One of the best horseback riding trails in Ecuador is “El Piñán” found in the Imbabura Province, north of Otavalo and close to Urcuquí. Thanks to its isolated location, the area has become a flora and fauna refuge; both the lagoon and the moorlands surrounding it are called “El Piñán”. The journey is a combination of trusting your horse and having the right mindset of adventure, as you make your way through country roads
In order to reach Piñan from Quito you first have to drive to Urcuqui, which is 2h 40 min away following Panamericana/Troncal de la Sierra/ E35 highway.
Horseback riding in the paramo
To begin this adventure you need an excellent guide and good horses, both of which the local community offers.
During the journey, you will border the Yanahurco mountain as you travel through the paramo ecosystem (Yanahurco means “black mount” in the local Quichua tongue). The horses are able to refresh themselves many times while crossing the Pantavi River that meanders through the mountain. They are well trained companions, so that they can gallop freely in the valleys (if this is your style!), and walk carefully, taking step by step when reaching slopes or hills (or if you like to take it slower..)
The horseback riding trip took us three days: 6 hours on the first day from Urcuquí to the mountain lodge (Piñan community), 3 hours on the second day to the lagoon, and then a day for the return trip. During the night we spent in the moorlands we found comfortable spaces with natural wind barriers where we set our camp and cooked a warm meal by the fire.
A Friendly Piñan
The Piñán area is one of unique beauty, and it is also a friendly paramo because the altitude is not extreme: you reach 3.100 to 3.200 meters (10.170 to 10.500 ft) above sea level. The cold weather is tolerable and we were not exposed to any height sickness.
In the three days of our journey we spotted condors, deer, wild cattle, polylepis forests and dozens of lagoons… all of these submerged in a profound silence, interrupted only by the wind.
The biggest reward from this 3 day trip: a breathtaking lagoon that is not accessed other than by horse or foot.
A magical community in the mountains
When reaching the local community, one feels transported to Tibet: rustic hay roofed houses built with adobe and reed, away from noise and contamination, surrounded by clear-water rivers. Besides, this small and secluded community benefits from electric energy (this was made possible only a few years ago!).
Moreover, the mountain lodge or base camp in the community is excellent: hot water in the showers, delicious homemade meals, comfortable beds and good-hearted people who welcome tourists and do their best to make you feel at home.
With the support of the United Nations Development Program, the Canadian International Development Agency and the local government, the local community has developed excellent tourist facilities! They have found, within community-based tourism, a possibility to generate income without leaving their land. Locals, who are welcoming and kind, enjoy sharing their time with visitors. They own a cozy and comfortable mountain lodge with basic amenities, and offer horse rental with complete equipment, trekking, sports fishing and guided tours.
If you are not that much into horses….
You can also combine the trip with 4×4 and engage in less horseback riding (3 days can be a long trip). There is another trip, where you make it to the campgrounds in your car, and then rent the horses for a one day trip to the lagoon and then back to the lodge.
Whatever you choose… Don’t miss out on this wonderful adventure! Enjoy days of sun, moorlands and silence… Few places on Earth allow you to journey through undiscovered paths, feeling like a pioneer in remote times.