The Peruvian Paso Fino is a horse that was bred in the 1600’s for their smooth gaits and incredible endurance for traveling. During that time period, the land owners held expansive properties that sometimes took up to a week to traverse. The Peruvian Paso became a hardy, surefooted, very alert and responsive mounts for these land owners.
Now you can travel to Peru and ride a Peruvian Paso Fino in the Sacred Valley region outside of Cusco. There are many options available, whether it is the first time you’ve been in a saddle or if you’re an experienced rider. The Sol y Luna Hotel in Urubamba offers an on-site ranch with lovely Peruvian Paso Finos that you can ride. There are several different trail ride options available ranging from several hours to a full-day. My recommendation is that if you are a beginner rider, go with the shortest ride available. The traditional saddles used are a bit uncomfortable for even a seasoned horseback rider.
As an experienced rider, the route I had chosen was the full-day 8 hour horseback ride along the Urubamba river, then crossing to begin the ascent to the ruins of Moray and returning by way of the Salt Flats, known as the Salineras de Maras. The journey travels over 18 miles, a change in altitude of over 3200 feet, and the highest elevation of 11,482 feet.
Felix warmed up our horses, and after a quick tutorial of how to use the lariat at the end of the reins, off we went. With a half swing of the lariat, the horse will pick up the pace, with a full swing he will canter. But it was to be a long and slower day and since the horse was going to essentially climb a mountain, we had to reserve their strength. Traveling down the cobblestone pathways, crossing railroad tracks and small streams, I quickly learned that the Paso is the most surefooted horse I’ve ever been on.
Along the trail, Felix a local Quechua who spoke English oriented me to the culture, lifestyle, and agricultural economics of the Sacred Valley region. As a horseman, he is able to travel throughout the Sacred Valley and wherever we went, the people we passed greeted Felix like a long lost friend.
There were some sections of the trail, where just one misstep would cause us to tumble down the mountain. Holding my breath, I tried my best not to look down and to trust my sure-footed steed to keep us safe. The topography of the mountain side was harsh with cactus and rocky sandy ground. Felix informed me that where we were, the ground was very salty, and we would be seeing the salt flats that has been operation since the Incas created them over 500 years ago.
With a big breath for many reasons, we arrived to the plateau where we were to have lunch at the ruins of Moray. Moray is considered to be a location of agricultural experimentation by the Incas due to the design of the terraces, and the variance of temperatures and elevations within Moray. The lunch that Felix brought along was more than ample and frankly I couldn’t finish the whole thing, so shared my apple with my horse. After all, he got me up to the top without keeling over !
After lunch, we jumped back onto the saddle to begin our descent. Now mind you, the Peruvian tack is quite lovely, but if you notice, it’s got this huge wooden fender in the front. Well, when going up, you’re trying to not slide off the back of the horse – going down however, the inside of your legs are pushed up against this fender. After some time, I just couldn’t take it anymore and found myself literally pushing myself off the fender so it wouldn’t hurt so much. Didn’t bother Felix one bit though…gee I wonder why?
Continuing on our descent, we rode through this quaint town of Maras and along the way we saw school children walking back up the mountain from school – a two hour walk – and farmers resting in the fields drinking Chicha.
Coming around a bend I had my first look at Salineras. There is just something about these salt flats that totally fascinates me. Perhaps it’s because of how nature can create something so simple that is so beautiful, or perhaps it’s because the flats are an age-old tradition of salt gathering. Photographically, it’s a marvel. However, the day was starting to get long and we had to continue our push back to the ranch before it got too late.
It took about another hour and a half before we finally arrived back to the Ranch. In addition to the trail rides that Sol & Luna offers, there are also multi-day horseback trips in Peru that you can take and are offered by a number of tour operators. Try your best to book local and you’ll save some money.
When I reflect on the day, there is something to be said to be completely off the beaten track. The beauty of being able to really immerse yourself with the local culture, where few tourists go is truly priceless. Nothing gives you the full experience than to be out with nature on horseback with a very special guide. This is truly an experience that one shouldn’t miss !
Other views of the trail: