Once in a while you get an opportunity to do something so amazing, you can barely believe it was real!
If you want to literally go off the beaten path, consider this horse trek through the Pululahua volcano crater in Ecuador, two hours from Quito (the ranch will come and pick you up near your hotel in Quito).
Scroll for more information about how we did and what it was like riding in a volcano crater!
I’d heard of Green Horse Ranch for a few years during my travels to Ecuador, but never had an opportunity to experience this magical adventure until last year. You can read their TripAdvisor reviews here and their business website is: GreenHorseRanch.ec
Green Horse Ranch offers full day horse riding excursions as well as longer treks across the country – up to 8 days longer! It’s run by a German family, so English, Germany, Spanish, and even other languages are all featured on their website and spoken by their staff.
The ranch is inside the National Reserve of the Pululahua Volcano Crater – one of the only two inhabited craters in the world, and the biggest crater in the Americas!
The crater is about 25 miles north of Quito, and your riding package includes roundtrip transport from Quito.
When I booked it (and I don’t think this has changed, but they’ll inform you through email), the meeting point was at 9:00 am at Café Magic Bean on street corners Foch and Juán León Mera in the new town center – this was very close to many guest’s accommodations, and was less than a 5 min taxi ride from my hotel.
We got there at 9am and were greeted by the van driver. We took a taxi to the café because it was raining that day and we weren’t sure of the walk. Speaking of rain, the Ranch doesn’t offer a cancelation policy due to weather. This is because the weather in the crater can be completely different from the weather in Quito, so even though it was raining when we left our hotel, it stopped by the time we reached the ranch.
Layers are very important. I wore cargo pants, a long sleeved shirt, and a zipup hoodie, as well as a scarf. (Ecuador has very variable temperature changes!) Throughout the day, I sometimes just wore my lightest layer (but beware – the sun is quite strong – even if it’s cold, wear sunscreen) and other times I put my top layer back on.
Our hosts gave us rainboots to wear, which was great and protected our legs against the brush and thorns in some places. They also gave us pouches to wear around our waist, to put anything in that we needed close at hand (sunglasses, camera, etc); you can put anything else important (extra bottle of water, etc) in the horse’s saddlepack, but you can’t get it unless you stop and dismount. They also pack extra ponchos for all the riders, which came in handy for the last twenty minutes of our ride when a storm broke.
The ranch also offers overnight accommodations, so we were joined on our ride by a young mother and son who were staying there for a holiday for a few days and were going on daily rides.
All the horses at the Ranch are named after characters from Lord of the Rings! Mine was named Boromir, and my friend’s was named Gimli.
The horses are all carefully selected based on your riding ability. When you book your riding adventure, they will email you a form for you to fill out explaining your horse back riding ability, your dietary restrictions, and other pertinent information.
The drive to the ranch is deceivingly nondescript. You actually start to wonder if this is the type of scenery you’ll be trekking through, and if so if it’s worth the money. Then, you’ll turn up a winding dirt road, and come to a park office (your driver will pay the national park entrance fee for you – it’s included in the ride). All of a sudden, the road slips through an keyhole opening in the mountain side, and you’ve stepped into another world!
The huge volcano crater, vibrant and green from the rain, stretched out below us! We could see rainforest, a few buildings/farms, and the mountains making up the sides of the valley. It was stunning.
The car began the long trek down to the bottom of the crater. The hills are so high and the switchbacks are arduous, so it probably took another 40 minutes just to drive to the bottom! We were passed by mountain bikes pedaling down at full speed (but I wouldn’t want to pedal up!)
Finally, we came to the Green Horse Ranch, where we met the owner, Astrid, and her staff. She paired us up with the appropriate horses and gave some feedback to the beginners. And we were off!
The ride was 3-4 hours (note: I do ride horses, but this was a long time! I was definitely sore and stiff and tired by the end!) and we covered all types of scenery. First we started out in the bottom of the valley, passing farmers in the fields or looking at local flora and fauna. At one point, we were on a dirt road that was on a ridge above the crater, so we could see stunning views of the crater. Then we would alternate between following our leader down into the wooded valley or climbing up the mountainside for more views.
At times there were quite some perilous drops down a cliff-face, and I had to remind myself that clearly, these sure footed ponies from the Andres knew what they were doing and the ranch has never had a horse fall down the mountain! When hesitating, it’s best to let the horse pick its way down the mountain and try not to imbalance it or shift your weight around. My friend had never been on a horse before, and I did feel that some of the paths we went on were a bit scary even for me as an intermediate rider, so I encouraged her as much as possible. (But I’m still glad we did it!)
Lunch was included as part of the ride, and it felt like we were eating at the top of the world! For lunchtime, we climbed to the top of a mountain range on the ponies, then let them eat grass while we sat on blankets, stretched our legs, and ate delicious sandwiches, pasta salads, fruit, and chips brought by our hosts.
Then after lunch, it was back onto the horses and continued our trekking adventure. Those of us who were a bit more knowledgeable did get to trot and canter at times, and the ranch staff was very good about making sure the beginners did not join in or feel uncomfortable.
Towards the end of the ride, the storms did roll in, and we were glad of the ponchos in our horses’ saddlepacks. We arrived back at the ranch exhausted but exhilarated!
The driver then returned us back to Quito, safe, sound, tired, but so happy at the magical memories we had created that day.
If you have any interest in horses and some riding experience, I highly recommend this fantastic opportunity to explore the Andes on the back of a horse!