Get to know the Ecuadorian highlands on this nine-day horseback riding adventure. Start in the verdant Machachi Valley and acclimate to the elevation before taking on longer rides up the Corazón volcano in Los Ilinizas Ecological Reserve. Learn about "chagras," Ecuadorian cowboys, and follow the same paths used by the Inca and countless hikers as you approach Quilotoa Lagoon via the Quilotoa Loop.


  • Stay at beautiful haciendas across the Ecuadorian highlands
  • Ride up the slopes of volcanoes and through a cloud forest
  • Follow part of the famous Quilotoa Loop to the stunning crater lake
  • Visit a traditional Ecuadorian dairy farm and sample cheeses

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Quito, Transfer to the Hacienda  Cotopaxi
Day 2 Acclimate to Altitude on Horseback  Cotopaxi
Day 3 Ride Through the Cloud Forest Santo Domingo
Day 4 Ride to the Hacienda, Visit a Botanical Garden Cotopaxi
Day 5 Ride to Isinliví Sigchos
Day 6 Visit Quilotoa Volcano Quilotoa
Day 7 Ride to Sigchos Cotopaxi
Day 8 Return to the Hacienda Cotopaxi
Day 9 Say Goodbye to Your Horse & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Quito, Transfer to the Hacienda

Old hacienda entrance in Pichincha Province, Ecuador, covered in flowers leading to a dirt road
Stay in a charming hacienda like this one tonight
¡Bienvenidos a Ecuador! Touch down in Quito, the country's capital, before heading south to a hacienda (ranch) in the Machachi Valley, on the borders of the Pichincha and Cotopaxi provinces. This hacienda will be your home base for several days as you get to know the Ecuadorian highlands on horseback. Today, your guides will keep things low-key with a short introduction to the ranch, tips on riding, and a chance to pick the horse you'll ride for the remainder of the trip.

Day 2: Acclimate to Altitude on Horseback

Two saddled horses standing on a hill in the Andes
Two saddled horses waiting in a field

Today is all about making you comfortable, both with your chosen horse and the altitude of the highlands. Since many of your rides over the next few days will take you to elevations as high as 13,123 feet (4,000 m), you need time to adjust before taking on bigger adventures. Luckily, the Machachi Valley is a lush, beautiful place, and your short ride today allows you to admire stunning views of the peaks you'll cover in the near future.

After the ride, head back to the hacienda to relax and learn more about chagras, Ecuadorian cowboys. Visit the hacienda's resident cattle, learn about the milking and cheese-making process, and then warm up in the Jacuzzi or by the fireplace.

Day 3: Ride Through the Cloud Forest

Hills and fields of Isinliví on a sunny day with a horse in a field
You'll ride your horse through the cloud forest to Hacienda Bomboli

Embark on your first big ride today! You and your horse will cross pastures and eucalyptus forests to reach the foot of the Corazón volcano, an inactive volcano in Los Ilinizas Ecological Reserve. Climb to a maximum altitude of about 13,000 feet (3,962 m) on the volcano's slopes before descending into the cloud forest. While traveling through the reserve's 370,410 acres (149,000 ha) of land, you'll see plenty of plants and wildlife, from colorful orchids to the famous hoatzin

This afternoon, you'll arrive at a second hacienda closer to the park, where you and your horse can enjoy a well-earned rest and watch the sunset.

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Day 4: Ride to the Hacienda, Visit a Botanical Garden

Ecuadorian páramo from a horse rider's point of view with horse's head in frame
Horseback riding in the páramo
Today, you'll ride back toward your home base in the Machachi Valley, stopping to visit a botanical garden along the way. Here, you'll learn more about the orchids and cloud forest plants you saw on your ride yesterday; as you continue your journey, you can see the landscape with fresh eyes. Arrive at the hacienda for lunch, and spend the rest of the day relaxing however you'd like. 

Day 5: Ride to Isinliví

Fields and hills of Isinliví, Ecuador, on a sunny day with a horse in a field
View of the rolling landscapes of Isinliví

This morning, a private transfer will bring you (and your horse!) about an hour south to meet up with today's horseback riding trail. You'll follow dirt paths, some that trace back to the ancient Inca Trail, toward Isinliví, a small village in the Southern Andes. Along the way, you'll take in a different kind of landscape, the parámo, the high mountain ecosystem of the Andes.

Day 6: Visit Quilotoa Volcano

Two horses grazing on the slope about Quilotoa Lagoon
Horses grazing above Quilotoa Lagoon

Today, your destination is Quilotoa, a 2-mile-wide (3 km) crater lake filled with 820 feet (250 m) of mineral-rich green water. Follow your guides through agricultural fields to reach the foot of Quilotoa volcano, the westernmost volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. Climb to an altitude of about 11,483 feet (3,500 m) to reach the stunning lake, and follow the paths that circumnavigate the shores or wind up the three lava domes surrounding it. Spend the night in the area.

Day 7: Ride to Sigchos

Pasture with cow, horses and plants in Ecuador
Visit a dairy farm today
This morning, embark on the journey between Quilotoa and Sigchos, a village to the north. Along the way, you're sure to run into other hikers and riders—the route connecting Quilotoa, Sigchos, and Isinliví makes up part of the Quilotoa Route, a famous hiking trail leading visitors across the highlands to the crater lake. Once in Sigchos, visit a dairy farm and sample their traditional cheeses before retiring to a nearby hacienda.

Day 8: Return to the Hacienda

Brown horse on a hill in front of a mountain range
A chestnut horse awaits its rider against the mountain backdrop
Make your way back to the hacienda you started your adventure at today, crossing ravines, narrow trails, and mountain passes as you work your way north. The journey northeast should take about six hours. Along the way, take plenty of photos to remember your time in the páramo and Ecuadorian highlands; this is your last ride!

Day 9: Say Goodbye to Your Horse & Depart

Horses in a field beneath mountain peaks
Horses grazing in the Ecuadorian highlands
It's a bittersweet last day at the hacienda. Take some time to say goodbye to your horse, your guides, and the new friends you made throughout the week before taking a private transfer to the airport. Safe travels!

More Great Ecuador Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Ecuador? Check out these other Ecuador itineraries, explore other ways to spend nine days in Ecuador, or discover the best time to visit Ecuador.


Map of Ecuadorian Andes on Horseback: Machachi Valley to Quilotoa & Back - 9 Days
Map of Ecuadorian Andes on Horseback: Machachi Valley to Quilotoa & Back - 9 Days