The Wild Andes
12 days;10 ½ days riding.
The Avenue of Volcanos has been popular with walkers for decades; now it’s possible to ride in the valley and get far from the beaten track riding fit local horses which are used to the local habitat and altitude. Explore pristine “Paramo” with condors overhead; charming farmhouse accommodation and excellent horses.
The ride begins at the family-run hacienda an hour’s drive south of Quito near the village of Aloag. This is a working horse and organic dairy farm in the heart of Ecuador’s magnificent Avenue of The Volcanos.
Built a century ago, the hacienda has retained its stately elegance and original character. It is encircled by a well-established garden awash with colorful roses, native flowers, graceful trees and intricate outdoor stone work. The hacienda’s large rooms are filled with historic charm; the property has been in the same family ownership for over two hundred years.
The atmosphere is warm and inviting; the horses are exceptional and many are bred on the ranch; bloodlines include Berber (Barb), Andalusian and Arab ancestry.
The Andes in Ecuador run north to south and comprise an eastern and western chain with snow-capped peaks above 6,000 m. on all sides. The ride begins from the ranch that is in the western chain. This area is rich in indigenous Indian culture and during the ride we will encounter isolated communities such as the Quilotoa, Sigchos and Guambaine whose traditions and way of life is little altered since pre-Colombian times.
The route takes us close to several major volcanos, some of which are visibly smoking, but safe to climb. During the ride you’ll also have the opportunity to enjoy several thermal springs (so bring your bathers!).
The pace is steady to begin with, providing riders the chance to get to know the horses and tack, and acclimatise to the altitude. There are plenty of horses to choose from and we always ride with a handful of spare horses running alongside, so there’s always a choice.
We’ll meet you at the airport and the drive out to the hacienda (2,890 m) takes about an hour.
If your flight arrives in Quito in the morning there will be time to reach the ranch and take a trial ride in the afternoon; if not, trial rides will be tomorrow.
Please note that you are welcome to arrive at the hacienda a day or two early for training on the horses and gaucho tack. This would also have the advantage of helping with acclimatizing to the altitude.
Overnight at the hacienda. Dinner
Ride in the ménage until everyone is settled; head out onto the ranch to get the feel of your horse in open country and ease in to the altitude. Ride along the Machachi Valley with the soaring peaks of the Avenue of Volcanos on all sides. The gentle hack goes around the neighbouring ranches returning to the hacienda in time for a leisurely lunch. This is a working ranch and after the mid-day meal the herdsman will guide you around the milking parlour and cheese making facility, complete with aging cave.
Full board (FB) and overnight at the hacienda.
Riding time 4 hrs.
What’s in a name?
“gaucho” = cowboy of the Argentine pampas.
“Vaquero” is the Spanish word for cowboy.
In Chile they say “Huaso” and “baquero” or “baquianos” pl.
Here in Ecuador a cowboy is a “Chagra”
In the morning we ride west towards the Corazon Volcano (4,000 m) and then descend to the cloud forest. The guides are real characters in their goatskin chaps and woollen ponchos, and they relish showing guests their cattle herding skills. The chagras’ skill on horseback and knowledge of the Andean Paramo are legendary. The Paramo is high altitude (above 3,000m) tropical montane vegetation; it is land that lies above the tree-line but below the permanent snow-line. This is a tough environment with thin, volcanic soil that produces a course grass and hardy shrubs.
As you ride through the Andes Mountains you’ll experience a diversity of topography and weather patterns. Be prepared for periods of intense equatorial sun followed by chilly Andean winds, all within the space of a few hours. The locals say that the highlands can experience all four seasons within the same day.
We ride through three different ecosystems today: valley, Paramo and cloud forest: Giant Gunneras, orchids, turkeys and the forest guan (one of the quetzal family of birds) all in one day. In the afternoon we reach Hacienda Bomboli (3,000 m) and can relax by the fireplace, enjoy the sunset and watch the lights of the faraway fishing villages on the coast.
FB; overnight Hacienda Bomboli
Riding hours: 6 hours
Bomboli has one of the finest collections of orchids in the area and after breakfast the hacienda host leads a guided walk through his grounds and can tell you all about the orchids and other cloud forest plants. Then we set off on the old road, built in 1873, that linked Quito to the coast, long since replaced with the tarmacked modern version that lies far to the east. The dirt road eventually loops back to the hacienda where the ride began.
FB; overnight at the hacienda.
Riding time 6 hrs.
In the early morning, before we are up and about, the horses are hacked over to a nearby hamlet. After breakfast we jump into the farm car and drive for 25 mins to meet them. Saddle up and set off following an old Inca Trail that heads due south to the ancient Inca settlement of Sigchos. This was the last home of Inca general Ruminahui as he retreated before the Conquistadors in the mid-1530’s. It’s a dramatic trail that goes through steep ravines and narrow passageways between cliffs.
In this part of the Andes you can often see your destination from a high vantage point, but due to the nature of the ground, it takes all day to reach it. A combination of forest, rock peaks and eroded valleys slows the horse’s progress.
FB and overnight at the Hacienda San Jose; good meal and Jacuzzi for riders, lush meadows for the horses.
