Checking the saddle
Ready to ride
Early morning view over crater lake
cloudtops
Local bridles
beautiful horse
Canter on top of the world
mountain sky
Afternoon ride
Another view
Riding around Cotopaxi volcano on a winter morning
Cotopaxi Volcano
View and my horse
Riding with chagras
Cotopaxi volcano rising in the background
Horses drinking in lake
Lake reflections
Rainbow on the paramo
Evening shadows on the paramo
misty hillside
On the mountain
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. Each morning brings new experiences and a chance to contemplate the beauty of the mountains and valleys. Friendly Chagras, Ecuadorean cowboys (horsemen of the Andes), usually pause from their work to greet you, to exchange news, or even to offer a drink as they wish you luck on your travels. This trail incorporates rides by Corazon, Illinizas and Quilotoa volcanoes.

You 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 your nine-day trek will be your horse. Our 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 AK of Taunton on 31/01/2017

Ride Summary

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Please explain why you scored it as you did Terrain can be difficult for unexperienced riders (high mountains). As regarding horses, there is a great choice of them, so you can have one that is suitable for your abilities.
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Day 1
Transfer from hotel or airport. Depending on your arrival time there may be opportunity for a short ride before dinner. Overnight at Hacienda la Alegria.

Day 2
Guests will have the opportunity to ride in the arena and try out the horses to get acquainted with them and with the tack we will be using throughout the trip. We will ride around the neighboring Haciendas and the Viudita Mountain so that riders adjust to the altitude. The afternoon will be followed by: lunch in the Hacienda house, a visit to the milking parlour, the aging cheese cave, and finally riders will have the option to enjoy the hot tub. Accommodation: La Alegria
Riding hours: 4 hours

Day 3
For this mornings ride we will be crossing extensive pastures and eucalyptus forests where we will have a nice view of the “Volcano Avenue”. From there we can appreciate the green and fertile Machachi Valley and we can also see the routes we will take the next day at the east mountain chain.
We ascend by Corazon volcano up to 4,000 meters and descend through the cloud forest reserve. At the cloud forest we can observe a great biodiversity of plants and flowers, including giant guneras, orchids, and birds, such as the turkey of the forest. In the afternoon we arrive to Hacienda Bomboli 3,000 m and relax by the fireplace enjoying the sunset and the lights of the villages near the coast. We will arrive at tea time and then enjoy a delicious dinner. 
Accommodation: Hacienda Bomboli
Riding hours: 4 hours

Day 4
In the morning we will walk in the Hacienda’s gardens and learn and see an incredible variety of the most beautiful orchids and cloud forest plants.
We ride uphill admiring the forest and the hundreds of flowers and plants, we use 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
Riding hours: 5 hours

Day 5
Today is the start of our long journey in the saddle. We start the ride one hour south of Hacienda la Alegria, we will be transferred by car to this point to start our 4 day adventure in the southern Andes.
Today we will ride by the Inca trail and dirt roads and paths that takes us to Sigchos, the village that was known as the “last home” of the Inca general Ruminahui. From this day on we will ride through dramatic landscapes, including steep ravines and narrow passages.
Even though we can visualize where we are heading and it looks near, we will have to cross many mountain chains to get there. This area is a combination of forest, rock peaks and eroded land from the last centuries.
We arrive at Hacienda San Jose, a working dairy farm and guest house. We're in time for a good meal, Jacuzzi, sauna and a comfortable night. Our horses will have lush fields of fresh grass.
Accommodation: Hacienda San Jose
Riding hours: 8 hours

Day 6
After breakfast we head south to the Quilotoa crater lake. The trail goes by the highest mountain heading west they call the cloud forest and there is some dairy cattle and a couple of cheese makers.
Downhill to the canyon the land is very dry and the soil is comprised of pumice from the Quilotoa volcano which erupted 1,280 years ago.
In the afternoon we will arrive at the Quilotoa volcano summit at 3,800 meters above sea level, where our hostel is awaiting. At the edge of the volcano we will enjoy and amazing view of the breathtaking Quilotoa crater lake.
Quilotoa is a crater lake caldera and the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. The 3 km wide caldera was formed by the collapse of this dacite volcano following a eruption.
Accommodation: Quilotoa hostel, next to the crater lake
Riding hours: 8 hours

