The Equator cuts across Ecuador not far north of Quito; besides delineating the planet's hemispheres -- and determining which way water circles before heading down a drain -- this line also forms the rough boundary for Ecuador's northern Sierra.

The crown jewel and most popular destination of these northern highlands is the small, busy city of Otavalo, which has a world-famous artisans market. Besides doing some shopping, be sure to visit a few of these artisans' workshops and studios, which are spread around various neighboring towns and villages.

Several of the country's better haciendas and boutique resort hotels are here, too, and the area is great for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. In particular, Cuicocha Lake and the Mojanda Lakes are fabulous spots for hikers of any ability, while the Intag Cloud Forest Reserve is a must-see destination for serious bird-watchers.

North of Otavalo lie the busy little city of Ibarra and its satellite suburb of San Antonio de Ibarra, where you'll find some of the best woodcarving craftsmen in all of Ecuador. From Ibarra, the Pan-American Highway continues north to Tulcán and the Colombian border.