Ecuador's horseback-riding tradition stretches back to 1534, when Spanish conquistadors rode the first horses into the country. During the colonial era, a thriving ranching culture developed in the Sierra, where cattle and horses took over pastureland that once supported herds of llamas and alpacas. That heritage is still visible at the country's traditional haciendas, where chagras, or Ecuadorean cowboys, round up cattle in traditional garb.
For visitors, horseback-riding opportunities range from an array of day trips to equestrian packages that let you ride from hacienda to hacienda, or to participate in a roundup. Trail rides can take you past amazing scenery, including the highland paramo, snowcapped volcanoes, Andean dwarf forest, or lush cloud forest. Horseback-riding enthusiasts have the option of staying at one of the country's traditional cattle ranches, such as Hacienda La Alegría or Hacienda Zuleta, or joining one of various horseback tours that visit two or more haciendas.
Equitours (tel. 800/545-0019 in the U.S. and Canada; www.ridingtours.com), of Wyoming, sells a 9-day horseback tour of Ecuador, which includes 7 days of riding and overnights at various historic haciendas, for $2,595 (£1,730), with a minimum of four riders.
Hidden Trails (tel. 888/987-2457 in the U.S. and Canada; www.hiddentrails.com), a U.S. tour agency that specializes in equestrian vacations, offers various riding packages in Ecuador that combine nights in traditional haciendas with camping or overnights in rustic farmhouses. Their tours include rides through cloud forest and highland paramo, trips around Volcán Cotopaxi, overnights at various historic haciendas, and participation in traditional horse or cattle roundups. The cost of a 5-day tour is $810 (£540), whereas the cost of 8- to 11-day tours ranges from $1,325 to $2,585 (£883-£1,723).
Ilalo Expeditions (tel. 09/7778-399 or 02/2484-219; www.ilaloexpeditions.com), an Ecuadorean outfitter, offers 1-day rides near Volcán Cotopaxi or to the summit of extinct Volcán Ilalo, and an 8-day ride along the Avenue of the Volcanoes, with overnights in historic haciendas and country inns. They also have a 2-week Inca Imperial tour that combines horseback riding in Ecuador and Peru with trips to the Galápagos and Machu Picchu.
There are scores of haciendas around Ecuador, but the following specialize in horseback riding.
Hacienda El Porvenir (tel. 02/2231-806 or 09/4980-121; www.tierradelvolcan.com) is a working ranch set on the outskirts of Cotopaxi National Park, with great horses, and almost endless high Andean terrain just outside its gates.
Hacienda Hato Verde (tel./fax 03/2719-348 or 09/5978-016; www.haciendahatoverde.com) is a cozy and artfully done little inn housed in a converted old hacienda near the base of Volcán Cotopaxi. The owners here take their horseback riding seriously.
Hacienda La Alegría (tel. 02/2462-319 or 09/9802-526; www.haciendalaalegria.com), a 20th-century horse ranch south of Quito, offers guests various horseback-riding tours though the surrounding countryside, as well as other outdoor activities.
Hacienda Pinsaquí (tel. 06/2946-116; www.haciendapinsaqui.com), near the market town of Otavalo, is a historic hacienda, founded in 1790, that specializes in horseback riding, with trips to nearby indigenous communities or to the summit of Volcán Imbabura.
Hacienda Zuleta (tel. 06/2662-182; www.zuleta.com), a colonial 1,780-hectare (4,398-acre) hacienda, about 2 1/2 hours north of Quito, has more than 90 horses. Their horses are a unique mixture of Andalusian, thoroughbred, and quarter horses, and offer a remarkably smooth ride. Guests can choose from an ample selection of guided trail rides through pasture, cloud forest, and paramo.
San Jorge Eco-Lodge & Biological Reserve (tel. 877/565-2596 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or 02/2493-123 in Ecuador; www.eco-lodgesanjorge.com), in the mountains near Quito, has more than 20 horses and various trail rides from which guests can choose.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.