Pambamarca Archaeological Project

Archaeology Field Program in Cayambe, Ecuador       




      We are glad that you will be joining us on the Pambamarca Archaeology Project this summer in Ecuador.  We have prepared this guide to answer your questions about living and working in Ecuador.  If you find you have questions after reading through this material please feel free to join one of our online communities to ask questions or contact a director by email:


Samuel Connell:

Ana Lucía González:

Chad Gifford:


      It is important to stress that all of us, as members of this project, are guests of the government of Ecuador, which is currently pursuing a long-term program to promote eco- and cultural-tourism in Ecuador.  As you will surmise from photos of the landscape in Pambamarca, ecologically the study area is ideal for this sort of program.  But it is also one of Ecuador’s richest cultural landscapes, whether you are interested in prehistoric, historic or contemporary cultures.  As such, the Ecuadorian government is actively supporting our archaeological project as a way to open up this region for conservation and future tourism.  If you want to read more about the academic side of the project read through our informal website with miscellaneous documents about the project’s work.




      The Pambamarca Archaeological Project consists of an international team of researchers investigating ancient, historic and living landscapes in Pambamarca, Ecuador.  The project area of Pambamarca is located at an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet in the Andean sierra, where snowcapped peaks dominate the horizon.  As past participants can attest, working on the project is exhilarating as multiple teams perform a variety of tasks everyday like settlement survey, site mapping, remote sensing, excavations and laboratory work.  This year the project will continue to study the massive Pre-Columbian fortresses that were built on the peaks of the Pambamarca mountains by Inka and Ecuadorian societies.

      The Pambamarca fortresses pose a number of interesting research problems concerning their origins and use.  The late kings of the Inka Empire were enchanted with Ecuador, and moved their armies as far north as Quito with relative ease.  Naturally, as they looked further north beyond Quito, the Inka armies expected little resistance from the indigenous societies located in and around what is now known as Pambamarca.  As they moved out from Quito, however, the Inkas encountered fiercely resistant societies that were prepared to fight at great lengths for their independence.  In fact, during the next 17 years these Ecuadorians managed to turn back the Inka until finally their fortresses fell in the early 1500s.  The historical documents describe a subsequent period of Inka rule in which the Inkas constructed and occupied a set of fortifications in the area.

      Today the provinces north of Quito are rife with the remains of prehispanic fortresses, with the greatest concentration lying in the mountain range of Pambamarca.  Empirically, this project seeks archaeological and historical data relating to the construction and occupation of the Pambamarca fortresses, as these data will effectively evaluate a number of hypotheses about the imperial and colonial realities of the Inka period in Ecuador.  Topically, the project is interested in the nature of resistance and domination along the northern frontier of the Inka Empire, as such knowledge will contribute greatly to our understanding of imperial and colonial processes in the ancient world.

      The efforts of the Pambamarca Archaeological Project are valuable on other levels as well.  First, in cooperation with professors and archaeologists from the host country, the project provides Ecuadorian university students with the opportunity to learn and train with foreign archaeologists.  Second, the results of this research will be included in the pending application of the Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural del Ecuador to move the Pambamarca Pre-Columbian Fortress Complex from the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites to the Permanent List.  Currently, Ecuador has four Permanent World Heritage Sites: The Islas Galápagos, the Parque Nacional Sangay, Ciudad de Quito, and the Centro histórico de Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca.  Pambamarca would be the first entry from Ecuador to highlight in particular the country’s important PreColumbian cultural heritage.




