Ecuador is one of those magical locations, that moves from the Andes to Pacific Ocean, a destination with a long history and a large Indian population that by it's existence testifies to the durability of the cultures that proceded the Spanish. Their skills are on display in the market town of Otavalo where you can find handcrafted goods. Throughout an Ecuador riding vacation you will change horses on several occasions. Convenient Quito Airport pickups and voila you are off to your ride.
Ecuadorian countryside, from high mountain to gentle countryside. The rides vary in their intensity. Ecuador is a kind of special place where ancient civilizations still persist and native Ecuadorian culture is still alive.
On the sample itinerary below we ride from Hacienda to Hacienda following a stunning route through the Andean highlands along ancient Inca trails at elevations between 8,000 and 14,000 feet. The ride winds past ruins and local people working in the fields. There are ever changing views of the towering mountains including the Avenue of Volcanoes.
Meet at the Quito airport and transfer to a nearby historic hacienda for your first night.
Drive north to a hacienda reputedly frequented by the great South American liberator, Simon Bolivar (2 hrs.). With its terraces and gardens graced with citrus, palm and pine trees it is an ideal location to leisurely drift into the relaxing Andean surroundings. An introductory ride (2-3 hrs.) will be along the tracks and through the fields on the slopes of the Imbabura Volcano. Guests will first try their horses in an enclosed area to get used to the tack. The guides and grooms are available to assist and give instruction. Visit the famous Otavalo market, where the local Indians still dress in their very distinctive costume. Overnight at the hacienda.
Leave this historical hacienda on horseback and ride to another colonial hacienda built in 1606 (5 hrs.). Ride through tiny hamlets and wind around the patchwork fields. Magnificent views of the San Pablo lake as we ride across the slopes of the sacred Imbabura Volcano (extinct). The focus will be on the many Inca legends. As well as seeing an array of exotic fruits and local crops, we pass the locals in vibrant traditional dress going about their daily tasks of plowing, planting and harvesting while the children herd pigs and sheep. It is a fascinating insight into Andean country life. In the afternoon, visit local weavers where the ancient pre-Inca backstrap loom is still used. Overnight at this early 17th Century hacienda adorned with local crafts and antiques.
Start the day with a stunning ride into the pastoral Zuleta Valley (5 hrs.). Ride along country lanes then through eucalyptus forests, rising out of San Pablo Valley and onto the plains beyond for some fast-pace riding. Views of Zuleta valley, the verdant gorges and the 'paramo' (the unique Andean habitat of high grasslands) as we pass dew ponds and hedges of aloe vera and agave atop mud walls. Descend into the Zuleta meadows and ride on to a working farm in the middle of this sleepy valley. There is a chance of seeing the mighty Andean Condor as well as other species such as hummingbirds and bright scarlet flycatchers. Andalusian horses, fighting bulls and a dairy herd are among the farm inhabitants. In the afternoon, see the hand embroidery that has made the valley famous. Overnight at this working hacienda.
A route is taken through two distinct vegetation zones (5-7 hrs.) Ride out of the hacienda along tree-lined trails between the meadows and passing the traditional adobe and thatch cottages. Canter along dirt tracks then take to the steep paths following the gorges and climb high into the open, wild grasslands. Crossing the gently undulating highlands following barely visible tracks made by the 'chagras' (Andean cowhands) while rounding up the cattle, we enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding valleys below. Descend into the Cayambe Valley dominated by the snow-capped Cayambe Volcano, which straddles the Equator Line and say 'goodbye' to these horses. Cross the Equator Line and overnight in one of the oldest haciendas in Ecuador which still boasts fine examples of early colonial architecture. Guests can relax in the gardens and courtyards as well as use the covered swimming pool.
The day starts with an early morning drive bypassing Quito and heading south down through the 'Avenue of Volcanoes'. The views are stunning as we leave snow-capped Cayambe behind and travel toward the perfectly conical shape of Cotopaxi Volcano. After a hearty brunch in the midst of a dairy farm we meet fresh horses. Riders have a chance to get the feel of their new trusty steeds before riding south to the foothills of the twin Iliniza peaks and on through a highland valley – very different scenery to the previous days' rides, to a hacienda steeped in history. The wide sandy tracks and grassy paths are ideal for some more fast-pace riding and we often pass the locals, the ladies wearing full, brightly colored, pleated skirts. The children are often marching along behind their llamas, donkeys or pigs, taking them to the open pastureland. Overnight in a hacienda that holds a very special place in history: used as a base by many explorers and scientists during their expeditions to the “new-world”.
Have an optional morning visit by vehicle to the rural Saquisili Indian market. Guests can amble through the squares and streets buying some local crafts or simply watching the locals trading on this, a very important market day. After arriving back at the hacienda, head for the hills around Cotopaxi on horseback. Ride along flat, sandy lanes and have a chance of some faster pace riding. Passing adobe huts with grass-thatch roofs, we ride into the gently undulating hills. Cotopaxi (the highest active volcano in the world) and Chimborazo (Ecuador's tallest peak) are often visible as we ride close to the National Park. Leave the horses and head back for a second night at the hacienda.
Enjoy a spectacular ride (6 hrs.). Having visited magnificent hacienda San Agustin de Callo incorporating intact Inca walls and entire Inca rooms (the second most important Inca site in Ecuador) we rejoin the horses. Ride into the National Park and canter across the wide, barren plain at the base of the Cotopaxi Volcano. Part of this ride follows the main Inca highway which linked Quito with Cusco, Peru. Close by, there is a route running eastwards, along which the Incas went to the Amazon rain forest. Passing a shallow lake, we leave the plain and almost reach the summit of Ruminahui volcano – riding up and over a series of ridges we climb over the rocky crest and lava slopes of this peak. Follow trails marked out by the wild horses as we leave the park and start our descent into the Machachi Valley. The ground is covered with tiny pumice stones and lichen as well as a host of wild flowers. Hummingbirds and birds of prey are often spotted and sometimes the mighty Andean condor. Leave the horses at a farm and head back to Quito for a night in a historic hacienda.
Following breakfast, guests are accompanied to the airport in time for flights. Today we have the option to join a trip extension visiting the Choco rainforest or take an exploration cruise on board one of our Galapagos private yachts or an Amazon riverboat.
The above is a sample itinerary prepared with a focus on Equestrian travel. It can be customized to fit the needs and special interests of your travellers.