The Sierra is rich in natural and cultural beauty. Snow-capped, active volcanoes, lush green rolling hillsides covered in a patchwork of farms, untamed cloud forests, immense volcanic crater lakes, natural hot springs, crashing waterfalls and rushing rivers form a spectacular setting to cultural communities that have clung to languages, traditions and customs dating back thousands of years.
Many people start their journey in Quito, the capital. Too many people leave Ecuador without going any farther in the highlands. The sierra offers a wide range of accommodations, culinary options, shopping opportunities and cultural festivals, all easily accessible from the capital of Quito.
In addition to Quito, Otavalo and BaĆ±os have the most extensive infrastructure supporting tourism in the highlands. In these towns, you can expect a wide selection of restaurants, hotels and activities. Choose a luxurious suite in a 400-year old hacienda, or nestle down in a backpacker's $3 per night hostel. Dine on Pad Thai one day and barbecued guinea pig the next!
There are numerous climbing, mountain biking and trekking opportunities in the Sierra. Based around its 20 active volcanoes. One tourist favorite is the glacier-topped Cotopaxi, which can be scaled with the help of a good guide, an ice pick and plenty of warm clothes. There are also several longer hikes around the national parks in the Andes Mountain Range.