Before my trip to Otavalo, I arranged a private tour on horseback to some local communities in the mountains above Otavalo and Ibarra (a large city near Otavalo) - This was not arranged through a tour company but rather a local guy who works for a tour company but books private more intimate tours on his own near his hometown.... Not only was Henry (the guide) knowledgeable of the area, the culture, the landscape....he spoke fantastic English and was an extremely talented guide.
He picked us up from La Posada del Quinde in Otavalo at about 9am in a very nice SUV... very comfortable (even had bottles of water for us... ) - We drove about 30 minutes through Ibarra (where Henry grew up) to a small community called San Clemente.
We pulled up to the most beautiful little farmhouse - Very clean with lush gardens and a few horses, llamas and other animals roaming around. The owner, Juan, provided us with 3 horses - They were small mountain horses (Official breed is the Andean Horse, I believe) - they are only about 13 hands ... All 3 were in great shape, very well cared for. This was important to me, as I'm a horseback rider. They didn't have shoes (no roads were paved up there), but their feet were well maintained.
My father, Henry and I each got a horse and Juan decided he'd walk with us for the entire 3 hour trek up the mountain !! He and his 2 dogs accompanied us on the ride which I thought was really special.
We rode on dirt roads and on smaller trails past traditional high Andean farmhouses, saw women dressed in traditional clothing doing laundry outside and working in the yards, beautiful landscape of hillsides with clouds lifting off mountain faces... varying terrain, etc etc - Henry explained so much about the people, different vegetation... we stopped a few times to rest and take in the views. The ride was at our own pace.
We essentially did a large loop straight up and straight down ...meandering on the paths and roads created by the farming communities.
At the end of the ride, we returned to Juan's house where his wife was preparing a traditional lunch, complete with fresh Cuy for us to try. We had small purple potatoes, quinoa soup, chicken, avocado, tomato, some wonderful hot salsa, fruit juice, a fruit dessert, and of course, guinea pig to try.... it was the most delicious little feast!
By the time we finished eating, it was about 3pm. We were going to go visit some weavers in the area, but due to a sudden and extreme hail storm, Henry thought it was best to leave the mountain in case of mudslides.
Juan and his family couldn't have been nicer and the trip was more than worth it!!!
Henry returned us to the hotel by about 4.
...If you are looking for a more personal experience that allows you to get a combination of culture, scenery and high altitudes without the major workout (the horses do the work for you and are way more prepared to be up high!) - definitely send me a message and I'll pass along Henry's contact information.
This trip was truly special for both myself and my father. It was a great day trip that was made so easy by a great, experienced guide.
Just thought I'd share!