Andean Trails - vacations and travel

Colonial Hacienda Horse Riding Small Group Tour, Ecuador


from $2,585* per person 8 Days Year-round
Comfort accommodations Exertion level: 5
Operator: Andean Trails 16 people max
  • Quito, ecuador
  • Active & Adventure trips
A journey back in time in a region made for riding: along ancient Inca highways and Spanish colonial routes, between the best preserved ‘haciendas’ (grand colonial farming estates) of South America, in two stunningly beautiful, yet very distinct areas of the Andean highlands.

Breath taking views as we cross vast plains and ride through pastoral valleys in a fascinating region dramatically sculptured by both glacial and volcanic activity. A picture postcard as we turn every corner: hanging valleys, perfectly conical hills, wild flower covered grassy slopes, crater lakes and rocky summits.

We follow the ‘Avenue of Volcanoes’, skirting the towering, snow-capped peaks of Cayambe and Cotopaxi (one of the highest active volcanoes in the world) and cantering through the maze of patchwork fields below.

The days are packed with rides varied in both pace and scenery and with visits along the way to local indigenous markets and craft villages where the customs and rhythm of life have changed little over the centuries. As well as seeing an array of exotic Andean fruits, we meet the very friendly locals in vibrant traditional dress going about their daily tasks, the children shepherding the unruly pigs and sheep, the farmers working the land in much the same way as their forefathers did. A fascinating insight into Andean country life.

Nights are spent in haciendas – historic country houses, most dating back to the 17th and 18th century and some of which are exclusive to these tours.

Warmly greeted by the owners, guests can relax in front of open fireplaces and enjoy the fine period detail, atmospheric courtyards and flowering gardens. The prestigious haciendas that open their doors to us are unique and hold an important place in the history of Ecuador: most are still the homes of the noblest of Ecuadorian families including past presidents and one is the most important Inca site in northern Ecuador.

Hundreds of years after they were first built, the haciendas continue to welcome visitors to Ecuador as they once did to such famous guests as Simon Bolivar and many of the 17th-19th C’s greatest scientists and explorers (von Humboldt, Whymper, Condamine etc).

Locations visited/nearby


0 testimonials about this trip.

2 testimonials about the provider, Andean Trails :

  • Reviewer: located in USA

    We had a WONDERFUL time – really incredible.  All the folks we traveled/worked with were great.  We really enjoyed Zacharias  – he was very knowledgeable, and I really tested him on the plants!  The only comment we would probably have was with the excursion to Taquile – I would have much rather spent more time on Amantani.  It was really just a hike of the island and people watching…

    I’m sure I’ll send back more comments as I get caught up back here!  We really had a super time, and really look forward to another trip back to Peru.  Let Tom know we’re thinking Galapagos for next April… J


  • Reviewer: located in England

    The Paine trek was fantastic. After hearing horror stories from other travellers about the gale-force winds & horizontal rain, I couldn't believe my luck when we had 4 days of blue sky and only a little bit of wind on the last day. Perfect.
    Our guide, Jay (Chaid is his real name I think, he's from turkey) was brilliant. He couldn't have done more for us, sorting out a few things in the hotel as well as making sure we didn't have to worry about anything other than putting one foot in front of the other. He also made the worlds best sandwiches! I said a big thank you but would be grateful if you could pass this on. So you couldn't have done a better job.

    Thanks again for your help with organising it all, I've got some great photos to make everyone jealous with (& just the one blister!)

Comments from Facebook

Special information

  • This is a custom departure, meaning this trip is offered on dates that you arrange privately with the provider. Additionally, you need to form your own private group for this trip. The itinerary and price here is just a sample. Contact the provider for detailed pricing, minimum group size, and scheduling information. For most providers, the larger the group you are traveling with, the lower the per-person cost will be.


Day 1 You will be met at Quito airport/hotel by a bilingual guide and driven north to a hacienda frequented by the great South American liberator, Simon Bolivar (2 hrs). Members of the charming family (horse fanatics themselves) that have owned the hacienda for several centuries greet us warmly. With its courtyards, ornate fountains, terraces and gardens graced with citrus, palm and monkey puzzle trees it is an ideal location to leisurely drift into the relaxing Andean surroundings.

