Oaxaca Valley to Pacific Ocean Ride

Follow the yellow line from Rancho Pitaya to the Pacific coast of Oaxaca.

This ride has been in the planning for 3 years. Once just a dream, it is now a most “do-able” equestrian journey.

Day 1: Arrive at Rancho Pitaya, relax and pre-ride your horse for the journey. Mary Jane has ridden personally with every rider on this ride; she has a pretty good idea of matching horse to rider. There may be some mixing and matching of mounts along the way but to begin with riders should be comfortable with their horse and tack.

The diversity of flora on this ride is absolutely singular.

Day 2: Ride out from Rancho Pitaya south into the “rincon”( corner ) to the last village of the valley of Tlacolula,  Santo Domingo Jalietza. A gently ascending brecha turns into a trail  embraced by oak forests and framed by age-old fieldstone walls. The pass opens ahead to a stunning vista of the southern Ocotlan valley.

Ride fit, sure-footed trekking horses on comfortable tack over ever-changing landscapes.

The first “portillo”, the pass into the Ocotlan valley.

Descend on a steep but well-traversed trail into the communal lands of Santo Tomas Jalietza. Riders may choose to discount and lead their horses down the steepest part. The final leg of the ride is pastoral and rural along good valley footing. Overnight at a comfortable country house in San Juan Chilateca.  This ride day is 32 km.

Encounters in the southern corner of the Valle de Tlacolula. Note the unique hay stacks.

Day 3: Distance 42 km. Ride south through the valley of Ocotlan, first along lanes lined with vegetable patches where cart ponies ply the smooth single-track roads. By lunch the vegetables have given way to fields of Espadin agave plantations. Wild Cuiche agaves, Nopal and Candelabra cacti now line the undulating dirt tracks. Turning east, the lanes become narrow grazing trails, and herds of goats and cattle accent the landscape. Passing through the tiny village of Los Ocotes, nestled into the foothills of the Labrador cordillera, oak trees appear on the landscape at roughly 1,600 mts., and true to the village’s name, not long after, the first Ocote pines dot the hills accompanied by their refreshing aroma. Overnight in simple but comfortable cabins at the ecological learning center of Bonanza.

Day 4: Ride Distance 38 kms. On the edge of the lands belonging to Bonanza the day’s ride begins on a centuries-old trail used by the pilgrims going to Juquila. At the top of the trail grand vistas open to the valley of Ejutla. The groomed farm lanes are lined with massive Huamuche trees. Canter a dry streambed, hug your horse’s neck to pass through a tunnel of wild cane, and wave at the hardworking campesinos along the way.

The flat valley merges into the beginning of the famed Barranca Larga area. Meaning “long ravine” they aren’t kidding, but the rolling hills are stunning and quiet and timeless. This is a place to be at one with oneself, your horse and the breathtaking landscape in all directions. This is the land of shepherds, often on horseback, and the classic mixed herds of goat, cattle and donkeys.

Bright blue skies are a signature of winter riding in Oaxaca.

The support vehicle will rendezvous with a satisfying tailgate lunch as the point where the route veers slightly west. Now the hills are gentler, the earth turns red then white, and the aura turns austere yet beautiful. Cacti and agaves jump out against the limestone dotted fields.

There’s a welcome lushness to La Cienega, this day’s final destination. Fresh water springs bubble from the calcified ground, and the perennially green grass embraces a majestic stand of  massive bald cypress. We camp tonight in this pristine place, yet there are flush toilets and a gorgeous grassy area to the horses. The village authorities provide are anxious to host the group at their eco-tourism spot.

Shepherd returning home in the early evening.

Day 5: This is another 38 km ride day. From La Cienega the route ascends along a “barely” travelled old road to the 3rd important mountain pass of the journey. Ahead lay Coatlan country, a loose grouping of villages that all use the suffix of Coatlan. First ride through Santa Maria Coatlan with massive vistas and bucolic countryside. Cattle lounge and tethered donkeys graze along the roadside.  Canter west out of the village on a “camino real” lined with neat walls of stacked fieldstones.

Rural life is a big part of this ride.

The next 8 kms. are mostly flat, following a stream that defines the steep valley. The altitude is still only 1,700 meters yet oaks and pines now dominate the landscape.

The open country of the Ejutla valley.

Midway in ride day 3 heading south to La Cienega.

Riding into the Bald Cypress grove at La Cienaga.

The road abruptly ends by a pristine stream lined with massive Bald Cypress where we’ll meet up with the support truck for a relaxed picnic lunch. There’s no rush to move on. Mary Jane may even collect river rocks for her garden at Rancho Pitaya. The afternoon’s footing is an old trail that follows another yet smaller crystalline stream before initiating a final ascent to the village of San Sebastian Coatlan, the highest point of this ride at 2,000 meters (6,800 ft.). Lodging will be “homestay” style and the meals taken in the home of locals.

