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Cool Ridings in the Avenue of the Volcanoes

“Ttttsssshhhhhh,” I kept telling my big black horse Melvin. He kept stopping to eat long blades of grass along the side of the trail in the Avenue of the Volcanoes and our guide Raphael had told us this hissing/shushing sound would get the horses moving.

Melvin had other ideas and we hadn’t even left the grounds of Hacienda El Porvenir yet. I became convinced that this was going to be a long horseback ride. I don’t know what I was expecting from the Andes Mountains of Ecuador other than a view of the legendary Cotopaxi, but this was better than I ever imagined.

View of Cotopaxi in the clouds

As we planned our Ecuador itinerary, horseback riding in the Avenue of the Volcanoes was the thing I was probably least looking forward to. I’d been in a riding accident when I was six or seven years old. The horse spooked and I got hit in the head with a tree branch.

However, I really wanted to see the conical Cotopaxi volcano – the world’s highest active volcano – and its red slopes. The horseback riding interlude was also planned to balance out the cultural activities in Quito and the naturalist activities focusing on the Galapagos wildlife. Yet, looking back, it was the mountains that gave us some of our best memories of Ecuador.

The “Avenue” is a tourist marketing term for the region south of Quito that straddles the Pan-American Highway. Here, Ecuador’s largest wildlife refuge, the Cotopaxi National Park, is surrounded by vast haciendas and ranches like our Hacienda El Porvenir.

The whole area is an outdoor playground with trails for horseback riding and hiking, along with other activities. Being high in the mountains, the altitude presented a packing challenge in that we needed an entire third wardrobe of heavier, warmer clothes just for this area.

A view of Pasochoa in the Avenue of the Volcanoes
Pasochoa above the Hacienda El Porvenir

The Hacienda El Porvenir had beautiful views of the low, graceful volcano across the valley. Over breakfast, I stared out at its gentle rise, soft peak and lush green flanks. While Cotopaxi gets most of the attention, I think Pasochoa may be my favorite volcano in the region.

My peaceful thoughts of the volcano were broken as Raphael instructed us that it was time to chagras up! We got to slip into our heavy, wool (ass-less) chaps and warm ponchos for the ride up into the cold highlands.

Check current prices for the Hacienda El Porvenir.

Lance and Laura in our chagras gear on the side of Rumiñahui Volcano in Ecuador
Chagras time!

Leaving Hacienda El Porvenir in the morning, I sat atop Melvin and Laura climbed up Pomperro – her big brown horse. We rode high up the slopes of the Rumiñahui Volcano. The rocky peak of Rumiñahui was in the clouds high above us. Off to our left, the slumbering mass of Cotopaxi could be seen only during breaks in the clouds.

All around us, the long soft grasses would rustle gently in the wind. And our horses would frequently bob their heads down to get a big mouthful. They would munch happily while plodding along.

Laura and our guides horseback riding in the Avenue of the Volcanoes on Rumiñahui
Laura and our guides riding up Rumiñahui

High up on Rumiñahui, we stopped and dismounted our horses, slumping down on the grass, using the big clumps as a kind of seat. Raphael brought mint tea with him and we sipped the hot brew while looking out at Cotopaxi. It warmed us to the core.

Large grass clumps among the volcanoes
The high grass

Suddenly a big, black shadow appeared in the sky high above us. Out of nowhere, an Andean condor sailed on thermals above us, gradually dipping lower and lower towards us. At one point, it sailed over 40 or 50 feet over our head. Our guide got a good view and said it was a juvenile. It was so impressive to be so close to this majestic bird.

An Andean condor riding the thermals in the sky
Condor on the thermals

And then there was a second condor. And then a third. And then two more. Before we knew it, at various times, there were eight different condors in flight above our heads. Raphael quickly urged us towards to the Southeast, down the slopes of Rumiñahui towards what appeared to be a deep valley.

Raphael said he’d never seen so many condors here in all of his 60 years and he wanted to check it out. As we neared the deep valley, Raphael could make out the guano markings on the cliff face – a sign of a candor nest.

The deep valley on Rumiñahui with Cotopaxi in the distance
The deep valley and cliff where the condors nest with Cotopaxi volcano in the distance

After several hours in the cold weather, Melvin and Pomperro brought us back down to Hacienda El Porvenir for a late lunch – and warmer weather. We felt like adventurers returning to civilization.

The Cotopaxi region is sparsely populated and has little in the way of development – perfect for stargazing and star photography. In the evening, we went out into one of the fields to take some pictures of the stars. Melvin wandered over say hello. A few handfuls of the grass and he left us alone.

We really didn’t know what to expect of horseback riding Ecuador’s Avenue of the Volcanoes, but it turned out to be an experience we loved and one of the highlights of our trip!

The gates of the Hacienda El Porvenir

Check current prices for the Hacienda El Porvenir.

An Andean condor soaring above us

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Thursday 12th of January 2017

What beautiful landscape and horses. Looks like it was a great tour. We can not wait to explore Ecuador. All those condors flying above you would have been concerning. Thank you for sharing.

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