Introductory ride (2-3hrs) along the tracks and through the tiny fields on the slopes of the Imbabura Volcano. We often see the very friendly but dignified locals in their immaculate traditional dress working in the fields by using hand tools or cattle to work the land. These tiny fields are surrounded by stone walls and earth banks topped with sisal plants and an array of wild flowers. Guests first try their horses in an enclosed area before we ride out and the guides and grooms are always at had to help.

Visit to the famous Otavalo market on this the busiest day of the week. As well as the bustling craft market and stalls with exotic fruit, there is a food market where the locals -dressed in their very distinctive traditional costume- come down from their tiny farms in the mountains to sell their farm produce and buy their weekly supplies.

After a welcome drink in the cosy bar accompanied by the music of an excellent Andean band and a delicious, traditional dinner (a la carte) overnight at the hacienda (Hacienda Pinsaqui), fireplaces in most rooms. PL, D.

Day 2 We leave this historic hacienda, once a very important weaving centre, on horseback and ride on to another colonial hacienda built in 1602 (5 hours). We ride past tiny hamlets of adobe huts, through woodlands, cross rocky gorges and wind our way around the patchwork fields of quinoa, potatoes, maize and tree tomato orchards. Magnificent views of the San Pablo lake and the jagged Mojanda summit as we ride across the slopes of the sacred Imbabura Volcano (extinct) - the focus of many Inca legends. As well as seeing a great variety of exotic Andean fruits and other crops, we meet the locals in vibrant traditional dress going about their daily tasks, the children shepherding the unruly pigs and sheep -trying to keep them off the crops. A fascinating insight into Andean country life.

On the way through many of the small villages with thriving cottage industries, we visit a family of local weavers. This family still produces exceptionally fine, unique rugs using the ancient pre-Inca backstrap loom that most weavers have abandoned in favour of more modern looms. The wool is still dyed using plants and then hand spun as the family sticks rigidly to the traditional weaving processes. In the afternoon you can wander through the beautiful flowering gardens admiring the avocado trees, bromeliads, orchids and kitchen garden with passion fruit, tree tomato and a host of other interesting plants.

Overnight at this early 17th Century (1602) hacienda (Hacienda Cusin) adorned with local crafts and antiques. Fireplaces in most rooms. AB, PL, D.

Day 3 A stunning ride into the beautiful pastoral Zuleta Valley (5-6hrs). Along country lanes then through eucalyptus forests, we rise out of San Pablo Valley enjoying wonderful views across the lake and also of Imbabura volcano, riding onto the plains beyond for some fast-pace riding. Views of Zuleta valley, the verdant gorges and the ‘paramo’ (the unique Andean habitat of high grasslands) as we pass dewponds and hedges of aloe vera and spiky agave (sisal) atop mud walls.

Following sandy tracks, we then descend into the Zuleta valley with dramatic views across to the hanging valleys and rocky ridges above. With views of the ancient tumili and earth pyramids erected by the pre-Inca population ride on to a working farm in the middle of this tranquil valley seldom visited by tourists. A chance of seeing the mighty Andean Condor as well as other species such as hummingbirds and bright scarlet flycatchers. Andalusian horses, fighting bulls and a dairy herd are among the farm inhabitants.

In the afternoon we make some local visits to see examples of the hand embroidery that has made the valley famous and enjoy observing the activities on this working farm. Overnight at Hacienda La Merced. Fireplaces in most rooms. AB, PL, T, D.

Day 4 We ride out of the hacienda along tree-lined trails between the fields and passing the traditional adobe and thatch cottages we climb into open grasslands.

Taking to the steep paths following the gorges and climbing high onto a ridge we enjoy spectacular views of the distant peaks and the valleys below, including some pre Inca earthworks. We then ride across the Pesillo plains, into the Cayambe Valley dominated by the snow-capped Cayambe Volcano, which straddles the Equator arriving at a typical village square we leave the horses. Guests are driven on to a beautiful old converted Jesuit water mill for a visit and afternoon tea.

We then cross the Equator and travel (2hrs), bypassing Quito, to a comfortable hacienda complete with a steaming Jacuzzi waiting and the possibility of massages. Guests can relax in the swimming pool, jacuzzi and sauna. Overnight at Hacienda La Carriona. AB, PL, D.

