I had never considered myself the sort of person that would enjoy horse riding, in fact I only agreed to take Toucanto’s Cotopaxi Horseback Experience because my wife and son love horses, and I didn’t want to be the party pooper. I never imagined how much I would end up enjoying our afternoon, or just how easy the whole trip would be.
We were picked up from our very nice hotel which was located conveniently close to the airport and a twenty minute ride from the hustle and bustle of Ecuador’s capitol, Quito.
The minivan was comfortable, and the road, for the first part of the journey, was comparable with any that you might expect to find in a modern, European country. That changed about a half hour into our journey, and for the next hour, as we moved further away from the city centre and took a turn off of the main road, we travelled on a mixture of rough cobbled roads and bumpy dirt and gravel tracks.
We passed stone farm buildings, a few small houses and the occasional other vehicle before finally joining another tarmac road just before arriving at the park entrance.
The park rangers, like at many of the parks and monuments that we have visited in South America, insist on seeing your passport when you enter, so make sure that you bring them with you when you visit or you may be in for a frustrating time.
Long before we entered the park, the impressive outline of Cotopaxi volcano rising an imperious 5897m above sea level, begins to dominate the landscape. Once inside, we drove for another quarter of an hour, arriving at the base of a wide, grassy hill where we got out of the van. We made are way on foot up to restaurant perched on the hillside, with panoramic views over a vivid green valley nestled between the foothills of the volcano.
It was here in the restaurant that we would meet the guides who would take us riding and even I, the reluctant rider, was feeling a sense of excited anticipation at what was to come. We had opted for a two-hour horse riding session and I was a little concerned that I might get a little saddle sore, but I needn’t have worried.
Our guides arrived soon after us and after introductions and a brief chat with our party about our various levels of experience, we were led down to a corral where the horses had recently returned from the previous group outing.
In Ecuador, horse riders hold the reins in a single hand and I have to admit that as a novice rider I found controlling the horse in this relaxed fashion a lot more to my liking than the more formal two handed grip preferred in the UK. We were soon mounted and our son Rafael wasted no time in taking his horse for a quick canter.
Our guides led us down into and across a broad valley and we were soon winding our way through rocky trails, fording wide shallow streams and navigating hillside paths through an amazing and varied landscape.
As homeschooling parents, there have been many times when I have wondered if we made the right choice for our family. But right there in the brilliant sunshine, on a journey that had already taken us to the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca, and with the Amazon Rainforest coming up, I looked at my wife and son riding towards the Volcano in front of us, and I knew it had all been worth it.