Riding around Cotopaxi volcano on a winter morning
Cotopaxi volcano rising in the background
Rainbow on the paramo
Lake reflections
On the mountain
Checking the saddle
Early morning view over crater lake
cloudtops
Canter on top of the world
Ready to ride
Local bridles
beautiful horse
Afternoon ride
Another view
Cotopaxi Volcano
View and my horse
Riding with chagras
Horses drinking in lake
Evening shadows on the paramo
misty hillside
running horses
Alpaca at the local market
room
lounge
Breakfast terrace in the morning
Local market

Experience the beauty and grandeur of the Ecuadorean Andes on horseback. Friendly Chagras, Ecuadorean cowboys, usually pause from their work to greet you, exchange news, and even offer a drink as they wish riders luck on their travels. This trail incorporates rides past the Corazon, Illinizas and Quilotoa volcanoes.

There are two itineraries for Volcano trails; The Avenue of Volcanoes Trail 9-day programme and the Cotopaxi Volcano and Haciendas Ride 8-day programme. See the sample itinerary for more information.

Start in the verdant valley of Machachi, to the south of Quito. Surrounded by eleven volcanoes, this region is often referred to as "The Volcano Avenue". The only form of transportation during the trek is by horse. The ride includes visits to several different haciendas and hostels, one of which is situated next to the Quilotoa crater lake. 

One of the top 15 'World's Greatest Horse Treks' as compiled by CNN International

Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.

Review received from DA of Lebring on 09/12/2022

Ride Summary
What was your overall impression of the holiday
Overall impression
Unicorn Trails sales staff

Riding tour leader

Additional Comments
Horses and Tack

Additional Comments
Meals

Accommodation

Miscellaneous

Was this trip accurately described to you beforehand?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
Was there anything you should have known and were not told? NO
Please give more details to explain your response:
however, I think to emphazise even more on layers would be a good idea, also to bring even some light weight shirts. we were so lucky with the weather, it never rained on the rides and was mostly much warmer than we anticipated. even up at 4000m it was -2 at 6.00am, but 2 hrs later it was 10 deg warmer, C that is
What could we do to improve this ride?
How would you rate the difficulty of this ride out of 10 where 1 is very easy and 10 is very advanced?
8
Please explain why you scored it as you did:
difficult terrain, lots of uphill/downhill, long rides
Would you recommend Unicorn Trails to your friends?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
May we use you as a reference for other people wishing to go on this ride?
NO
Any other comments:
Unicorn comments: Thank you for your feedback. Glad you had a great ride! :)

Day 1
Transfer from hotel or airport. Depending on the arrival time, there may be opportunity for a short ride before dinner. Overnight at Hacienda la Alegria (or similar).

Day 2
Ride in the arena and get acquainted with the horses and tack that being used during the ride. Ride around the neighboring Haciendas in the west Andes to acclimatize to the altitude and environment, horses and tack. Lunch at  the Hacienda, followed by a visit to the milking barn, the cheese aging cave before enjoying dinner and a soak in the hot tub. Accommodation: La Alegria (or similar). Riding hours: 4 hours

Day 3
The morning ride crosses extensive pastures and eucalyptus forests and spectacular views of the “Volcano Avenue” and appreciate the fertile Machachi Valley. From her, the next day's route along the east mountain chain is visible. Ascend the Corazon volcano to 4000m and descend through the Cloud forest reserve to observe the huge biodiversity of plants and flowers, including giant guneras, orchids, and birds like the turkey of the forest. Arrive at Hacienda Bomboli (or similar) at 3000m in the afternoon and relax by the fireplace enjoying the sunset and watching the lights of the villages near the coast after dinner. Accommodation: Hacienda Bomboli (or similar). Riding hours: 4 hours

Day 4
There is a morning walk around the Hacienda’s gardensto learm about orchids and other Cloud forest plants. Ride up the hill admiring the forest and the hundreds of flowers and plants. The route follows the old road that was built in 1873 to connect Quito with the coast. Arrive to Hacienda La Alegria for lunch, relax and enjoy the hot tub and the fireplace. Accommodation: La Alegria (or similar) Riding hours: 6 hours