Travel to Ecuador

      A valid U.S. passport is required to enter and depart Ecuador.  Tourists must also provide evidence of return or onward travel.  Please indicate tourism as your reason for travel on your visa or other forms.  U.S. citizens are given a 30-day or more visa when they arrive at Quito, Ecuador-- therefore, you do not need to apply for a visa before you travel.  Those planning a longer visit should speak with the immigration officials when they arrive.  If your visa expires in the middle of your trip you will need to find the right government to be re-issued a new visa.  Participants who hold non-US passports should determine if a visa is required to enter the country.  You should always travel with a color photocopy of your passport in case of theft or loss.  You can confirm most of this information at the U.S. State Department Web Site at

      Participants should plan to fly into Quito's Aeropuerto Internacional Mariscal Sucre.  Ticket prices to Ecuador fluctuate greatly depending on the day of the week you travel, the time of year, and the carrier.  A U.S. carrier is usually more expensive.  In the past project participants have used Avianca, Lacsa, Ecuatoriana, Saeta, Continental, and American Airlines.  We will remind you to confirm your return reservation as soon as you arrive in Quito.  An exit tax of $25 cash must be paid at the airport when departing Ecuador.  For fieldschool students and program volunteers airport pick-up’s and Quito hotel accommodations for the first night in Ecuador will be arranged by project staff.  If you're joining us independently as a project visitor we will try to send someone to meet you at the airport and bring you to a trusted hotel in Quito.


Travel within Ecuador

      The project will organize site visits over the course of the program.  Thankfully, the Northern Highlands of Ecuador are incredibly rich in history, culture and beauty, meaning these outings can be conducted as daytrips.  One trip will be to Quito to tour the city’s major Colonial monuments; another will be to the famous Otavalo Market, where students can witness (and participate in) one of the oldest markets in the Andes; another will be to the archaeological site of Cochasquí to study the well-preserved monumental platforms that were the hallmark of pre-Inka populations in the region; and another will be to the edge of the Amazon along the eastern foothills of the Andes.

      Before or after participating in the program students are encouraged to travel to more distant parts of Ecuador.  South of Quito lies the city of Cuenca, which has managed to preserve most of its colonial neighborhoods.  If students are willing to travel to the Pacific Coast they will not be disappointed as it is interspersed with beautiful but rugged tropical beaches.  Students can also fly or cruise to the famous Galapagos Islands.  Perú is not far away, although if students are considering visiting Machu Picchu they should set aside a week or more.


Maps and Guidebooks

      You are urged to purchase an up-to-date edition of an Ecuador travel guide (Lonely Planet is excellent), which will have all the details about travel to and within Ecaudor. 




Field Life in Ecuador

      We will be residing in Pambamarca in the small town of Cangahua, which is located in the County of Cayambe on the northeastern limits of the Province of Pichincha (all about one hour north-north-east of Quito).  The capital city of this county is also named Cayambe, which you will find on any map of Ecuador (Cangahua, however, doesn't always appear).  Cangahua sits in the hills south of the city of Cayambe and it takes about 20 minutes to travel between them by bus.  As you will discover, Cangahua itself is wonderful place to live-- small, open and enjoyable. 

      Some participants will stay in a dormitory-styled house located behind the main church in the town of Cangahua.  This ‘Casa Comunal’ is a large, two-story building with electricity, running water, showers, a kitchen, a mess hall and plenty of beds.  When the project is up and running meals will be prepared for the project by two cooks that are hired from year to year. 

      Other students will stay in the colonial-period Hacienda Guachalá located down the road from Cangahua.  This hacienda is a wonderful hotel located on the grounds of a colonial ranch established in the 1500s.  The rooms are clean and comfortable and each includes a private bathroom and fireplace that is re-stocked with wood on a daily basis.  You can learn about the Hacienda online at 

      If the idea of the dormitory-styled living in Cangahua is uncomfortable, students can elect (for extra cost) to stay in the Hacienda Guachalá.


Banking and Financial Services

      Ecuador uses the U.S. Dollar, so there is no need to worry about changing money.  There are also many ATM machines in Quito, Cayambe and other cities (the bank will charge a fee for each transaction).  Most places accept major credit cards.  Please make copies of traveler’s check receipts, your passport, and the front and back of your ATM and credit cards, leaving them at home with someone you can call in the case of an emergency.  Take the original traveler’s check receipts with you as well as photocopies of the cards and passport, keeping them in a separate bag from your traveler’s checks. 


