and people of Ecuador.

2.   It Is Adorned by Nature

What do you call a country that has more than 6,000 varieties of orchids and 130 variants of hummingbird in it? Paradise?

Whatever you choose to call it, Ecuador is beautifully framed by nature. It is rich in flora and fauna and boasts of being home to animals that are thought to be extinct like the Pinocchio Lizard.

This wildlife is conserved in a range of reserves like the Cuyabeno reserve, Gálapagos National Park, and Yasuni National Park.

3.   Nature’s Rights are Protected

It is common for environmental rights to be recognized and protected to control pollution and conserve and manage land. Ecuador took this to a different level in 2006 by becoming the first country to enshrine the rights of nature in its constitution.

Thus in Ecuador, both humans and nature have inalienable rights.

4.   Five UNESCO World Heritage Sites Are in Ecuador

World heritage sites are natural or man-made sites legally protected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for their international value. These sites are nominated and designated as heritage sites by the World Heritage Convention which is an organ of UNESCO.

In Ecuador, the sites mentioned below are designated as such.

  • The city of Quito
  • Parque Nacional Sangay
  • Historical Centre of Santa Ana de los Ríos
  • Gálapagos island
  • Qhapaq Ñan-Andean Road System

Make sure to visit any of these sites when you’re in Ecuador.

5.   It Is a Tourist Hub

Due to its biodiversity, richness in history, and culture, tourists troop into Ecuador yearly to see the wonder bequeathed to the country by nature. The tourism industry contributes to 4% of the country’s economy.

To ensure that tourism thrives in the nation, the government of Ecuador is focused on promoting ecotourism and even invites tourists to partake in ecotourism projects. One such project is the Yachana Lodge and Center for Geotourism training, a project that seeks to achieve rainforest conservation through education.

6.   You Can Live in Ecuador on a Low Budget

You don’t have to empty your account to live in Ecuador. The cost of living is very affordable. With $1,500 to $1,825, you’d be able to meet your basic needs in a month. According to Forbes, Ecuador is among the cheapest countries to live in.

Although Ecuador is generally affordable, here are its cheapest cities.

  • Cuenca
  • Canoa
  • Quito
  • Loja

7.   There Are Lots of Bananas

Well, that’s not surprising – unless you didn’t know that Ecuador is the world’s largest exporter of bananas. Bananas also rank among the most exported commodities in Ecuador. Between 2020 and 2021, this banana exporting nation generated the sum of $3,500,321,000 as its net export surplus from bananas. Now, that’s a huge number.


Ecuador is a fun place to be. Despite being a third-world country, there are wonderful sites to see and lots of discoveries to make. If you’ve been thinking of going to Ecuador, now is the right time. Don’t let the third-world label deter you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Ecuador

What Is the Language of Ecuador?

There are thirteen indigenous languages spoken in Ecuador. However, the official language of business, government, and religion is Spanish. The Spanish language was introduced in Ecuador by the Spanish colonists during the 16th century. Currently, it is estimated that at least 93% of Ecuadorians speak Spanish.

However, the Spanish spoken in Ecuador has three variants: Amazon, Andean, and Equatorial Coastal Spanish. These variants are influenced by indigenous accents.

The indigenous languages spoken in Ecuador are:

  • Kichwa
  • Shuar
  • Záparo
  • Waorani
  • Tetete
  • Siona
  • Secoya
  • Embera
  • Colorado
  • Cofán
  • Cla’palaachi
  • Awa-Cuaiquer
  • Achwa-Shiriwa

What Is the Currency Used in Ecuador?

The United States Dollar is the official currency of Ecuador. This has not always been Ecuador’s official currency. Before dollarization in 2000, the official currency of Ecuador was Sucre. It was used from 1884 to 1999.

However, an economic crisis that heightened in 1999 caused Ecuadorians to convert their holdings to the US dollar at an exchange rate of $1 to 25,000 Sucre.

Quick Fact: The Ecuadorian government still issues the Centavo coins since it is only the US dollar bills that are used in Ecuador.

What Is the Capital of Ecuador?

Quito – formerly known as San Francisco de Quito. This capital city of Ecuador is famed for the historic buildings and monuments standing in the city center. It is also known for being the capital city closest to the Equator.

What Is Ecuador Best Known for?

There are several fascinating facts that Ecuador is known for. However, we’ll list just a few.

  • Nature surrounds it.
  • There are more than 6,000 varieties of Orchids in the country.
  • There are 130 different kinds of hummingbirds in Ecuador.
  • Ecuador is among the world’s biggest exporters of bananas.
  • Panama hats are made in Ecuador, not in Panama. That’s surprising, right?

What Percentage of Ecuador is Black?

African Ecuadoreans make up 7% of Ecuador’s population. They’re mainly found in the northwestern coastal region of Ecuador. These African-Ecuadorians are descendants of African slaves shipped to Ecuador by Spanish colonists.