The Andes Mountains stretch from the bottom to the top of South America, cutting through seven countries including Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, Colombia, Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Stretching over 4000 miles, the Andes are undeniably one of South America’s most magnificent natural attractions. In Ecuador, the Andes run through the very middle, like a spine, and are home to an incredible diversity of landscapes, flora, and fauna.
The Ecuadorian Andes, also called the Highlands or ‘Avenue of Volcanoes’, boast a dramatic landscape of soaring mountain peaks, impressive volcanoes, valleys, lakes and turquoise lagoons, interrupted by farmland and indigenous villages. In ancient times, this region was densely populated, as the volcanic earth is highly fertile. Quechua is the language of the Inca, which was the dominant culture in Ecuador when the Spanish arrived. Quechua can still be heard throughout the Highlands, and Inca ruins and relics can be found in the region.
Visitors to the area can enjoy a variety of activities on the mountain slopes including scenic hikes, horseback riding, cycling, bird watching, and classes in traditional art or cooking. Make sure to include a visit to the small town of Otavalo. Home to the tremendously popular Otavalo Market, it is the biggest market for traditional jewelry, textiles and crafts in South America.
For those interested in conservation, learn about the work being done to help the critically endangered Andean Condor, one of the largest flying birds in the world, and a national symbol in Ecuador.
About 90 minutes south of Quito, in the Andes, is Cotopaxi Volcano. With an elevation over 19,300 feet, it is one of the world’s highest active volcanoes, and on clear days can be seen from Quito. Most of its surrounding area has been declared a National Park. Cotopaxi National Park is well worth a visit, as it offers a stunning mix of forest, lagoons, and of course, snow-capped mountains and volcanoes. Enjoy hiking, horseback riding, and trips to the lagoons during your stay.
Our favorite accommodations in the Highlands
Recommended itineraries featuring the Highlands
Other areas to explore