From Cloud Forest to the HighlandsBook Now
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This trip will take you through the very heart of the Western Andes and their unbroken beauty. Enjoy an incredible variety of Andean landscapes – jungles and deserts, hot valleys and cool windy heights, volcanoes and lakes, culture land and tropical wilderness – combined with fascinating in-looks into Ecuador’s natural and social history.
9:30 am pick-up from meeting point in Quito. We’ll drive you over the western cordillera in direction of the Pacific cloud forest on the slopes of Pululahua volcano. Scenery and microclimate change around each major road-turn, and you get an impression of what variety awaits you on our ride. Along the way, we have the chance to visit the Equator museum Intiñan 15-km north from Quito with information on the ancient culture that has determined the equator line more than thousand years ago. We’ll learn some interesting facts about geo-physics and the people which once ruled the Center of the Earth. Typical Ecuadorian lunch and drive to the ranch inside Pululahua caldera where our horses await us. Afternoon ride through the enchanted crater valley, towards the scenic art-style country Inn of Rolando Vera, Ecuador’s fastest Marathon runner. His burning “volcancitos”, hot volcanic drinks, are part of your experience of a lifetime.
Circling the lava dome – covered with cloud forest – on horseback, we witness volcanic history and nature, interesting geological formations, mineral avalanches blooming with wild orchids and traditional Andean agriculture. We’ll be passing by deep gorges, carved by lava streams thousands of years ago to enter the narrow Valley of the Rio Blanco with its warm and tropical climate where we shall find coffee trees, fields of sugar cane and a lot of tropical fruits. Legendary historical sites can be observed along the way. When the afternoon light breaks through the clouds over the pre-Inca-fortress Portalanza, this mountain-valley looks most certainly like taken from a fairy tale. “Aguacatal” is the name of the very remote (no electricity!) and beautiful farm that offers us beds for tonight in cozy wooden cabañas (alternatively ancient Jesuit Hacienda Niebli de la Compañia, depending on availability). Welcome drink and great home-made hot meal.
Having found this unique place at the end of the world, we will stay here for the day and explore the fascinating surroundings – enjoying some leisure activities and refilling our energies with Mrs. Hilda’s Austrian Kaiserschmarrn in the middle of nowhere. In the morning we invite you for a 3 hours ride, to take a look at mysterious 1300 years old stone-carvings from the Yumbo-culture. The visit of a nearby Hacienda that was ruled by the Jesuit-community during colonial time and shows interesting historical evidences, is another option. Those, who’d like to change activity for a while, can go for a walk, collecting tropical fruit, head for a shower under a natural waterfall or just hang out for a day, enjoying the enchanted and unique scenery of our rest place. Home-made lunch at Doña Hilda’s place, overnight in cabañas.
This is the day of the adventurous! Following the course of the furious and turbulent River Guayllabamba upstream for several hours, we shall enjoy some really breathtaking views. From the back of our horses, we’re overlooking the steep and winding gorges, a comprised version of the Grand Canyon. This valley has been settled long before the arrival of the Incas, by cultures who were farming the land, building temples for their gods and knowing the exact position of the equator line. Today’s 7-8 hours ride along the river and up Pululahua´s outer crater walls, combines steep adventurous up- and downhill climbs through dense vegetation with gallop stretches on mountain ridges with wide open views. Towards the end of the day, we’ll be crossing Lulumbamba, one of the oldest Arrayan forests in South America, ruled by elves and hobbits, while winding downhill amongst mystical mossy trees. Tonight we are invited into Alex’ private home, sitting remote in the mountains, an immigrant from the Check Republic with a great life story to tell and a great cuisine to enjoy.
More wide open views to expect! Today the trail leads through fields of sugar cane and banana trees along the way, then crosses over a narrow ridge with lush bamboo forests. We will be climbing gently but continually on our ride to the west. On our trail up the mountain, we only come across a few small farmhouses, where the highland farmers scratch a meager income from the steep, infertile land beside the forest. Accommodation in a more than 300 years old beautiful colonial Hacienda and a hot evening meal await us, next to the volcanic springs of El Cachaco. Alternatively, accommodation in the ecological community-tourism project at Yunguilla mountain village. A lot to learn about sustainable development.
We’ll be riding across the Valley of Nono, along green, hilly pastures, passing several stately farms, where we can observe fighting bulls and flower crop for exportation, getting a good impression about present and past of the country. Some extensive canters along fields and pastures make our way shorter this time. This picturesque valley is also the home and breading place of many beautiful horses. Drawing closer to Pichincha volcano, which towers above us at almost 4800 m, we shall reach the tiny, colonial village of Nono, where we find shelter in a traditional farm-house, still built in colonial time. Next to a hot chimney fire, our host Don Lucho, known as the “Wild West Cowboy of Nono” is always willing to tell some interesting stories about people and lifestyles, while sharing tea and locally burnt brandy with us.
Today we leave Nono, climbing up to the edge of the paramo grassland, catching views on the ashy slopes of Pichincha Volcano and the surrounding valleys. After crossing a ridge that divides the Inter-Andean Valley from the Pacific Andean slopes, we start heading downhill into a lush green region of virgin forests studded with waterfalls toward the fishing resort of Tandayapa. Once back on the road, we say goodbye to the horses and shall meet our accompanying vehicle that brings us up the rest of way to Bellavista nature reserve. We’ll be welcomed into a unique lodge with hot showers and delicious, wholesome food. The bamboo-built, rounded “dome house”, allows a 360-degree few on the vivid bird- and plant-life around us: The place is surrounded by hundreds of colorful hummingbirds, often Toucans and bright blue shining Jays. From the balcony of our shared room, we can enjoy a breath-taking view far over the cloud forest and listen to the sounds of exotic birds, before the mist races in.
After a hearty breakfast, a tour of Bellavista reserve is open to whoever wishes. Self-guided maps help you to design your adventure through this Andean jungle. We have plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and the variety of plant- and bird-life before lunch. Transport back to Quito in the afternoon and end of main program.
Optional Day 9
Instead of leaving you in Quito on day 8, we shall drive you across the Andean Valley and over the Eastern Andean Cordillera towards the natural volcanic springs of Papallacta. The next morning, about 10 different pools with different water temperature, nestling in an outstandingly beautiful surrounding – paramo highland, lakes, cloud-forests and the snow capped Antizana volcano close by – invite you to recover from the long and straining ride. A Spa next door can be visited by those who wish to receive massages and other wellness joys. Return to Quito in the afternoon.
Optional Day 10
Again, instead of leaving you in Quito on day 9, we keep on driving to Otavalo where we shall offer you Bed and Breakfast in a nicely decorated hotel within walking distance from all the markets in Otavalo. Many options for the morning: The “early-ups” might check out the animal market starting by dawn or watch the indigenous people build up the textile market. Others might want to sleep in and visit the lively, colorful indigenous market after breakfast. The small Andean town is world-famous for its handicrafts and wool products, these textiles are successfully sold around the world, and as poor as the mountain housings were we have seen on our ride, it’s here in Otavalo where you can see more Mercedes Benz than anywhere else in Ecuador. After shopping, our program still offers an optional visit to the leather town of Cotacachi, the beautiful crater lake of Cuicocha, encircled by rugged mountain walls, as well as a boat-trip around the islands in its midst. Return drive to Quito in the afternoon.
Optional Day 11 and 12
As much the main- as the extended program can be booked as a travel package with one extra day before and after the ride, including your pick-up service from and to the airport, 2 nights Bed and Breakfast in Quito, guided city-tour in Quito, free travel agent service at hotel, 24 hours free Internet and free laundry service.