Overview: Highlands Region of Ecuador
The highlands region of Ecuador is defined by the Andes, a massive chain of mountains that runs along the west coast of South America. In this region of Ecuador, the Andes rise from 3,200 to nearly 20,000 feet. Throughout the region, volcanoes — some recently active — influence the safety and livelihood of inhabitants who must struggle with the effects of the intermittent ash and lava. Extreme weather and periods of drought and flooding also make life challenging here.
The region is divided into 11 provinces and is home to nearly half the country’s population. The two most representative ethnic groups are mestizo (a blend of indigenous Amerindian and white) and indigenous people, who are also identified as Kitchwas and are divided into 13 groups.
This region is dominated by the volcanoes. Chimborazo, the highest at 20,702 feet, is in the center of the country. In the valleys at the base of the mighty volcanoes, farmers tend to livestock and crops of corn, beans, wheat and barley for themselves and for market.
Quito, the capital of Ecuador, was once the northern capital of the Incan Empire, and today is listed as a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site. The markets in the small mountain town of Otavalo draw visitors from around the world who come to see the striking array of handicrafts — maracas, pottery, jewelry, leather goods and hand-knitted items.