Volcanos & Cloud Forest

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Volcanos & Cloud Forest

9 days; 7 days riding
Exploring the Andes in Ecuador on horseback.

The ride

This is an exceptional riding experience for several reasons, the greatest of which is the range of habitats visited. The first part of the trail leads through Mountain Cloud Forest, classified as a threatened ecosystem, which lies between 1,000 and 3,000 m. Having crossed the cloud forest the trail leads into a higher and more arid zone of deep canyons and rocky peaks as the ride traverses from the eastern to the western chain of the Andes. The final approach to the Quilotoa Crater Lake goes through high altitude rolling hills inhabited by unfamiliar animals that thrive in this unusual environment such as the guanaco (a type of llama) the rare spectacled bear and Andean cat, which looks cuddly but is all claws and teeth! This is also one of the most reliable places to see the Andean Condor high overhead.

The trail guides are known as “chagras” which translates as “cowboys”. Their home is the High Andes and they have a strong tradition of horsemanship. Their home range includes the Corazon, Illinizas and Quilotoa volcanos, where we will be riding. We begin in the Machachi Valley, in the heart of “Volcano Avenue” a valley which contains dozens and dozens of volcanos mainly dormant but some gently smoking.

ride above the clouds

Ride above the clouds in Ecudaor’s “Avenue of the Volcanos”

Day 1: Saturday

Guests arrive at Quito airport where we’ll meet you and drive the short distance out of town to the hacienda (which means “ranch”); 1 hr driving . Depending on your arrival time in Quito there may be time to walk over to the stable, meet the horses and take  a trial ride, if not there will be plenty of time tomorrow. The important thing today is to take it easy and acclimatise to the altitude which at 3,000 m is high enough to feel a little breathless if you trot up a flight of stairs.

Please note that you are welcome to arrive a day or two early at the hacienda for training on the horses and tack. This will also have the additional advantage of helping with acclimatizing to the altitude. Early arrival isn’t included in the price.

Overnight at the hacienda. Dinner

cloud forest

Ride through the cloud forest. Gigantic leaves.

Day 2

This morning is dedicated to getting to know your horse and easing in to the altitude. After breakfast we’ll walk across to the stable and match riders up with their horse. There’s then a gentle hack around the neighbouring ranches to get the feel of the tack and new horse, 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.

Day 3

After breakfast pack your saddlebags with camera, sun cream and wet weather gear, and we set off across the hacienda and into the green and fertile Machachi Valley. From this high ground we can see the trails leading into the distance that we will follow over the next couple of days. Enter the cloud forest reserve and climb steadily ascending Corazon Volcano reaching 4,000 m. As you descend on the other side you’re struck by the remarkable variety of plant life; some will be familiar, others completely new to you; the bird life is equally diverse and flamboyantly colourful. We’ll stop for a picnic lunch is the cloud forest and head on to the Hacienda Bomboli when everyone’s ready.

FB; overnight at Hacienda Bomboli.
Riding time 5 hrs.

Cotapaxi, Ecuador

Cotapaxi, Ecuador

Day 4

Bomboli has one of the finest collections of orchids in the area and after breakfast the hacienda host takes a guided walk through the 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 to link Quito with 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.

FB; overnight at the hacienda.
Riding time 6 hrs.

Day 5

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 old Inca settlement of Sigchos. This was the last home of Inca general Ruminahui as he retreated before the Conquistadors in the mid-1530’s. This is a dramatic trail that leads through steep ravines and narrow passageways through the 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.

Horse 2

The lake within the caldera of Quilotoa Volcano

Day 6

Continue in a westerly direction heading for the highest point of the ride, the summit of Quilotoa volcano (3,800 m). On the lower slopes there are many small dairy farms, but 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). At the edge of the volcano you can look over the rim and down to the crater lake within the caldera which is 3 Km wide.

FB; overnight in the comfortable mountain lodge.
Riding time 8 hrs.

Day 7

A short walk leads to a wonderful viewpoint of the caldera and its lake far below. Mount up and descend along an ancient trail that leads through the canyon below. The poor soil means that human habitation is few and far-between. During mid-afternoon we reach the hamlet of Insilivi which is where we’ll stop for the night. An enterprising Dutch couple are our hosts in this remote mountain hamlet.

FB; overnight at the mountain hostel.
Riding time 4 hrs.

Horse 3

Ride across the Paramo, in Ecuador’s Andes Mountains

Day 8

The trail ends back at the starling point, but in between we need to ride across several valleys with ascents and descents before reaching the hacienda.

FB; overnight at the hacienda.
Riding time 6 hrs.

Day 9

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
All meals from Dinner day 1 to breakfast day 9 (most lunches are picnic style)
Beer and wine with meals
Bilingual guide (English and Spanish)

Not Included in the price

Airport transfers: allow £45 to Quito airport; other destinations by arrangement

La Alegria room

The view from one of the bedrooms at the hacienda

Field Manual

A detailed booklet is available which contains packing lists, health advice and details of the destination and itinerary.

Chagas

The guides are real characters: in their goatskin chaps and woollen ponchos, 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 and 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 a periods of intense equatorial sun followed by chill Andean winds, all within the space of a few hours.  The locals say that the highlands experience all four seasons within the same day.

Boy

Llamas are used as pack-animals in the High Andes and can carry 80 Kg