Day 5: Avenue of Volcanoes - Quilotoa Ride. (See below for Cotopaxi Volcano and Hacienda Ride)
Transfer by vehicle to the start of the trail (1hr south of the Hacienda). Ride along the Inca trail and dirt trails to Isinlivi. From  here it is  possible to see from from one valley to another. In the distance one can see the Eastern Mountain Chain. The ride continues through several hills, arriving at the small village of Insilivi, founded in 1857, and the lodge for the night. Accommodation: Lodge at Insilivi. Riding hours: 5 hours

Day 6: Avenue of Volcanoes - Quilotoa Ride (See below for Cotopaxi Volcano and Hacienda Ride)
Meet the horses on a hill with a view of the Canyon formed by several eruptions of Quilotoa volcano. Start the ride up hill to reach Quilotoa crater lake Volcano. Crossing villages that have planted the same crops for hundreds of year.  Lupins, potatoes, quinoa and barley abound. Volcano pumice and dry soil hinder agriculture and only few people live in the region.
The volcano summit is at 4000 meters above sea level. This is where tonight's lodge is waiting, offering amazing views of the breathtaking Quilotoa Crater Lake. The 3-kilometer-wide caldera was formed by the collapse of this volcano after the last eruption over 1200 years ago.. The water colour changes with the light. Accommodation: Quilotoa Lodge (or similar), next to the crater lake at 4000m. Riding hours: 5 hours

Day 7: Avenue of Volcanoes - Quilotoa Ride(See below for Cotopaxi Volcano and Hacienda Ride)
This is a long day in the saddle. Ride to Sigchos, the village that was known as the “last home” of the Inca general Ruminahui.
After breakfast, head north along the ridge of Quilotoa Crater Lake. The trail goes across the highest mountain heading north-west. The route passes small dairy farms and  artisanal cheese makers, where the group rests for a short visit and cheese tasting and to buy some cheese to mature in our cave at Hacienda la Alegria. Arrive in the afternoon at Hacienda San Jose (or similar), a working dairy farm and guest house. Enjoy a jacuzzi or sauna before dinner. Accommodation: Hacienda San Jose (or similar). Riding hours: 7 hours

Day 8: Avenue of Volcanoes - Quilotoa Ride(See below for Cotopaxi Volcano and Hacienda Ride)
Ride through dramatic landscapes, including steep ravines. The final destination may look close, but the route crosses several mountain chains to get there. This area is a combination of forest, rock peaks and eroded land from past centuries.The last day riding in this spectacular region follows the Inca path. Head back to Hacienda La Alegria by car for dinner and overnight. Accommodation: Hacienda La Alegria (or similar). Riding hours: 6 hours

Day 9 (Avenue of Volcanoes - see below for Cotopaxi Volcano and Hacienda Ride)
Depart after breakfast, transfer to airport.

 

Itinerary for Cotopaxi Volcano and Hacienda Ride

Day 1-4 see Avenue of Volcanoes Ride

Day 5: Avenue of Volcanoes Cotopaxi Ride
Ride to the West Mountain range and through the valley towards Machachi and continue to the Ruminahui to stop for a snack at a Hacienda. Continue riding until arriving at Pedregal valley to overnight in a Hacienda at 3500m. Accommodation - Hacienda at Pedregal Valley (near the Cotopaxi National Park - or similar). Hours riding - 8 hours

Day 6: Avenue of Volcanoes Cotopaxi Ride
Enter the Cotopaxi National Park and ride towards the Sincholagua volcano making a large loop downhill to the valley where to stop for a snack before continuing to cross the different lava flows. Ascend north of Cotopaxi up to 4100m and the highest plains where to undertake the highest canter in the world! Ride close to herds of wild Berber horses that live in the park and  are the descendants of the horses brought by the Spanish in the 16th century. Accommodation - Tambopaxi Refuge (or similar). Hours riding - 6+ hours

Day 7: Avenue of Volcanoes Cotopaxi Ride
Ride to Ruminahui continuing west to pass the highest point of the ride (4250m) on the edges of the rocks of the Ruminahui volcano. Continue riding towards the Machachi valley, as always, guarded by the volcano avenue. Cross the Machachi plaza, where horseman are always welcomed and pass the town of Aloag to arrive at Hacienda La Alegria for dinner and enjoy time in the hot tub reminiscing about the long journey in the mountains. Accommodation - Hacienda La Alegria (or similar). Hours riding - 5+ hours

Day 8
Depart after breakfast, transfer to airport.
Please note that accommodation may vary from the establishments listed according to availability.