Cultural Sensitivity

      It is important to stress that all of us, as members of this project, are guests of the government of Ecuador, which is currently pursuing a long-term program to promote eco- and cultural-tourism in Ecuador.  As you will surmise from pictures of the Pambamarca landscape, ecologically the study area is ideal for this sort of program.  But it is also one of Ecuador’s richest cultural landscapes, whether you are interested in prehistoric, historic or contemporary cultures.  As such, the Ecuadorian government is actively supporting this archaeological project as a way to open up this region for conservation and future tourism.  What this all means is that project participants should recognize and appreciate that the support and participation of the communities of Pambamarca are a crucial part of the success of our endeavors. 

      It is against Ecuadorian law to remove artifacts from archaeological monuments or to damage them in any way.  Always be sensitive when taking photographs.  Remember, not everyone shares our view of the visual spectrum as being part of the public domain.  Be discrete when photographing a scene and ask permission when taking a photograph of individuals, particularly an older person.  We highly recommend that you also keep a personal field journal so you will be able to remember all the experiences you have had.  Your diary and photographs make the best souvenirs. 


Restrictions on Alcohol and Drugs

      The project will not serve alcohol to students at anytime.  Do not bring any drugs with you or attempt to obtain them in Ecuador.  Tobacco smokers are welcome on the project, but the project house has been established as a smoke-free place, and we expect complete compliance with this policy.  You are not permitted to smoke on the archaeological sites or in the project vehicles. 


Enforcement of Project Rules

      The safety of students and project participants may be jeopardized by violations of the project’s accepted operating procedures, which will be posted and explained in detail when students arrive in Pambamarca.  The directors reserve the right to expel any student from the program for violating any of the rules.  In such a case the student will be put on a plane home and lose credit for the entire program.  The directors’ decisions are final, and in accepting a place in the program the student accepts the directors’ jurisdiction. 




Daily Schedule

      Fieldwork will begin at 7:00am each day and end at 3:00pm.  Before setting out for the field, students will divide into teams devoted to carrying out various archaeological tasks.  A rotating weekly schedule guarantees that students will be able to participate in all of the different activities.  Students should be in decent physical shape when they come to Ecuador as some of the work can be rigorous.  As you will see (and feel) the altitude plays a major role in life in Pambamarca, and everyone typically needs a day or two to acclimatize.  We understand this will be a new experience for some of you or that you may have certain physical strengths and weaknesses, so we will be accommodating in regard to your needs and abilities.


Working Conditions

      The goal of an archaeological project is to observe and gather large amounts of information in a relatively short period of time.  As such, fieldwork can be an intensive and unpredictable experience.  While some participants will have had previous fieldwork experience, others will have not, meaning the chance to work in close quarters with a group of individuals with diverse backgrounds will be a new experience.  Every effort will be made to plan the fieldwork well in advance; however project participants should be prepared for schedule changes that can occur from time to time.  Flexibility and patience, therefore, are important traits to bring to the field. 

      The primary thing to understand about the climate is that conditions can be unpredictable due to the high elevations of the Andes (we live and work at elevations ranging from 8,000-12,000 feet).  All archaeological activities will be organized with this in mind.  In the summer it rarely rains in the area, but we cannot rule out light showers or wet winds (paramo!) coming off the eastern mountains.  These winds are consistently strong and chilly.  We compare it overall to the late fall or early winter in New England, except with nearly constant sun.  While a winter coat is useful, many of us use lots of layers under durable windbreakers or raincoats, which keep you well protected in the rugged environment.  Temperatures can be very cold at night and parts of the project house can be drafty.  Bring a warm winter sleeping back, and hats and mittens are also useful.  Again, the ultimate key to your comfort is wearing layers, because as the sun rises it can get warmer. 




      Vaccinations/Immunizations.  There are no required immunizations for Ecuador.  However, a current tetanus booster, childhood inoculation boosters (such as polio), and a Hepatitis A vaccination are recommended.  More information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at (877) 394-8747, or via their Internet site at

      Current Health Precautions.  For the most current information available regarding health precautions for travel to Ecuador please contact an immunization clinic well before you leave for Ecuador.  As with any health-related recommendation, it is also a good idea to check with your personal physician regarding shots and/or medication.

