Running the length of the country and rising to over 6000m (20,000 feet), the Andes dominate the geography and climate of Ecuador, creating a landscape of snow-capped volcanoes, open plateaus and verdant valleys. With an altitude of 2,850m and a pleasant spring-like climate, Quito is the world’s second highest capital city. It has a beautifully renovated Spanish colonial heart with a 16th Century cathedral, central plaza and many museums, galleries and restaurants. To the north lies the town of Otavalo with its vibrant market, farming terraces and exquisite colonial haciendas. Heading south from Quito, the valley of the Avenue of Volcanoes extends 325kms, flanked by farmland and spectacular snow-capped mountains. Cotopaxi Volcano (5,897m) boasts a perfect cone capped with glaciers and snow fields, while the surrounding national park holds a number of high altitude species of birds (including condors), plants and llamas. Hot springs, good walking and rafting can be found at the towns of Papallacta and Banos and in the far south are the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca and the Inca ruins of Ingapirca. Accommodation in this region is mainly in working haciendas and colonial houses.