Browse the Itinerary for this Ride
DAY 1: OTAVALO MARKET & INTRODUCTORY RIDE
Meet at the Sebastian hotel in Quito at 7.30 AM with the bilingual guide and drive into the northern highlands of Ecuador, through an arid valley with avocado orchards then into Imbabura province ‘the land of the lakes’. Visit the famous and very colorful Otavalo market.
Afterwards it’s a short drive to a historic hacienda frequented by the great South American liberator, Simon Bolivar. Members of the charming family (horse fanatics themselves!) who have owned the hacienda for several centuries greet you warmly. With its courtyards, ornate fountains, terraces and gardens graced with citrus, palm and monkey puzzle trees, it is an ideal location to leisurely drift into the relaxing Andean atmosphere.
An introductory ride of about 3-4 hours will take you along the tracks and through the tiny fields and hamlets surrounding the hacienda. You often see the very friendly but dignified locals in their immaculate traditional dress working in the fields, using hand tools or cattle to work the land. These tiny fields are surrounded by stone walls and earth banks topped with sisal plants and an array of wild flowers. The guides and grooms are available to assist and give instructions along the way if necessary.
After a welcome drink in the cozy bar, accompanied by the music of an excellent Andean band and a delicious, traditional dinner (a la carte), overnight at this 18th century hacienda. Most of the rooms have fireplaces.
SACRED IMBABURA & SAN PABLO LAKE
Leave this historic hacienda, once a very important weaving centre, and ride on to another colonial hacienda built in 1602 (5 hours riding time). Ride past tiny hamlets of adobe huts, through woodlands, cross rocky gorges and wind your way around the patchwork fields of quinoa, potatoes, maize and tree tomato orchards. Enjoy the magnificent views of the San Pablo lake and the jagged Mojanda summit as you skirt the slopes of the sacred Imbabura Volcano (extinct), which is the focus of many Inca legends. As well as seeing a great variety of exotic Andean fruits and other crops, meet the locals in vibrant traditional dress going about their daily tasks, the children shepherding the unruly pigs and sheep, trying to keep them off the crops. It is a fascinating insight into the Andean country life. After the ride, drive through small villages with thriving cottage industries to visit a local family of weavers. They still produce exceptionally unique rugs using the ancient pre-Inca back strap loom which most weavers have abandoned in favor of more modern looms. The wool is still dyed using native plants and then hand spun as the family sticks rigidly to the traditional weaving processes. Overnight at this early 17th century hacienda adorned with local crafts and antiques.
PASTORAL ZULETA VALLEY
Start the day with a stunning ride into the beautiful pastoral Zuleta Valley (riding time will be about 6-7 hours). Ride along country lanes and through eucalyptus forests before rising out of San Pablo Valley to enjoy wonderful views across the lake to the hills of Mojanda and the Imbabura volcano, before riding onto the plains beyond for some canters and gallops. Views of Zuleta valley, the verdant gorges and the ‘paramo’ (the unique Andean habitat of high grasslands) come into sight as you pass dewponds and hedges of spikey agave (sisal) atop mud walls. Following sandy tracks, descend into the valley below. With views of the ancient tumili and earth pyramids erected by the pre-Inca population, ride onto a working farm in the middle of this tranquil valley seldom visited by tourists. Here you will have a chance to catch a glimpse of 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 you can walk into the tiny village and see examples of the hand embroidery that has made the valley famous or enjoy exploring and observing the activities on the working farm. Overnight at the Hacienda. Fireplaces in most rooms.
THE SNOWS OF CAYAMBE & THE EQUATOR LINE
In the morning you have an opportunity to learn more about the Andalucian breed, as the farm owners chat with you about their champion horses. Afterwards, ride out into another section of the farm, along grass tracks and soon gaining elevation which offers spectacular views: north down the Zuleta valley to three peaks on the horizon (in Columbia), and west across the array of patchwork fields with every imaginable shade of green to Imbabura peak. Here, condors are seen up close more and more frequently. Leaving the farm you ride up out of the valley through a large eucalyptus forest. A different experience as the previous rides - cantering along the shady tracks between the rows of tall eucalyptus. You often meet the locals with small herds of sheep, goats, pigs and cattle.
Emerging from the forest onto the plains, the snow-capped Cayambe volcano comes into view. Ride onto the Pesillo plains and arrive in the Cayambe Valley dominated by this volcano, which straddles the Equator Line. Leave the horses at a typical village square complete with ornate gardens, church and school. A short drive takes you to a beautiful old hacienda for a delicious home cooked 3-course lunch of traditional dishes. The number of visitors allowed to the hacienda is strictly limited. Antique furniture is packed with arrangements of fresh roses – thousands of them. After lunch, and if time permits, visit a nearby rose plantation. Afterwards cross the Equator Line with time to stop for photos, and travel by vehicle for about 2 hours, bypassing Quito, to a hacienda with a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, Turkish bath and the possibility of massages (at your own expense). Overnight at the hacienda.
THE REMOTE FOOTHILLS OF SINCHOLAGUA
The day starts with driving back to meet the horses. Leaving the farmlands behind, a spectacular 7-hour ride awaits you, across the Sincholagua foothills to the northern edge of the Cotopaxi National Park. Start by traversing huge gorges on narrow tracks and riding across the remote ‘paramo’ wilderness, then descend into the valley below where grassy fields afford exhilarating canters across the pastures. Ride towards Cotopaxi National Park and approach the perfectly conical shape of the snow-capped volcano, the highest active volcano in the world. Sincholagua, a rocky summit that dominates the skyline, clearly marks the continental divide. The precipitation that falls on the western side runs down and ends up on the Ecuadorian coast, in the Pacific Ocean, while that of the eastern side eventually joins the Amazon and goes on to the Atlantic Ocean, via Brazil.
The hacienda you cross is famous for its feisty Spanish bulls, and having avoided them successfully, turn westwards, crossing a river and arrive at the next hacienda for the night which is surrounded by mighty Andean peaks, an absolutely stunning location.
INCA RUINS & WILD HORSES
Enjoy today’s ride in the wild open expanses of the Andes with no sign of habitation and spectacular views of the close-by snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano. Ride into the national park, cantering across the wide, barren plains at the base of the volcano. Several herds of wild horses inhabit the park and galloping alongside these long-maned horses across the rugged terrain is an unique experience. Part of today’s ride follows the main Inca highway which linked Quito with Cusco, Peru, as well as the Inca route going to the Amazon. Visit an old Inca fort that guarded this supply route. The ground is covered with tiny pumice stones and lichen on this arid plain, created by lava and ash from Cotopaxi volcano. Afterwards ride across a very surprising ‘luna landscape’ – huge boulders and hard baked ocre-coloured mud, and onto rolling grassy hills for more fast paced riding. After a picnic lunch leave the national park and ride to an old Jesuit Hacienda recently converted into a comfortable highland hacienda.
Follow along dirt tracks, fording a river and head down the valley northwards towards civilization and Quito. A chance for a final canter across the open pastures. You often meet the local horsemen (chagras) checking the cattle and have also frequently seen Andean Condors on this route as well as eagles, hawks, kestrel, fox and deer. Descending into the valley along a lane bordered with native trees & shrubs, meet up with the cobbled roads. It is here you say goodbye to the horses and are driven back into Quito (75 minutes). On the way to the hotel you will take a tour of Colonial Quito. Overnight in a comfortable hotel in Quito.
Following breakfast, you are transferred to the airport in time for your departing flights.
THIS ITINERARY IS FLEXIBLE. CHANGES MAY OCCUR DUE TO WEATHER OR OTHER UNFORESEEN CIRCUMSTANCES.