An emerging travel destination, the highlands of Ecuador offer horseback riding for spirited travelers who seek special travel experiences – ones with magnificent colonial haciendas, jaw-dropping vistas, contact with authentic highland cowhands, and some of the gentlest horses you’ll ever find. La Escondida Farm offers this 8-day/7-night experience in which you will venture into the heart of the Ecuadorian Andes, passing through many of the country’s most beautiful and biologically diverse areas. Mounted on horseback, your journey will take you through pristine highland valleys surrounded by imposing summits such as the Cotopaxi Volcano and others along the “Avenue of Volcanos.” As you make your way around mountain-top lakes bathed in green, you’ll pass snowcapped mountains and will see the ancient Incan ruins of the Ingapirca, waterfalls and strikingly dramatic views beneath the clouds – and sometimes even above them! The tough mountain horses you'll ride 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 awe-inspiring panoramic views of Andean volcanoes, summits and valleys. What’s more, all of these trips are custom-designed based on the experience and interest of each rider.
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AM: As soon as you land at the new Quito international airport, you will be welcomed and driven to a local B&B for your first-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: After a hearty breakfast, we will head out from Quito, traveling south on the Pan-American Highway through the “Avenue of the Volcanoes,” a scenic stretch that possesses eight of the country’s 10 highest summits.
PM: During a stunning 3-hour ride into the beautiful pastoral Cotopaxi Valley, we will travel along country lanes, and then through eucalyptus forests as we pass dewponds and hedges of aloe Vera and spikey agave (sisal). Following sandy backroads, we will then descend into the San Agustin de Callo Valley, where you will find dramatic views across basin to rocky ridges above. We will continue the drive on to a working farm in the middle of this tranquil valley. Also during this drive, you will have a chance to spot majestic Andean Condors as well as other species such as hummingbirds and Bright scarlet flycatchers. Accommodations for the night in the town of Lasso.
AM: This morning, we will drive from Lasso to the village of Pillaro, where you will come to appreciate the tradition and customs of Ecuador’s chagras (local cowhands) decked out in their goat-skin chaps and woolen ponchos. The chagras' skills on horseback and knowledge of the Andean paramo highland grasslands are legendary, and they will welcome you by demonstrating their centuries-old tradition of cattle herding.
PM: Benefiting from the true inspiration of these local cowboys, we will set out on a horseback ride framed by ancient volcanoes, highland plateaus and rivers that flow down the massive Andes towards the Amazon and the Pacific. Accommodations at Hacienda Manteles or Hacienda Leito.
AM: After breakfast, we will again mount up and ride out from your enchanting hacienda and head up over a mountain pass (reaching an altitude of 3,500 meters) to enjoy the stunning Andean highland scenery in this wilderness. The only other people who venture out into these remote Andean paramo grasslands are the local chagras, who come here on their trusty horses to check their herds of cattle.
PM: Continuing this 6-7 hour ride, a local horseman will accompany our group, guiding us through a sea of grass along mountain trails, across streams of melted snow, and passing through native scrubland. As a guests, you will experience the true remoteness of the magnificent high Andes, with their awe-inspiring views of the surrounding peaks. As we ride across this varied terrain at differing paces, you will have a chance to canter across the open, grassy plains before we begin an uphill climb. Along the way, it is possible to sight deer, condors and Andean foxes, as well as high-altitude hummingbirds (Hills tars) zooming from native wildflower to native wildflower. At the end of the day, we will arrive at our accommodations outside of the city of Riobamba.
AM: This morning we will take a short break from horseback riding and instead board a train that travels along Ecuador’s most famous locomotive route: La Nariz del Diablo (“The Devil’s Nose Pass”). This seven-mile journey between Riobamba and the mountain village of Alausi is one of the most popular traveler attractions in the country. The pass was once known as the “most difficult railway in the world” due to the problems in laying out a railway line through the mountainous terrain of the Andes; the construction effort ran into a problem when it hit the vertical rock face known as the “Nariz del Diablo.” This was overcome with a series of zigzagging double-backs that take travelers up or down the mountain, providing both sheer excitement and spectacular views of the Ecuadorian landscape. On clear days you can even see the remarkable Chimborazo Volcano while enjoying the majestic and unique feat of engineering that is the Devil’s Nose Pass.
PM: After the train ride, will re-mount our steeds and follow the Cuadrul River through paramo highlands, passing the modest houses and fields of local indigenous families before climbing a huge ridge at the end of the valley, as donkeys carry all your gear. Late in the afternoon, we will reach Tres Cruces Lake, where we will set up tents for a night out under the stars.
(Day 5 options include return rides to Quito or a tour extension to the city of Cuenca)
AM: Early in the morning, we will set off to Tres Cruces overlook, the highest point of the journey (at about 4,300 meters in altitude). From there, you can enjoy striking views of the surrounding lakes and mountains that form the typical landscape of the central Andean highlands.
PM: In the afternoon will ride down the Culebrillas Valley to the Paredones ruins, following the ancient Inca trail to the Ingapirca ruins, which is a 3-4 hour horseback ride from the lake. A visit of these ruins will allow you a better understanding of Inca culture and their influence on Ecuador. In the indigenous Kichwa language, the name “Ingapirca” means “stone walls of the Inca.” Once there, you will see the fine stonework and characteristic trapezoidal niches and doorways. We will spend the night there in Ingapirca.
AM: Leaving Ingapirca, we will head out for what is considered Ecuador’s most beautiful city: Cuenca. Once there, we will visit Calderon Park (central park), the Flower Plaza, the “Del Carmen” Church; and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which is best known as the “New Cathedral” and considered one of the largest churches in Latin America.
PM: In the afternoon, we will also visit the “El Sagrario” Cathedral, commonly known as the “Old Cathedral” as it was the city’s first cathedral. Afterwards, we will tour the Paja Toquilla Hat Factory to observe the process of creating what have been dubbed “Panama hats,” though these originated right here in Ecuador. This city tour continues with a visit to the “Barranco,” an area that constitutes a communion between architecture and the natural environment. The houses along the Barranco (meaning “cliff”) are perched above an incline, displaying their majesty and charm. This tour of Cuenca concludes with a stop at the “Mirador de Turi” (the scenic Turi overlook), where the landscape of the valley full of red-tiled roofs and church domes is framed by imposing mountains.
After a delectable and filling breakfast, you will be driven to the airport in Cuenca for your flight back to Quito or onward to Guayaquil or wherever. At the airport you will be assisted with checking in and bid a fond farewell … at least until the next time you choose to ride the Ecuadorian range.
“We booked our Galapagos/Peru trip through Surtrek and are very glad that we did.”