Day 5 The day starts with a short drive south through the ‘Avenue of Volcanoes’. The views are magnificent, with the verdant horseshoe shaped crater of Pasachoa, the twin Iliniza peaks sprinkled with snow and a host of other summits lining the central valley. Riders meet fresh horses and we ride south out of the Machachi valley and into the foothills of the Iliniza peaks – very different scenery to the previous days’ rides. Our destination, on the Lasso plains, is a very ornate hacienda steeped in history (6hrs).

The wide sandy tracks and grassy paths are ideal for some more fast-pace riding as we ride the length of a valley scraped out by glaciers at the end of the last ice age. In places we ride over layers of pumice stone – deposited by the volcanoes, and during the ride the horses expertly negotiate two steep gorges. We often pass the local ladies wearing brightly coloured, pleated skirts and their traditional hats chasing errant donkeys. The original houses in this area are built of dried grass laid over a wooden frame and, from the back, look like haystacks rather than dwellings. Small groups of local children come piling out to chase their llamas, pigs and sheep off to open pastureland.

Arriving down a very impressive avenue of eucalyptus trees, we dismount at the portico of a magnificent hacienda that holds a very special place in history: the scene of several independence battles and used as a base by many explorers and scientists such as Condamine and Humboldt during their expeditions to the ‘new world’. Overnight Hacienda La Cienaga. AB, PL, D.

Day 6 An early morning visit by vehicle to the nearby rural Saquisili Indian market. Having visited the animal market and purchased alfalfa (lucerne) and oats for the horses, guests can amble through the squares and streets buying local crafts or a traditional poncho or simply watching the locals trading on this, the most important market day. Men sit behind old sewing machines putting the collars on new ponchos or behind stone wheels grinding knives for people, ladies pass through the market selling a multitude of wares. We drive back to the park entrance to meet the horses and ride up through the national park.

A spectacular ride (6hrs). We rejoin the horses and ride up into the National Park to canter across the wide, barren plain at the base of the Cotopaxi Volcano (the highest active volcano in the world). Several herds of wild horses inhabit the park and to ride along side these long-maned horses galloping freely across the rugged terrain is an exhilarating experience.

Part of this ride follows the main Inca highway which linked Quito with Cusco, Peru. Close by, there is a route running eastwards, along which the Incas went to the Amazon rain forest, in the distance we can see remnants of the Inca hilltop fortress that guarded this route. The ground is covered with tiny pumice stones and lichen on this arid plain created by lava and ash from the mighty Cotopaxi volcano. Passing a shallow lake on the high plains we then ride across a very surprising ‘luna landscape’ – huge boulders and hard baked ocre-coloured mud and onto rolling grassy hills.

Arriving at a ‘hosteria’ just outside the national park for an overnight stay in a stunning location (B,L,D)

Day 7 Guests ride out of the beautiful hosteria and head up over a high mountain pass (4,200 metres) to enjoy the stunning high Andean scenery in this wilderness (6-7hrs).

In these remote Andean ‘paramo’ areas the local ‘chagras’ are the only people to venture– checking their herds of cattle on their trusty horses. A local horseman will accompany our group, guiding us through a sea of grass, along mountain tracks, across streams of snowmelt passing native scrubland. Guests really experience the remoteness of the magnificent high Andes with wonderful views of the surrounding peaks: Cotopaxi, Ruminahui. Sincholagua, name but a few.

Varied terrain and pace – after some canters across the open, grassy plains we start climbing, Deer, condor, Andean foxes have been spotted on this route, high altitude hummingbirds (hillstars) are often sighted zooming between the native wildflowers as well as swifts and other Andeam species.

Once over the high pass and across the scree slopes guests descend into the valley. We say goodbye to the horses and are driven back into Quito (90 minutes). Ovenight in a very comfortable hotel in Quito. (B,L)

Note: The route can be altered if anyone is worried but guests have always been acclimatized by day 7 of a ride and we have not had any problems.

Day 8 Following a breakfast, guests are accompanied to the airport in time for their outward flights. BB.

More information from Andean Trails :