Ride the high life in the Cotopaxi region Recommended read

Arriving in the breathtakingly beautiful surroundings of the active volcano Cotopaxi, you could be forgiven for forgetting that the sprawling city of Quito is only 75 kilometres to the north.

In El Pedregal, a village which ascends higgledy-piggledy from the Chagra (cowboy) town of Machachi, children collect water in buckets while their parents toil amidst their small patches of crops and tend to the cows and pigs outside each fading pastel-paint house. There are plenty of activities for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers in this stunning area, as long as they are willing to endure a slightly uncomfortable ride in a local cabina (a glorified truck) hireable for $15 from Machachi or to walk for over an hour up the steeply winding road. Excellent horse-riding opportunities abound, with local residents keen to encourage tourists into their tranquil community and to offer them an experienced rider as a guide at a good daily rate.

The mountainous landscape and heady altitude make all physical activities strenuous but equally rewarding, and returning to the paddock on horseback at sunset offers glorious views never to be forgotten. DonĀ“t expect the frills you would get on a horse-riding expedition back home though safety helmets are unheard of and the stirrups resemble precarious pairs of wooden clogs. But this sense of wildness can only add to the fun and those brave enough to let their horses gallop will feel the full benefit of the fresh air to their faces. A pleasant ramble to see the nearby waterfalls can end up being an exhausting day-long hike scrambling across jagged rocks and up almost-vertical landslides, but it is worth every moment of pain for the views of the crater and the three volcanoes to be seen from the summits of the hills.

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