Ibarra, with its choked streets and colonial charm weathered to a weary gray, is neither the provincial backwater it once was, nor a thriving draw for tourism. With commerce picking up, it’s unclear whether it will embrace its cobbled foundations or pave over them. The fast-growing capital of Imababura province lies just 22km northeast of Otavalo.
Tulcán is a chilly highland city steeped in grit and bustle, a narrow urban causeway linking with Colombia. The provincial capital of Carchi used to attract Colombians bargain hunting with the Ecuadorian sucre, but these days the best deals are with Colombian imports. The Sunday street market provides goods and clothing but few handicrafts.