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Extending from the north of Quito to the Colombian border is Ecuador's colorful Northern Andes region. This mountainous region is made up by the provinces of Carchi, Imbabura and the northern parts of Pichincha. Green valleys blanketed with patchwork farmland and sleepy villages surrounded by majestic peaks define the landscape. Of geographical interest, the equator crosses the Northern Andes at Mt. Cayambe. Cayambe is the highest spot on the equator at 18,750 ft, and the only point on the equator with snow.

The world renowned indigenous markets of Otavalo and Cotacachi are located in the province of Imbabura (N.B. Otavalo is listed in the classic travel book, "1,000 Places to See Before You Die: A Traveler's Life List"). Spectacular volcanic lakes give the Northern Andes its reputation as Ecuador's "lake region." Some of the finest haciendas, inns and ranch-resorts in all of Ecuador are found here, making the Northern Andes an ideal getaway destination.

The Northern Andes is home to many ecological reserves fascinating in their diversity. The Cayambe-Coca reserve includes Sierra and jungle; the Cotacachi-Cayapas reserve includes cloud forest; and the ecological reserve El Angel is home to a fascinating giant plant called frailejones.

Many archeological sites from the pre-Incan civilizations of the Quitos and Caris are here, among them the mysterious pyramids of Cochasqui.

Health tips to make your visit to the Northern Andes a safe one

Adjust to altitude The base of most lodges in this region lie at around 9000 feet above sea level, as does Quito itself, where you'll be arriving. The hosterias, haciendas and inns of the Northern Andes are comfortable and beautiful, making that one-to-two day adjustment to the altitude a very pleasant experience. Keep yourself well-hydrated and avoid alcohol until you've acclimated yourself.

Know your limits Most adventure rides, whether on horseback or mountain bike, are technically easy. But know your personal skill level and stay within your limits. Always wear a helmet and make sure you stay on the trails.

Personal Safety The countryside of the Northern Andes is generally safe. However, it is always wise to be cautious. When on an outing, leave expensive jewelry and watches behind and carry only what is necessary. Travel with an experienced guide or someone who knows the area and speaks Spanish. Many of the hotels in the Northern Andes can arrange your day trips for you and provide transportation.

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