Day 7 
Before a small walk to take the last photos of the incredible sight of the crater lake, we start our ride down the volcano by a beautiful old path. This takes us half a day to descend the canyon, crossing a few villages that remind us of scenes from the film 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly'. Volcanic pumice and dry soil makes for a hard and poor area for agriculture, so there are just a few people living in this area. The change of landscape begins with the paramo (moor lands) as soil and water make the difference; the ride continues by several hills, arriving at a small village called Insilivi, founded in 1857. Here an entrepreneur from the UK started a hostel 16 years ago; it is now Dutch owned, and we are lucky to stay in this small village at the Andes.
Accommodation: Hostel at Insilivi
Riding hours 4 hours

Day 8
The last day riding in this spectacular region is by several narrow old paths ascending to the high Andes paramo. From up here it makes it possible to admire the beautiful scenery from one valley to another. The colours of the mountains signal the changes in landscape from paramo to land full of different patches of colour patches, with the east mountain chain below us.
Accommodation: Hacienda La Alegria 
Riding hours 6 hours

Day 9
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 acclimatisation (Quito is at 2800m) and the itinerary incorporates trips through working haciendas dedicated to the production of dairy products, potatoes, broccoli, and flowers. 
You will come to appreciate the traditions and customs of the chagras’ skills too in this time. In their goat-skin chaps and woollen ponchos, they welcome tourists to demonstrate their centuries-old tradition of herding cattle. The chagras’ skills on horseback and knowledge of the Andean paramo are legendary. They are the inspiration for our 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 you will enter a completely different environment and see an exciting change in the surrounding vegetation. Spectacular riding ascending up to 40,000 meters experiencing a lush native tundra landscape. Descend toward the coast and experience incredible sub-tropical vegetation along the way. Here, nestled deep in the mystical cloud forest, learn about medicinal plants and trees which are native to the area and be regaled by tales of the remote life of living in the Cloud Forest.

The second part of our ride will take us 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.
Around the cosy fireplace of the hacienda, we will reminisce about the day’s events and discuss local traditions, especially those related to the chagras. 

Highlights: 
100% horseback trip (once you start the ride you 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 here 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 14 st/198 lb/90 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.

On this trail, accommodation is 8 overnight stays at 3 highland haciendas and 2 hostels. All meals feature delicious, gourmet international cuisine and Ecuadorian foods and wines. Rooms have private bathrooms. Luggage is transported for you. Hacienda Alegria is owned by your 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. You will be welcomed with a roaring log fire in the sitting room and in your bedroom 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. Paty 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.

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

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

This is a 9 day/8 night programme with 7 days riding available on set dates. Private dates may be available for groups of 6 or more, please enquire.

Departure Dates

2017: 13 Jan; 17 Feb; 7 Apr; 2 Jun; 7 Jul; 4 Aug; 22 Sept; 13 Oct; 24 Nov
2018: 5, 26 Jan; 2, 30 Mar; 4, 25 May; 3 Aug; 12 Oct; 30 Nov.

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 £
20179d/8n7double pp1,819
20179d/8n7single supplement115
20179d/8n7small group supplement 2 people115
20179d/8n7Child under 15 years old1,639
20189d/8n7double pp1,859
20189d/8n7single supplement119
20189d/8n7small group supplement 2 people119
20189d/8n7Child under 15 years old1,675
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
20179d/8n7double pp2,085
20179d/8n7single supplement129
20179d/8n7small group supplement 2 people129
20179d/8n7Child under 15 years old1,879
20189d/8n7double pp2,085
20189d/8n7single supplement129
20189d/8n7small group supplement 2 people129
20189d/8n7Child under 15 years old1,879
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description $
20179d/8n7double pp2,399
20179d/8n7single supplement149
20179d/8n7small group supplement 2 people149
20179d/8n7Child under 15 years old2,159
20189d/8n7double pp2,399
20189d/8n7single supplement149
20189d/8n7small group supplement 2 people149
20189d/8n7Child under 15 years old2,159
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
20179d/8n7double pp19,869
20179d/8n7single supplement1,245
20179d/8n7small group supplement 2 people1,245
20179d/8n7Child under 15 years old17,885
20189d/8n7double pp19,869
20189d/8n7single supplement1,245
20189d/8n7small group supplement 2 people1,245
20189d/8n7Child under 15 years old17,885
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:
Return transfers from Quito are $100 return per car. Payable on site. Transfer time approximately 1 hour
Flight Guide:
London - Quito return from £600
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