Riding time 8 hrs; 40 Km
Continue in a southerly direction heading for the highest point of the ride, the summit of Quilotoa Volcano (3,841 m). The trail goes through the Toachi Canyon where we’ll stop for a picnic; it emerges onto the lower slopes of the volcano where there are many small dairy farms. As you gradually ascend the soil becomes less fertile and consists of pumice that is 1,280 years old, marking the last time the volcano erupted (735 AD). This is a unique place to build a mountain hostel, but there is one here, close to the rim. A short walk leads to a viewing platform and a stunning view of lake within the caldera which is 3 Km wide.
FB; overnight in the comfortable mountain lodge.
Riding time 8 hrs.
This is remote, isolated country: we ride to the tiny village of Zumbahua and on to an tiny hamlet where about 50 families live; there are no roads and the only connection to the outside world is via a footpath to Angamarca, a 3-hour walk away. You’ll ride passed herds of llamas which are used as pack animals (they can carry about 80 Kg) and flocks of sheep, tended by children working as shepherds. Tonight we make camp at the village and borrow one of the grass huts to use as a kitchen.
FB; overnight at Guambaine, camping.
Riding time 8+ hours.
Sun rise at this altitude is spectacular; the clouds, mountain peaks and sunrise have their own choreography which is very special.
Riding from the high mountains to the lowland valleys (3,700 m) we’ll pass many subsistence farms, a lot of them produce milk; in fact half of Ecuador’s milk comes from farms that have fewer than 5 acres. Cheese production is also on a “cottage industry” scale. In the middle-distance in Chimborazo Volcano (6,300 m) which is the highest volcano in Ecuador. And my favourite fact-oid: this is the closest place on planet Earth to the Sun! Apparently it’s due to a bulge in the Earth’s crust that occurs just here, on the Equator, which distends the spherical shape of the Earth at this point.
In the afternoon we’ll arrive at a hot spring where we’ll establish camp and enjoy a BBQ dinner around the spring.
Overnight at Salado hot spring. Camping.
Riding time 7 hours
When the cone of a volcano crashes in on itself, forming a crater, the posh name for it is a “caldera”. There’s often a lake within the caldera, as was the case with the Quilotoa caldera 3 days ago. Today we ride passed Carihuairazo which is a caldera (without a lake) adjacent to Ecuador’s highest volcano-mountain, Chimborazo (6,268 m). Chimborazo last erupted in 550 AD. We ride around the skirt of Chimborazo and the riding is challenging because it leads over many different habitats including dry hills, lower swampy areas and rocky outcrops. We head steadily eastwards and enter the Eastern Andes. In this area we are likely to meet the smallest member of the llama family, the vicuna; smallest, shiest but with the finest wool. A vicuna pashmina makes a wonderful souvenir from this ride. We finish the day on the east face of Chimborazo at the Chimborazo refuge mountain hut, usually used by climbers attempting this mighty mountain, who are always a little surprised to see horses up here!
Overnight at Chimborazo refuge
Riding time 7 hours
The final day of this epic ride: we begin by descending to the Chambo Canyon that leads towards Tungurahua 5,023 m. It last erupted in 2014 so once again, we ride into a very different habitat and the volcanic ash is clearly visible in places, crunching beneath the horses’ hooves. Once across the more recent ash we enter fertile hills with potatoes, beans and brassicas growing in the rich soil. The landscape is dotted with small farms, some of which are around 4,000 m. The trail leads on to Banos at a mere 1,815m which will feel positively invigorating. The horses are boxed back to the hacienda, but we overnight in the spa town of Banos.
Overnight at Banos hotel.
Riding time 8+ hours.
There’s plenty of time this morning to explore the charming town of Banos and its hot springs (banos in Spanish = bathroom). The town is built on the foothills of a volcano, it’s surrounded by waterfalls, to the east lies the Amazon Jungle and one of the reasons the town was establish here is because it’s ideally positioned to be the major gateway to the Amazon Basin. If you’re lucky enough to have explored Chile and Argentina and visited Puerto Varas and Bariloche you’ll recognise Banos as a comparable place: it’s a very “outdoors” town with every imaginable adventure sport on offer and a charming atmosphere: a lovely place to end our ride.
Mid-morning we’ll drive back to the starting point of the ride in time for lunch on the veranda.
Overnight at the hacienda
After breakfast transfer back to Quito to connect with the international flight home, or onward travel.
Included in the price
Horse and tack (Western or English) for the trail ride as described.
Wool poncho and a rain poncho, saddle bags and chaps (if required)
8 nights’ accommodation in haciendas and lodges
3 nights camping
All meals from Dinner day 1 to breakfast day 12 (most lunches are picnic style)
Beer and wine with meals
Bilingual guide (English and Spanish)
Not Included in the price
Airport transfers: allow £35 to Quito airport; other destinations by arrangement
We can supply sleeping bags, but better to bring your own.
A detailed booklet is available which contains detailed packing lists, health advice and details of the destination and itinerary. This is a specialist riding trip so here are a few items you’ll need to bring along:-
Day temperatures can vary considerably in the mountains 15ºC to freezing at night.
Use natural fibers and shirts with long sleeved and turtleneck; a fleece or sweater or gilet.
Don’t forget to pack your swimming togs
Thermal underwear will be handy, as will a buff and of course, sunglasses.
Jacket: Insulated or Gore-Tex mountain parka for rain and wind
Gloves: polypropylene, ideally waterproof
Footwear: waterproof trekking boots, Ariat’s H2O are ideal.
Other: +50 Sunblock lotion; +50 lipstick.