Wayfairer Travel Guide Ecuador
World-renowned wildlife, smouldering volcanic vistas, warm cultures of the sierra.Read More
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Haciendas by Horseback is a specialised tour of Ecuador's highlands, or Sierra region, where pathways have been carved into the landscape by Spanish settlers, Incas, and Native communities throughout history. Follow these fabled pathways on an epic adventure perfect for families who are keen on invigorating outdoor activities in the world's most dramatic countryside.
Explore unseen valleys and volcanic crevices filled with verdant water, and get involved in wildlife conservation projects along the way.
Your journey will begin in the stunning historic centre of Quito, with a couple of days to explore and learn about cultural practices here - particularly making chocolate!
From here, stop at Otavalo's famous markets on the way to your working hacienda (previously the home of former president Mr Galo Plaza Lasso) at the foot of the valley. Enjoy peace and serenity, and make the most of the resident Zuleteño horses and artisan cheese before setting off following the Avenue of Volcanoes south.
You will be introduced to chagras, and with their skill and knowledge, this generous community will be your local guides to these widely undiscovered lands. Wrap up in ponchos and saddle up on your journey to Cotopaxi National Park - overlooked by South America's most conical peak.
Throughout your stay in each of our hand-picked lodges, you will be welcomed in as family. These are Ecuador's finest stays with world-class hospitality and locations that will make you pinch yourself in disbelief. Our daily activities range from relaxing in verdant grounds and milking cows to trekking and challenging yourself to long rides on ancient old paths.
Welcome to Ecuador! Today you'll be met by our Wayfairer Travel representative at the airport, who will then take you to your charming accommodation in the Centro Historico.
Quito is renowned for its gorgeous cobbled stone streets, Baroque architecture and incredible arts scene. You'll be stepping off the plane into higher altitudes as Quito's elevation in the Andes is at a staggering 2,850 meters above sea level. This gorgeous city, encircled by conical volcanoes and mountains, is one of the highest capitals in the world. As you arrive at your hotel Mama Cuchara, you'll be greeted into a historic boutique emanating contemporary elegance through its high ceilings and beams joined with indigenous decor.
This morning you'll enjoy a generous breakfast before heading off to explore Ecuador's capital city with our expert guide.
You will begin in Quito's colonial centre, where narrow cobblestone streets are lined with whitewashed walls, and the steeples and cupolas of the lavishly decorated churches rise above. This is said to be the best preserved colonial centre in all of South America, and the United Nations declared Quito as the first capital city with protected world heritage status. As you walk through the Main Plaza, you'll be introduced to the Government Palace, La Compañia and some of the most important Baroque-style churches built around the 16th and 17th centuries, including the grand San Francisco Monastery, which was built just after the founding of the city in 1534. From here, walk up La Ronda Street whilst learning about traditional work in Quito all the way to the Panecillo. From the hill that dominates the south of the city, admire the famous statue of Our Lady of the Panecillo and enjoy spectacular views of Quito.
After a spot of lunch, get ready for afternoon tea in the form of locally grown chocolate. Ecuador's unique equatorial climate provides the perfect environment for growing the world's finest cocoa - Cacao Arriba. Cocoa has been revered in Latin America for over 5,000 years, and the Spanish explorers adored it so much they called it the 'Food of the Gods'. This afternoon you'll be introduced to the Republica del Cacao, a group of passionate producers who create the most authentic chocolate whilst supporting and developing sustainable fine cocoa production.
This morning you will be picked up by your driver for a journey north on the Pan-American highway to Otavalo market. On the way, you'll stop off at the Quitsato Sundile located at La Mitad Del Mundo to learn about the astronomical aspects and Cosmo's vision of prehispanic cultures that have historically lived on this land.
At the market, under the watchful gaze of the majestic Mount Imbabura, you'll find a peaceful atmosphere in this Quichwa-speaking region. The town's famous craft market is one of the most visited sites in Ecuador, and with good reason. Every day this colourful market is held on one of the town squares at the foot of the mountain, and to help you navigate, we've lined you up with some local residents who will explain the produce and give you a map of the gorgeous area surrounding. You'll visit the local workshops of handcrafts in Agato and Peguche before having a local lunch in a sublime setting.
This afternoon your driver will take you to the Cotacachi-Cayapas ecological reserve for a visit to the interpretation centre with panoramic views of Cuicocha Lagoon. This deep-blue crater lake on the southern flanks of Mount Cotacachi is incredibly picturesque, with stunning views. In the early evening, just in time for sunset, you'll arrive at Hacienda Zuleta , a historic lodge previously owned by the Ecuadorian president Mr Galo Plaza Lasso. This beautiful place will be your home for the next few days.
Following a colourful breakfast alfresco in Hacienda Zuleta's grounds, set off for a two-hour hike in the spectacular Andean mountain scenery to the hacienda's condor reintroduction project, stopping along the way to see some pre-Inca mounds. The hacienda is a 4,000-acre working farm with general agriculture, forestation and dairy farming operations taking place daily.
When you return, saddle up and choose a route from one of the many surrounding Zuleta. Horse-riding at Zuleta is a fantastic way to spend afternoons or mornings, as they have their own breed of horses called Zuleteños for every level. You'll be provided with fantastic quality helmets, half chaps, rain ponchos and a saddle bag, so you can feel entirely at ease whilst exploring the glorious horse trails surrounding you. There are six hours' worth of routes just outside your hacienda's door. In your bags, you'll be provided with lunch, generous snacks and refreshing drinks to keep you going along the way.
