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Northern Highlands

Introducing Northern Highlands

The steep green hills, dust-blown villages, busy cities and flower plantations of the north are a stone’s throw from the capital. Strong indigenous cultures, Afro-Ecuadorian communities, colonial descendants and mestizos all inhabit this highland region. The famous Otavalo market, with its cacophony of color, dates back to pre-Inca days. While many foreign visitors flock north for the Otavalo market, the humbler byways of this region offer much more.

The massive glaciated Volcán Cayambe, the third-highest peak in the country, stands sentinel at the gateway to the north. Beyond it lies the diverse geography of volcanoes, lakes and hot springs, the harsh and misty beauty of the páramo (Andean grasslands), and humid green valleys growing bananas, papaya and coffee.

Between the cities of Otavalo and Ibarra, small indigenous villages continue their traditional weaving, woodcarving and leatherwork, a process perfected through the centuries. Some of these small hamlets make an excellent base for hiking the steep surrounding slopes, Volcán Cotacachi or the revered Taita (father) Imbabura.

Ibarra, a busy town with ashen colonial facades, marks the beginning of the Ibarra–San Lorenzo route to the north coast. Further north you’ll find the lowland Afro-Ecuadorian communities of the Chota Valley, famous for their marimba beats and soccer stars.

A wobbly road out of Quito whisks you to the cloud forests of the western Andean slopes. Excellent bird-watching, hiking and tubing entertain visitors through lazy days in Mindo. The Intag region offers a glimpse of a very remote life in lush pointed hills.

average temperature in tulcan: 10°C (50°F)

rainiest months in tulcÁn: october & november