North of Quito: Highlands of Imbabura

The equator lies a mere 15 miles north of Quito.

Although many visitors make the day trip to this invisible dividing line, few venture beyond it into the highlands of Imbabura Province.

What a pity. They’re missing out on some of the country’s best scenery, highland towns, active adventure options, rose plantations, an ideal climate, and traditional markets.

Mist rising off paramo vegetation outside of Quinto, Ecuador

Cayambe Valley

One of our favorite areas is the fertile Cayambe Valley, about an hour’s drive northeast of Quito.

Spread out below the 18,996-foot Volcan Cayambe, this rural region produces a rainbow of roses, fine cheese, and specialty biscuits.

If you’re headed farther north, you can stop for lunch at a historic hacienda.

Colorful bags of spices on display at traditional Otavalo Market in Ecuador

Cayambe Coca

If you have time to linger, we can arrange guided climbs of the volcano and tours of the Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve.

This mountain and forest preserve is inhabited by condors, foxes, and deer.

Otavalo: Traditional Markets

Otavalo, located about an hour to the north of Cayambe, is home to one of the largest traditional markets in South America.

Yellow Agile Tit spotted on a green branch while birding in Ecuador near Quinto

Weavers, carvers, and jewelers travel from across the region to sell their wares at this Saturday market in El Centenario Plaza.

San Antonio de Ibarra, Cotacachi, and Peguche

Many of the neighboring towns have specialized their skills: wood carving in San Antonio de Ibarra, leatherwork in Cotacachi, and weaving in Peguche.

The towns of Olmedo and Zuleta will help you gain a deeper appreciation for the rigors and joys of highland life.

Colorful beaded necklaces at the Otavalo Market in Ecuador

Luxury Boutique Hotels & Charming Haciendas

Outside Otavalo, accommodations range from comfortable haciendas to luxurious boutique hotels.

After checking in, you can horseback ride through eucalyptus groves, hike to waterfalls and mountain lakes, and observe Andean condors at close range.

Expect cool weather, bright sun, and occasional rain.

Brown condor flying over mountains North of Quinto in Ecuador, spotted on a birdwatching Expedition

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