We encourage you to spend this morning riding and exploring the truly spectacular scenery that surrounds you. Hacienda Zuleta will also host a tour of the cheese museum, where you may learn how to make 14 different types of fresh, semi-aged and aged cheeses. Each variety is handmade here with local milk by people from the local community with Zuleta spirit!
Visit the organic gardens, feed baby calves, count sheep, talk to the vaqueros and enjoy the embroidery museum. This truly is a countryside idyll.
Today after a hearty breakfast, you'll travel further south to Hacienda La Alegría in Machachi. The journey will take just under three hours, but it will be an incredibly scenic drive as you traverse the mountain range.
La Alegría is a warm lodge that celebrates the traditions and customs of the local chagras - the highland people. In goat-skin chaps and woollen ponchos, these people welcome tourists and demonstrate their centuries-old techniques for herding cattle. The skill on horseback and knowledge of Andean paramo surrounding are nothing short of legendary, and it is with this insight that you'll be introduced to the land. This is where your proper riding excursions begin, with the chagras as your inspiration for the journey, you'll explore the grasslands framed by ancient volcanoes, highland plateaus, and rivers that flow down the Andes all the way to the Amazon. Today's ride time is five hours long, however, you'll be well-equipped with lunch and snacks along the way.
Nestle in for nights by the hacienda's roaring fire and eat delicious Ecuadorian food. Rest well in humungous beds before your onward excursions in days to follow.
Today set off on a ride towards Machachi Valley up to the east mountain chain, stopping at a hacienda for a warming lunch. Follow off-the-beaten-track pathways to Pedregal Valley to finish the ride surrounded by sublime vistas. The total riding time today is six hours, with plenty of pit stops and lunch along the way.
Today, you'll enter the National Park and encircle Rumiñahui Volcano working your way up to 4,300 meters above sea level. By now, you would've had plenty of time to acclimatise to higher altitudes, so this will be no hurdle, and you'll be able to enjoy views of the uninterrupted landscapes surrounding. This is the longest ride, so prepare yourself for eight hours at the saddle, but not to worry, sundowners at our spectacular viewpoint will feel well deserved. Return to the lodge for an evening rest.
This morning canter through the mountains and bid farewell to this special setting as soon you'll head off to Cotopaxi National Park. As you drive towards the park, you'll be greeted by the snowcapped summits of the Cotopaxi and Antisana volcanoes.
Visit the Interpretation Centre to learn about the history of this spectacular volcano's major eruptions, as well as the unique local flora and fauna. You'll be escorted to Laguna de Limpiopungo and stretch your legs around beautiful surroundings mirrored in the deep blue waters.
For those wanting a more challenging, longer walk, a two-hour hike will take you to Mount Cotopaxis J. Ribas refuge at 4,800 meters above sea level, where you will absorb spectacular views of the volcanoes and surrounding Andean peaks before journeying onwards to Chilcabamba Mountain Lodge. This lodge is a traditional Andean setting with warming fireplaces and cosy rooms overlooking the epic mountain range and volcanoes.
Today wake for a delicious homemade breakfast before setting off for a slow-paced exploration of the surrounding markets, which are as authentic as it gets. These are the centres of the local indigenous people's social and economic worlds, and your cultural exchange here will feel deeply enriching and meaningful.
Following a morning spent ambling and browsing, you'll visit the Quilotoa volcano crater, where you'll be stunned by the crater's serenely mysterious green lake. As you encircle the crater's rim, condors will soar above and deer dance in the grasslands around you.
On the way back, stop to visit the art galleries in the community of Tigua, where paintings representative of the folklore of this special part of the Andes are showcased. The brightly coloured style of the painters - currently the third generation - has transcended local boundaries and is now internationally renowned. These days there are a lot of painters in Tigua, but Julio Toaquiza was the first and is still number one. You'll meet Julio in his studio to see and understand why his vibrant work is so highly appreciated - for the level of meticulous detail and the stories that the paintings bring to life. This evening, dream of the volcanoes, the condors, and the indigenous community's world-famous legends.
Chilcabamba Mountain Lodge offers unique horse ride trail options, which uncover lesser-seen sides of Cotopaxi National Park. Meet with the chagras in their colourful clothes and set off towards Cotopaxi and Ruminahui, chasing those amazing views. Meet wild horses along the way, and gallop in coordination with your expert guide.
After breakfast, and on your way back to the airport, you'll stop off at a world-class rose producer's garden in full bloom. Ecuadorian roses are recognised as being some of the finest in the world; they are exported absolutely everywhere. This farm produces unique, beautiful, multicoloured roses for the most discerning customers. Your guide will show you the process of producing high-quality roses and explain the research that has gone into producing the flowers' marvellous colours. Many products created by this beautiful blossom are also available to enjoy and sample, such as rose honey, sea salt, vinegar, chocolate and marmalade.
Following this romantic affair, our guide will escort you to Quito Airport feeling divine and with a floral scent in the air. Sadly, your flight will be waiting to take you back home after your epic journey in Ecuador's lesser-seen highland regions.