La Escondida Farm provides this 8-day/7-night horseback riding experience that will take you across the foothills of the Antisana and Cotopaxi volcanos in the heart of the Ecuadorian Andes. Designed for spirited travelers seeking awe-inspiring equestrian journeys, you will stay at magnificent colonial haciendas after full days of jaw-dropping vistas, contact with authentic highland cowhands, and long rides on some of the gentlest horses you’ll ever find. These mountain horses have been bred in this area, so they’re perfectly suited to the terrain. These horses are all friendly, easy-going, sure-footed, and have plenty of stamina, while all of the tours are led by an experienced multilingual guide. As for the trails, these are appropriate for intermediate riders while still challenging and interesting enough for even more experienced equestrians. All of this provides an opportunity to profoundly reconnect with nature, taking in astounding panoramic views of Andean volcanoes, summits and valleys. Mounted on horseback, your journey will take you through pristine highland valleys surrounded by imposing mountains. As you make your way around mountain-top lakes bathed in green, you’ll pass snowcapped volcanoes and are likely to see waterfalls and strikingly dramatic views beneath the clouds – and sometimes even above them! What’s more, all of these trips are custom-designed based on the experience and interest of each rider.
“I enjoyed the scenery and the exotic wildlife on the islands very much. The airport transfers in both directions went smoothly and the service on board was very good.”
AM: Upon your arrival in Quito, you will be welcomed at the airport and driven to a local B&B for a one night stay.
PM: This afternoon, you will have time to explore Quito on your own, or a city tour can be arranged for you (extra). Quito, with its beautifully restored historic district, became the planet’s first UNESCO-declared World Heritage Site, in 1975. Among the sights in this quarter is the La Compañía Church, which – with 15 tons of gold along its walls, roof and altar – is said to be the most richly decorated church in the world.
AM: This morning, we will drive an hour outside of Quito to meet your horse and begin our ride. This first day of horseback riding offers a very varied route, including some tricky sections where we will have to dismount and let the horses negotiate rocky riverbeds on their own. During this 5-6 hour ride, we will also do some riding along country lanes, through forests and across grasslands.
PM: In the afternoon we will reach a working hacienda (ranch), where we will have to carefully negotiate the pastures, as this ranch is famous for its feisty Spanish fighting bulls! The scenery is spectacular and varied, with green valleys and rolling hills, while surrounded by jagged rocky summits and snowcapped peaks. We will then leave the horses to descend down the valley to a beautiful old Jesuit hacienda in time for tea and to later admire the sunset in these magnificent surroundings before for dinner and the night.
AM: This morning, we will rejoin the horses and follow scenic trails and cobbled roads through deep gorges, then up the valley to a large hacienda (ranch). Riding through vast grassy fields, you can enjoy some exhilarating canters across the pastures while riding to Antisana National Park, which is home to the snowcapped Antisana Volcano. While this summit dominates the skyline, it clearly marks the continental divide, as the precipitation that falls on the western side runs down and ends up on in the Pacific Ocean, while streams on the eastern side eventually join the Amazon River and flow into the Atlantic Ocean via Brazil.
PM: Having avoided the fighting bulls (this hacienda is famous for its feisty Spanish bulls!), we will turn westwards and cross a river to reach Hacienda Guaytara (a working farm at the base of Antisana Volcano), where you will have dinner and spend the night.
AM: Today we will ride across stretches of pasture on the hacienda, up into the high “paramo” (Andean grasslands above the tree-line but below the snow-line). This will take us through a sea of long grass, then into areas of low brush and lichen-covered ground. As we navigate various steep ascents and sharp descents, you are likely to observe “Hill stars” (Andean hummingbirds) flitting between the native Andean bushes, as well as condors and other birds of prey up soaring overhead. In this area, it’s also not uncommon to come upon wild horses roaming free with their long manes and tails flowing. They will sometimes even gallop alongside riders, curious to “check you out.”
PM: Crossing streams and wetlands at the head of a valley, and following the tracks made by the wild horses and bulls close to craggy Sincholagua Peak, we will reach an altitude of 4,000 meters and then descend into the Cotopaxi National Park. This area presents a good opportunity for some fast paced riding on the flat, open plains close to the volcano. You will spend the night at Hacienda Yanahurco, which is in a truly stunning location that possesses spectacular views of the nearby Cotopaxi Volcano, the national park and other summits.
AM: Today we ride south for about 6 hours through the Cotopaxi National Park. The ride starts with some exhilarating canters across the arid expanses and lunar-like landscapes. Then we will ride down into the “Avenue of Volcanoes” aptly named by Von Humboldt, an early explorer who spent a great deal of time studying this area. The views are magnificent, with rocky, rounded, glacier-covered and snow sprinkled volcanoes lining the central valley. Our destination is a small hamlet in the Lasso valley.
PM: Riding through pine and native forests, we will make our way along sandy trails that are ideal for some more fast-paced riding. In other places, we will ride over layers of pumice stone deposited by the volcanoes. We will later leave the horses in a pasture and spend the night at a charming old hacienda that has a cozy bar-dining area. The original building was a farmhouse built out of Inca stone, and the owners have put fireplaces in each room so that riders can enjoy comfortable nights. These rooms are twin bedded rooms (with partitions dividing the sleeping areas) with shared bathrooms. As there is no “light pollution” in this area, the Equator sky is packed with stars, which you can delight in after dinner and before turning in for the night.
AM: Once again we will leave the area’s thatched huts and patchwork fields behind to ride across huge expanses of wild grasslands. Enjoying views of several of the peaks of the “Avenue of Volcanoes,” we will cross beautiful paramo grasslands on which there is not a single house in sight.
PM: After another delicious picnic surrounded by breathtaking scenery, we will cross over a ridge and come even closer to the Sincholagua Volcano. Very few people manage to visit this stunning area, and the wonderful tranquility and huge expanses of almost uninhabited open space can be appreciated by all. Amid this amazing scenery, riding along a river bed and across the grasslands close to the jagged Quilindana summit, riders appreciate the vastness off this Andean habitat. There is a good chance of seeing majestic Andean condors, deer and Andean fox. On these rides, we occasionally run into a lone chagra (an Andean cowhand) with their trusty dog, riding out to check their cattle.
AM: This morning we will turn west and ride back into Cotopaxi National Park, through the northern foothills of the volcano. Firstly, following a wide river floodplain, we will then cross the river and carefully traverse the marshlands between a series of small lakes. Andean duck, teal and Ibis are often seen here among the wild irises and other Andean species of plant life.
PM: As we continue our ride, the valley opens out to allow us to follow a hardened lava flow that has strange conical hills “popping out” at intervals; these mounds were formed by volcanic hotspots (now cooled down) and create quite a bizarre topography. We are likely to run into a large herd of llama-like alpaca, bred for their wonderful soft wool; their long necks and strange way of moving is quite a sight. We will later ride onto some wonderful grassy plains that provide for some long canters that are often joined by wild horses in the area.
AM: Following breakfast, guests will be accompanied to the airport in time for their onward flight or will be picked up to continue on an extended horseback riding tour.
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