Oak and pines but also palms!

Day 6. What goes up must come down and by late afternoon and approximately 40 kms. later this day’s ride will end at 500 meters above sea-level at the eco-tourism camp of La Reforma.

The waterfall at La Reforma.

Today’s ride combines old trails with quiet back roads and passes through a friendly village every 10 kms. or so. Conifer stands morph to oak forests festooned with impossibly huge bromeliads. By lunch, the scene will have turned decidedly tropical. Banana trees line the small roads and flowering vines sprawl over anything they can.

Experience Oaxaca’s fascinating biodiversity very up close.

As the winter sun sends deep shadows over the horses and riders, a final stream crossing announces the end of the big mountains and arrival at this day’s destination, the eco-tourism center of La Reforma. There are showers, toilets, simple cabins or if requested tent camping on the banks for the stream. Finish the day with a cool drink, a short walk to a magnificent waterfall and a swim in the natural pool at its base. This is a birder’s paradise. Normally elusive White-throated Magpie Jays are a common decoration is the surrounding trees.

Day 7. Welcome to the tropical lowlands. This is the final ride day with 40 km. to cover. The route begins along the barely dirt road that connects the waterfalls to the village of La Reforma. We’ll greet the town authorities before crossing the Rio La Rana and initiating a relaxed meander on a quiet dirt road that circumvents the big hills. Papaya, mango and banana plantations are the reoccurring crops of the day. Fat cattle graze and the birdlife gets increasingly interesting. At Quequestle, the halfway point of the day’s ride, horses and riders will refresh over lunch by the banks of the Rio Colotepec.

Local rider, Marco Antonio Cruz will meet us on his horse and together he’ll guide us south as we “bandear” (crisscross) the river countless times. Departing the village of Totolapam, Marco Antonio will have finished his job, and now it’s a pleasant route along tiny “brechas” between pastures and plantations. There is a single, safe highway crossing before picking up the quiet dirt road that leads to the beach. This will be late afternoon and the shadows will be long as horses and riders salute the sea with a canter along on the beach of Zicatela.

The short walk back to Rancho Inez will give the horses time to cool off before they dive into their well-deserved dinner. It takes just a few minutes to drive to Hotel Inez also on Playa Zicatela but a couple of kms. east. Farewell dinner!

Day 8. Do not make departure arrangements for early this day! There should be a contingency plan to ride the beach this morning if for some reason it doesn’t work out to finish this last short but important component the day before. Hotel check-out is by noon.

Special Note January 24-31 Ride: The second ride is ridden in reverse order, beginning in Puerto Escondido. Riders should meet at Hotel Inez at 2 p.m. for briefing, tack fitting and sunset  beach ride on the 24rd. The last ride day ends at Rancho Pitaya on the 30th. Overnight at the ranch. Breakfast and departures on the 31st.

Much of the ride follows pastoral lanes like these.

Don’t think they will be tired horses on the second ride, they will have 2 complete days to rest. Arabs and Criollos generally get more energetic as the days go by. They have the remarkable ability to “stay fresh” , and on the return ride they will know they are going home!

Dates 2019:

January 14-21 valley to coast

January 24-31 coast to valley

  • Length of Ride: 8 days, 7 nights, 7 days of riding.
  • Group size: limited to 4 riders + guide
  • Riding hours per day: 4-8 hours
  • Tack: Comfy Endurance and  English saddles with sheepskin pads. Shock absorbing padded stirrups.
  • Horses: Arabian endurance horses, Arabian crosses and Mexican Criollo breed
  • Pace: Long extended posting trots interspersed with walking and canters.

    In January the springs and stream crossings still have water for the horses.

  • Lodging: MIXED! Comfortable homes, eco-tourism cabins, hotel and possible one-night camping at the waterfalls. First night at Rancho Pitaya and last night at Hotel Inez in Puerto Escondido.
  • Meals: Good, honest food. Rancho Pitaya’s signature fresh salads and homemade baking will supplement local specialities to ensure tasty and varied meals. For most lunches the supply vehicle will meet riders for scrumptious tailgate feasts but picnic lunches may go in the saddle bags too. As always there’ll be lots of fresh brewed Oaxaca coffee in the mornings and, artesan mezcal, cold bear and good wine as the sun gets low.

    Exotic agaves, like this Tepextate line the trails.

  • Price: $2,900. per person in double occupancy. All inclusive: 7 nights lodging based on double occupancy, meals, arrival and departure transfers, all ground transportation, admission fees to reserves.
  •  Add $200 single supplement only available at nights 1,2 and 7.
  • 100 kilo (220 lb. ) rider weight limit.

Late afternoon on the 7th day this ride comes to an end at the Pacific Ocean.