The first three days are devoted to acclimatization (Quito is at 2800m) and the itinerary incorporates trips through working haciendas dedicated to the production of dairy products, potatoes, broccoli, and flowers. Riders will experience the traditions and customs of the chagras’ skills. Recognizable n their goat-skin chaps and woolen ponchos, they welcome tourists. The chagras’ skills on horseback and knowledge of the Andean paramo are legendary, and are the inspiration for this journey, framed by ancient volcanoes, highland plateaus and rivers that flow down the massive Andes towards the Amazon and the Pacific.

At the cloud forest, riders enter a completely different environment and will notice a change in the surrounding vegetation. Spectacular riding ascending up to 4000m experiencing a lush native tundra landscape and descending toward the coast through incredible sub-tropical vegetation. Here, nestled deep in the mystical cloud forest, learn about medicinal plants and trees that are native to the area, and be regaled by tales of the remote life of living in the Cloud Forest.

The second part of the ride will take riders through the west Andean paramo, an Andean ecosystem that encompasses approximately 12,500 square kilometres. Rolling hills of high altitude grasses, through little flowers that protect themselves from the cold with furry leaves, ravines that create micro climates that sprout a surprising variety of life; it is a wondrous place for both new and experienced visitors. The fireplace of the hacienda is the perfect place to reminisce about the day’s events.

Highlights: 
100% horseback trip (once the trip starts riders are not transferred by car on any day of the trip).
Pace: Moderate, trots and canters.
High quality, easy to ride, trained horses full of stamina owned exclusively by Hacienda La Alegria.
Possibility to receive training at Hacienda La Alegria before the ride (optional).
High-quality, well-maintained equipment (tack, camping equipment, 4-wheel drive SUV).
Visits and ride at 5 of the highest Ecuadorian mountains.
Hacienda La Alegria maintains close relationships with, and supports, two local rural schools.
We promote the preservation of the local culture and educate visitors about the “chagras” (local cowboys).
Hacienda la Alegria is environment-friendly (we produce organically, conserve energy and water, and compost), Smart Voyager Certified.

Extra nights at Hacienda la Alegria are also possible, including all meals and riding. Please enquire.

We can also arrange for extensions to this ride including trips to the Galapagos Islands and to the Amazon Rainforest. Please get in touch if you would like more information.

Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.

Horses & Riding

Most horses have been bred on the farm from mixed Criollo (native South American), English Thoroughbred and Arabian stock, resulting in a near perfect combination of toughness, agility, calm temperament and "mountain sense". Beginners and experienced riders alike have found them easy to ride, willing and good mannered. On the trail you will be given plenty of opportunity to canter. There is a range of tack available including North American style, English style, Mclellan calvary, Chillean and traditional Ecuadorian "Chagra" style with its intricate leather-work and saddle horn.


Rider requirements

This trail is for intermediate riders capable and in control at walk, trot and canter in varied terrain. There will also be some long days in the saddle (7+ hours). There is assistance available to mount and dismount, some of the terrain will be rough and/or steep.
Minimum age 10 years old - riders must be strong and capable in the saddle and ready for the long days in the saddle at high altitude.

Weight Limit

The weight limit for this ride is 198 lb/90 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.

Accommodation is a combination of overnight stays in highland haciendas and hostels. All meals feature international cuisine and Ecuadorian foods and wines. Rooms have private bathrooms. Luggage is transported for you.



Hacienda Alegria is owned by the host and guide for this trail. It is a family-run organic dairy farm and the hospitality of the Espinosa household is remarked upon by visitors who return year after year. Guests are welcomed with a roaring log fire in the sitting room and in the bedrooms when the nights are cold.



