Itinerary: Southern Agave and Cypress Trail

Day 1 Ranch arrival

Rare “Palmillo” yucca trees in the hills west of the ranch.

Arrive at Rancho Pitaya late afternoon to early evening by pre-arranged transport from the airport or a Oaxaca-city hotel.  It’s a short drive to the ranch located 10 miles ( 16 km.) from the city center or 14 miles from Oaxaca’s international airport. The ranch is nestled on the edge of the charming cheese-making village of Rojas de Cuauhtemoc. Settle into one of the three individually decorated guest rooms, have a cool drink and soak up the vistas of the cacti-studded rock face that paints a backdrop to the ranch. Meet Mary Jane, owner of the ranch, and along with her son Gabriel, your guide for the week. If your arrival is late afternoon, there’s time for a sunset ride into the rare biosphere, rich in gigantic organ cacti.  Enjoy a fresh made Margarita, then savor Oaxaca’s world-famous cuisine for dinner.

Shepherded cattle heading to grazing lands.

The impressive flower stalk of a Mexicano agave.

Day 2 South out of the Valley of Tlacolula

Early breakfast. We ride south from Rancho Pitaya along the base of the Puerto del Sol cordillera; black bean and garbanzo crops flank the old road. The land is open, the footing smooth and inviting to move out at trots and canters. A manmade reservoir is the winter fishing grounds of great blue heron and American coot. We pause for a snack and to stretch our legs. In the shade of native willows, follow a sandy stream before entering the village of Santo Domingo Jalieza. Bring some pesos along; we stop at the home local artisans who weave charming bracelets and sashes. 

On the far side of the village the dirt road narrows to a barely cart lane leading steadily upwards and towards the pass. Here on the ridge-line a trail leads down into the southern Ocotlan valley.  The descent from the ridge follows an old dirt road and shepherd’s trails. The last 5 kms. move along the timeless farming lanes shaded by old Huamuche trees.  Arrive at today’s destination, San Juan Chilateca.

Overnight at a colorful country home with comfortable lodging for the humans and the horses.  Delicious dinner served in the outdoor portico.

Ascending 19th century mining trail through native oak forests.

Day 3 Fields of Flowers and Hills of Pines.

The first part of this ride travels along gentle dirt farming lanes surrounded by very fertile lands, uplifting examples of micro-sustainable agriculture.  Trot past neat rows of cabbage, marigolds, tomatillos and roses.  Agave plantations replace the vegetable crops that then give way to communal lands where cattle and goats  graze under their shepherd’s supervision.

There’s an enchanted feel to the rolling foothills dotted with protected Ocote pines; the temperatures cool at 1,800. meters . These trails have been used for centuries by donkeys carrying firewood down to the surrounding villages. As the sun drops low, the trail too descends leading to the ecological training centre of Paraje Bonanza where we will settle into simple but comfortable cabins for two nights.

Day 4  Ejutla Valley loop

Our breakfast features the centre’s  sustainable agriculture.  A full morning of riding explores the foothills of the impressive Labrador Cordillera on its valley of Ejutla side with meandering old trails, streams lined with cane and the wonderful agricultural lanes perfect for nice canters. Return to Bonanza for lunch in the charming dining hall. In the late afternoon there is time for a guided tour of the facility that features: solar and wind power, rain water cisterns, free range chickens and organic horticulture. Dinner and overnight at the centre.

Day 5  “Frozen in Time”

Colorful village church in the Ejutla valley.

We ride west into the small valley of Ejutla. Horse drawn carts become a constant on the roads. The country is open and  the poorer soil is perfect to cultivate agaves. Plantations occupy whole hillsides. The ride meanders along age-old “caminos” that follow the contours of the land.  Mature native Huamuche trees give speckled shade on the ride west. We are met by support personnel for a sit-down “tailgate” lunch.

Rolling hills shape the land: A small trail leads to a proper ridge that evokes a sensation of floating on the top of the world. The panorama vistas  signal the end of the ride and that the Cantaranas eco-tourism cabins are near. The innovative  owner has created an oasis from a small spring he tapped. Iguanas lounge in banana and guava trees. Fish and frogs jump in the pond. The cabins are simple but clean and the beds are comfortable. A  first rate hot bucket bath is ready for the taking. There is no electricity here; solar lanterns and  candles illuminate the three guest rooms and dining room.

Enjoy a refreshing swim in the unheated pool. Watch the sun set in this big sky place.

A rare Tepextate agave.

Day 6 Off-the-grid tranquility

Steaming Oaxaca coffee or hot chocolate in the early morning light precedes a proper village breakfast of hot tortillas, fresh eggs, avocados and salsa. Riding out from Cantarana, we waive to shepherds and admire their handsome herds of Zebu cattle and Peliwei sheep. This land feels very “wild west” and timeless. Old caminos are lined with tall Cuiche agaves and lazy Pirul trees.

The surroundings become almost park-like as we approach La Y, a small village so named because here two rivers join to become one,  the crystalline Rio Serrano uniting with the Rio Atoyac on its trajectory south to the Pacific Ocean. The bucolic mood of the babbling Rio Serrano accompany the riders to El Vado where the transport truck and horse trailer are waiting. Climb aboard for the short drive to the eco-tourism centre of San Sebastian de las Grutas. Settle in to the comfortable cabins and  enjoy lunch looking across gentle farmlands to the massive Bald Cypress trees.  Optional afternoon guided tour of the fascinating cave system this village is renowned for.

Ride to a “palenque”, where mezcal is still produced using age-old methods.

Day 7  Follow the Majestic Cypress Trail

After breakfast the horses hop in the trailer and the riders into the big pickup for short return trip to El Vado. The 3 km. strip of the crystalline  Rio Serrano is so magical, lined as it is with the massive Bald Cypresses, that it feels right to experience it in the opposite direction from the day before.

The Rio Serrano joins Rio Atoyac at La Y and for the next 12 kms.  follow a historical postal route that carried mail to the south of the state in the days of mule trails and carriages.. Towering Bald Cypress trees guard the river, as the route moves through a narrow canyon polka-dotted with massive Tepextate agaves and bearded Viejo cacti that cling to the exposed limestone escapement.

At the small town of La Compania, the dirt road suddenly ends; cross a charming bridge with the last vistas of the lazy Rio Atoyac.  A brightly painted chapel heralds the end of the ride. A first-rate tailgate lunch and comfy camp chairs are waiting before loading up for the drive back to Rancho Pitaya.

Sunset, mango mezcal margaritas and dinner al fresco await. Overnight at the ranch.

Ride hoothills covered in Ocote pines.

Day 8 Departure Day

After a freshly prepared breakfast depart with pre-arranged transport for the city or airport.

Tradicional, sustainable farming of the valleys.