From Quito, it isn’t far at all… exactly an hour away… where an unprecedented journey awaits. A little-traveled path from the high Andes takes us up the ridge and back down the western slope of the Andes towards the Coast. Due to the proximity between regions, this pass is historically relevant.
From Quito, it isn’t far at all… exactly an hour away… A secret path in the high Andes that takes us up the ridge and back down the western slope towards the Coast. Due to the proximity between different regions, the descent through the southwestern folds of the province of Pichincha into Bombolí, in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, is a fun-filled addition to your 2023 calendar.
On our way to Machachi, we detoured right towards Alóag. For many, this name is nothing more than the reference point that defines the classic route to the province of Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, bound for the coast. But this time we will not be traveling by car, but on horseback.
Three kilometers separate the center of Alóag from our starting point: Hacienda La Alegría. Upon arriving at the farm, gigantic, century-old Podacarpus trees line the entrance, a result of the owners’ desire to conserve the few remnants of endemic nature.
The countryside welcomes us with cows grazing freely on endless acres of land, horses riding across the meadows, eager dogs chasing after them, steering them along…
The property is surrounded by nature. Its imposing orange façade receives the early rays of sunlight that shine upon the green highlights on the main door and window panes. Gabriel Espinosa, the hacienda’s owner, warmly greets us, his clothing revealing his passion for horses while he gathers the cowboy jackets and saddles he’s prepared for our ride to Bombolí.
Ready to go!
It’s mid-morning and, against all odds, the sun doesn’t let up. It takes a few minutes to prepare for our six-hour journey into the cloud forest. Fortunately, I can load my gear for the change of weather on my horse Pincel’s wide saddle.
“We will cross three ecosystems: a temperate valley, páramo and a cloud forest”, explains Gabriel. We are a group of nine… ready for adventure. Each one places their respective helmet and protection on their head and after brief instructions we begin our ride heading west, in the direction of Mount Corazón.
Yes, the weather is on our side, but so is luck, as we will have privileged views of the Avenue of Volcanoes, with the nine peaks that surround the district of Mejía jetting up into the bright blue sky.
Moving up the mountain
We began our adventure next to the old train tracks that once connected these valleys. Summits such as Atacazo and Cotopaxi loom in the distance, a spectacle that quickly moves us forward, offering beautiful postcard views of the landscape. We come by roads where vehicles seem accustomed to seeing and greeting riders who travel through the area. This rather flat, semi-rural part of the trip doesn’t seem to require great skills on our part, although to advance you must stay close to the group (and Pincel turned out to be the slowest of the herd!).
The Andes spread west like a fan of valleys and mountains. Corazón bursts through the horizon, its golden halo of paramo grassland shining against the mid-morning sun… the view improves as we gain elevation; there are fewer passersby as we make it higher into the mountain, until the group is finally all alone. After two hours of horseback travel, we stop. Gabriel tells us to get off our horses and takes us down a forest path. We visit ancient settlements on what appears to be an old trail connecting wayward points throughout the mountain. This entire geography was essential for transportation of goods for ancestral merchants who traveled through the cloud forests of the western slope between the mountains and the coastal plains.
Next station: Bombolí
We saddle up again, this time ready for an exciting descent into a different realm. Going through a “climate portal” is one of the most fascinating experiences on this planet. To see everything suddenly change around you… this is the essence of what makes Ecuador so special. And indeed, everything does change. The colors, the shadows, the vegetation, the mood… and it doesn’t only change once… but twice. First, the green valleys turn brown, yellow… as trees disappear from view… the clouds shroud our way… or are the ones who’ve climbed up to them?
There will be no rest as we head into this thick mist. Although we leave the sun behind, the excitement of our riding group increases. We have been traveling for hours, but the transition makes this a timeless passage that gets us all enthused. And then again, we quickly penetrate a new “wormhole”: a subtropical cloud forest.
Giant leaves and lichens, jungle… humidity… the complete opposite of what we just witnessed moments ago! The beautiful elfin forest marks our way to Bombolí, a geographical niche of sorts that conserves the rainwater descending from Bombolí hill, located at 3 500 meters above sea level, which will later flow into the Pilatón river. This tributary supplies tropical towns such as Tandapi, Alluriquín and the province of Santo Domingo.
We have entered a new world. The plants all look completely different; the narrow roads and sound of hundreds of birds and insects begin to emerge as we approach Hacienda Bombolí, where we will rest and enjoy a delicious home-cooked lunch by the fireplace.
Despite being immersed in a forest, we enjoy the sunset as the distant lights of coastal towns begin to dot the landscape. We will soon be heading back on this one-and-only horseback riding experience, a joy for all family and friends. Don´t miss this opportunity. Find out more from Hacienda La Alegría, a beautiful stay located only a handful of kms from the Ecuadorian capital.
Only in Ecuador
The experience of horseback riding in Ecuador is incomparable as your steed makes its way over ridges, through valleys, climbing mountains and penetrating cloud forests. There is no place in the world that, in such a short distance, takes us into up to three (and more) completely different microclimates, far from any road —all easily accessible on horseback— at no distance from Quito.
Photos: Murray Cooper
In addition to this amazing visit to Hacienda Bombolí, we recommend a several-day tour to Quilotoa’s crater lake.
Or book La Alegría’s Wild Andes horseback riding route, a twelve-day adventure for true riding lovers to the ends of the Avenue of Volcanoes, visiting at least four mountain peaks including Chimborazo, Tungurahua and Ilinizas via hidden rural towns and villages such as Sigchos, Guambaine and El Salado. Are you up for the challenge?