La Alegria can accommodate up to 24 people both in the farmhouse and a recently completed extension. The extension has been tastefully restored with solid cypress floors and beams and modern en-suite bathrooms with plenty of hot water and powerful showers. There are also split-level family rooms which sleep five in comfort. Patty and her staff provide full board. All meals are tailored for hungry travellers, riders and hikers, and combine delicious Ecuadorian and international cuisine. The visitors book contains many compliments to the chef!



Please note that accommodation may vary from the establishments listed according to availability


Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.

Documents - Visa and Consulate Info

Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip.

NB: Be sure to check the COVID status of the country you plan to visit including entry procedures and requirements while travelling.

Both visitors and residents must have a minimum of 6 months’ validity on their passport from the date of entry. This is a strict legal requirement from the Ecuadorean government. If your passport does not meet this requirement, you will be denied entry to Ecuador.

All visitors to the Galapagos Islands should be ready to provide a copy of their hotel booking upon entry. National and foreign tourists must also present evidence of a return flight, as well as the Galapagos Transit Control Card, to be filled out online at least 24 hours before the flight.

Travel health insurance is mandatory for foreign tourists.

Passport and Visa requirements can change regularly depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country.

Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate should you need a visa.

In the UK the British Foreign Office gives advice: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/ecuador

In the US: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Ecuador.html

In Canada: https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/ecuador

Climate Summary

The climate in the Andean highlands is temperate and relatively dry compared to the rainforest. Because of its location at the equator, Ecuador experiences little variation in daylight hours during the course of a year.
Through the trail, you will experience a diversity of geography and weather. Be prepared for a period of intense equatorial sun followed by the chill of the Andes’ wind—all within the space of a few hours. The locals say that the highlands experience all four seasons within the same day.

Climate Chart

Health

At Unicorn Trails, the health and safety of our customers is of paramount importance.

COVID: Be sure to check the latest COVID regulations for travelling in any country you visit.

Please refer to your country’s latest health guideline for travel in Ecuador and contact your own GP for up to date advice on vaccinations and prophylaxis prior to travel.

Health (ride specific)

Please take along sun cream and anti-allergy medicine for possible insect bites.

High altitude, e.g. in Quito (2800m) can affect some people's health. You should take sensible medical precautions and seek advice from your doctor before travelling.

Be aware of higher exposure to UV radiation. Since January 2020, the levels of UV radiation have significantly increased throughout Ecuador. You should use a high factor sunblock, wear long sleeved clothing and keep very well hydrated.

Electricity

In Ecuador the standard voltage is 120 V and the frequency is 60 Hz. You can use your electric appliances in Ecuador if the standard voltage in your country is in between 110 - 127 V (as is in the US, Canada and most South American countries). Manufacturers take small deviations (plus or minus 5%) into account.

Packing List

The following is a personal equipment list suggested for traveling in this circuit. Day temperatures can vary considerably in the mountains (18º C during the daytime, 0º C at night). Average temperatures will be in the region of 10º C.

Clothing:
Shirt: Cotton or wool, long sleeved or turtleneck
Sweater: Heavy wool or fleece sweater or vest
Trousers: Full length, wool, blend, or pile or other warm pants.
Underwear: Light-weight (polypropylene) thermal underwear, top and bottom
Headwear: Skycap, wool hat or wide brim felt hat, bandana, and sunglasses.
Jackets: Insulated or Gore-Tex mountain parka for rain and wind (important)

Gloves: Wool, leather, or polypropylene, recommended water proof
Socks: Wool or polypropylene
Footwear: Tennis shoes, lightweight hiking boots, or rubber boots (if your shoe size is 9 ½ US or less, boots are available at Hacienda La Alegria). Waterproof boots are recommended for riding as you may ride through long, wet grass.

Accessories:
Cosmetic kit
Sunglasses
Sun-blocking lotions +70 and lipstick ointments (important and should be applied regularly even if overcast)
Flashlight with extra batteries
Washcloth

Camera
Binoculars

Programmes

Avenue of Volcanoes Trail is a 9 day/8 night programme with 7 days riding available on set dates.
Cotopaxi Volcano and Haciendas Ride is a 8 day/7 night programme with 6 days riding on set dates.
Private dates may be available for groups of 6 or more, please enquire.