      Medical Insurance.  All student participants must have demonstrated health insurance.  Remember that not all U.S. medical insurance is valid outside the United States, for example U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States.  Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties.  Check with your own insurance company to confirm that your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation.  Ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor, or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur.  Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State’s ‘Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad’, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.  If you do not have travel coverage, please investigate the various travel insurance packages that are available. 

      Personal Medication.  Bring all personal medication, aspirin, Band-Aids, first aid cream, Maalox, Kaopectate, Kleenex, tampons, sunblock, etc.  If necessary, you can buy over the counter medications in the area.  If you wear glasses be sure to bring an extra pair.  You will find that the high altitude of the Andes affects everyone different, so there is no way to know how you will feel until you arrive.  Most people don't notice the thinner air, some people need a few days to acclimate, and only a very few suffer.  If you have any reason to think you might have a difficult time with the elevations be sure to check with your doctor before you leave about a prescription diuretic like diamox. 

      Medical Facility.  The project has established detailed emergency procedures for first-aid and evacuations in case someone gets hurt.  Participants should be assured that a basic first-aid kit will be available at all project sites and a dedicated medical clinic is located in Cangahua.  The nearest advanced medical facilities are in Cayambe and Quito.  Depending on the type of emergency, we will transport participants to either of these locations. 

      Acceptance of Risk.  We take all practicable measures to minimize risks to the safety and well-being of all participants in this program.  Nonetheless, it is in the nature of things that not all risk can be eliminated.  In particular, the risks of road accidents and other health emergencies far from first-class health-care facilities are real.  By taking part in the program, you accept these risks for your own account and agree to hold the project directors and staff free of responsibility for any harm caused to you other than by the action of the project’s agents.




      Here’s the trick about Ecuador that may surprise you: most any generic personal item can be purchased in Ecuador (shampoo, bath towels, wool hats, etc.). However, you should definitely bring any unique personal items that are especially important, such as medication, eyewear, footwear, etc. 

      In selecting items for your time in Ecuador, be practical as well as flexible.  Again, the highland environment is windy and sometimes chilly with slight drizzles during the day.  Bring clothes that dry fast and are not heavy if they get wet.  We recommend wearing heavy pants with long underwear in the field (not shorts), and we recommend layering with long-sleeve items under a fleece layer and a heavy windbreaker or raincoat.  Wide-brimmed hats are good protections against the sun; also bring lots of sunscreen.  One pair of sturdy hiking boots is highly recommended for your trip, and you should know that no matter how nice and expensive the boots are you will wear them down.  Your boots should be comfortable and waterproof, or fast-drying in case they get wet.  Lastly, a day pack would be good for carrying your lunch and note book during survey or when traveling to site visits. 

      If you are partial to certain tools that you’ve used in the field in the past we ask that you bring them for use in the excavations.  Favorite items owned by many archaeologists might include a pointing trowel with a 5-6 inch blade, a small line level, a retracting-blade tape measure marked with metric graduations, maybe some brushes, and a whisk broom.  If you want to start your own ‘dig kit’ we suggest "Forestry Supplies" and "Ben Meadows" (available online).  If none of this makes any sense then remember that the project supplies tools as well.


Here is a list of the items you should consider bringing on your trip:


Personal Items:

photocopies of essential documentation (passport, etc.)

winter, low-temperature sleeping bag

large back-pack (large enough for a weekend trip)

small day back-pack (large enough for a day in the field)

heavy-duty plastic bags (for keeping stuff organized and dry)

underwear and long underwear

long-sleeve work shirts, t-shirts

sweaters, fleece pullovers, warm vests

heavy windbreaker, raincoat

jeans and long pants

shorts and swimsuit

warm wool socks

hiking boots, sneakers, bath sandals

winter hat, warm gloves, neck scarf



sunblock (maximum SPF)

sunburn cream

insect repellant

flashlight and extra batteries

alarm clock


small binoculars


music (Walkman etc)

warm work gloves

pocket knife

personal water bottle