After almost 4 spectacular weeks spent in mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos my husband Les and I were the first Unicorn guests at Hacienda la Alegria. We are both huge fans of South America and Ecuador had already won our hearts. As Alegria is situated in the spectacular Avenue of Volcanoes we knew the location would be wonderful. What a location! From the ranch we could see several snow capped volcanoes including (just) the majestic Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world.
The hacienda is about 40 minutes from Quito, Ecuador’s capital. The owner Gabriel met us at the airport and we then stopped at a hotel to pick up Lars, a Swedish chap. Sometimes a taxi is arranged by Gabriel. This is not expensive and the service is good.
There is lovely old house at the hacienda which is where we ate our meals. The guest accommodation is separate but connected by a covered walkway. There were about 10 guest rooms – some family, some doubles and a couple of singles. The accommodation had recently been extended and we were given a lovely large new room with picture windows and a view to die for. We had a wood burner in the room and each night it was lit for us - so cosy. There is a large and stylish lounge for guests but we were always pretty busy and didn’t use it.
Alegria offers some superb trail rides and cattle round ups. Les and I had only ridden once before – a few days in Argentina – so we had a based stay. Lars was also a beginner. Luckily Alegria caters for all riding abilities and all ages. Hard hats were available for those that wanted them. We would start each ride out with a short session in the paddock where we’d be given advice and when he was happy with us Gabriel, Guido and maybe a dog or two took us out. Even beginners will ride out on the first day, thanks mainly to the excellent horses.
Initially we rode in the cobbled lanes around the farm. We discovered locals harvesting potatoes so stopped for a chat and to buy some potatoes for dinner. We passed llamas, one of which my horse adored. On day two we rode to the top of ‘The Widow’ the local mountain 3760 metres above sea level. Sadly it rained on our way up and we missed the spectacular view. However, our last day made up for this. We rode high up in the mountains to the paramo (the high Ecuadorian grasslands where the cattle graze) with truly spectacular views.
After riding through diverse vegetation, including pretty dense jungle that Gabriel chopped down with a machete as he rode in front, we arrived at a tiny hacienda that Gabriel uses on his trail rides. It was basic with no electricity and yet so charming as were our hosts. The wife served up a superb lunch and the husband proudly showed us his garden. They make their own cheese. As so often happens in these parts the swirling cloud cloaked the landscape in afternoon creating a magical, mystical atmosphere that has to be experienced to appreciate. We would have loved to have stayed for a candle lit night here but we had a flight to catch.
Alegria is a working dairy farm and when you are not riding you can explore the farm. This is perfect if your riding party includes non-riders. You can help milk the cows or maybe watch the rodeo that the chagras (cowboys) put on once a week or so when a tourist bus calls in for refreshments. This is when the chagras dress up in their goat-skin chaps and woollen ponchos and rope bulls. You can also walk out in the country side for as long as you like, passing the odd cottage where the friendly locals greet you. You’ll catch glimpses of Cotopaxi but Antisana, which is a little lower, is clearly visible.
Gabriel and his wife Patti are passionate about their horses which are all superb. They are great fun and try to meet your every need. Les pulled a muscle in his back and was given a gorgeous Paso Fino to make his riding more comfortable. After just a few days our riding had greatly improved and developed whilst riding out through beautiful scenery. It had been a real treat and we were sorry to leave and wished our stay had been longer. Mind you I could live with out the photo Gabriel sent to the Unicorn office – me riding backwards with no hands in the ‘round’ – not one for the website!