Departure Dates

2023 Avenue of Volcanoes: Feb 16; Mar 16; Apr 6; May 4; Jul 6; Aug 17; Sept 7; Oct 19; Nov 23; Dec 14.
2023 Cotopaxi Volcano and Haciendas: Jan 20; Mar 3; Jun 2; Aug 4.

Pricing
No single supplement is charged if the rider is willing to share with someone of the same sex, and a sharer can be found.


No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description £
2023 Cotopaxi Volcano and Haciendas Trail8d/7n6double pp1,905
2023 Cotopaxi Volcano and Haciendas Trail8d/7n6single supplement125
2023 Cotopaxi Volcano and Haciendas Trail8d/7n6small group supplement 2 people125
2023 Avenue of Volcanoes10d/9n7double pp2,319
2023 Avenue of Volcanoes10d/9n7single supplement125
2023 Avenue of Volcanoes10d/9n7small group supplement 2 people125
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
2023 Cotopaxi Volcano and Haciendas Trail8d/7n6double pp2,149
2023 Cotopaxi Volcano and Haciendas Trail8d/7n6single supplement139
2023 Cotopaxi Volcano and Haciendas Trail8d/7n6small group supplement 2 people139
2023 Avenue of Volcanoes10d/9n7double pp2,615
2023 Avenue of Volcanoes10d/9n7single supplement139
2023 Avenue of Volcanoes10d/9n7small group supplement 2 people139
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description $
2023 Cotopaxi Volcano and Haciendas Trail8d/7n6double pp2,299
2023 Cotopaxi Volcano and Haciendas Trail8d/7n6single supplement149
2023 Cotopaxi Volcano and Haciendas Trail8d/7n6small group supplement 2 people149
2023 Avenue of Volcanoes10d/9n7double pp2,909
2023 Avenue of Volcanoes10d/9n7single supplement155
2023 Avenue of Volcanoes10d/9n7small group supplement 2 people155
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
2023 Cotopaxi Volcano and Haciendas Trail8d/7n6double pp24,165
2023 Cotopaxi Volcano and Haciendas Trail8d/7n6single supplement1,575
2023 Cotopaxi Volcano and Haciendas Trail8d/7n6small group supplement 2 people1,575
2023 Avenue of Volcanoes10d/9n7double pp29,415
2023 Avenue of Volcanoes10d/9n7single supplement1,575
2023 Avenue of Volcanoes10d/9n7small group supplement 2 people1,575
Wildlife

Andean deer, spectacled bears, Andean fox and pumas, as well as a variety of birds and the majestic condor. In warmer ravines, you’ll also see colourful hummingbirds sipping nectar from a multitude of flowers. As we ride through the paramos, you will see the great alpaca and llama herds that roam at this altitude. Seeing these herds gallop together with Cotopaxi in the background is truly an amazing experience.

Other Country Information

Bordering the Pacific Ocean at the equator, Ecuador has a tropical climate in coastal regions, getting cooler inland. It is the smallest country in the rugged Andean highlands. The terrain consists of coastal plain (costa), inter-Andean central highlands (sierra), and a flat, rolling eastern jungle (oriente) and the Galapagos Islands. Ecuador is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world. The Galapagos Islands and the waters surrounding it are both World Heritage Sites and of vital ecological importance. Charles Darwins visits to The Galapogos played a vital role in the development of his ideas on evolution.

Advanced indigenous cultures flourished prior to the arrival of the Incas in the 15th century. The capital, Quito, was once the centre of the Inca Empire. Ecuador was subsequently conquested by the Spanish in 1534, finally gaining independance in 1830. Ecuador has retained an array of vibrant cultures and stunningly well preserved colonial architecture.

Ecuador is five hours behind GMT and they use the metric weights and measures system, so kilometres and kilograms instead of miles and pounds. There is approximately 1.6 kilometres in a mile and 2.2 pounds in a kilogram.

Travel Summary

Meeting-point (getting there):
Quito Airport (UIO)
Transfer:
2023: return transfers from Quito airport are $100 return per car. Payable on site. Transfer time approximately 1 hour .
Flight Guide:
London - Quito return from £920 pp return
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