Horseback Riding in the Sacred Valley of Peru
I’ve been fascinated with the Peruvian Paso horse since I saw one dance in a dinner show at Hacienda Mamacona in Lima, Peru. That’s right—dance! The horse and rider performed the traditional Peruvian Marinera dance with a female dancer.
The lower portion of the horse’s front legs roll to the outside during walking or trotting in a motion similar to a swimmer’s arms during the breaststroke. This motion, known as termino, creates the smooth four-beat gait for which the Peruvian Paso is known.
Today I would have an opportunity to experience the smooth elegant gait of a Peruvian Paso horse as I explored the Sacred Valley on horseback.
A private van picked me up just after breakfast at my hotel in Cusco. We drove an hour and a half to the stable in Urubamba where the horse that I would be riding is housed. By the time I arrived, the grooms were tacking my horse for the ride.
While I waited for the grooms to finish adjusting the elaborate tack and fill the saddlebags with our lunch, my guide showed me around. He pointed out the organic homegrown food my horse would enjoy upon returning from our all all-day ride.
He then handed me a Spanish sombrero to wear in lieu of strapping on a typical riding helmet. Its wide brim provided ample protection from the sun.
I took a trial trot around the property to get used to my horse, Amauta—which means teacher in the local indigenous language of Quechua. Then we headed out.
The first part of the ride took us along dirt roads that wound through the rural community of Urubamba. We passed quaint bed and breakfasts, fields brimming with vegetables ready to be picked, and local people and dogs going about their day.
From Urubamba, we headed gradually uphill. We switchbacked up the mountain on a wide dirt road and then went directly up the mountainside on steep single-track paths.
As we neared the top, my guide kicked his horse into a full gallop. Feeling exhilarated and a little bit daring, I followed suit. To my surprise, Amauta’s gallop was just as smooth as his trot. I was able to easily and comfortably sit the gallop.
I was impressed by the stamina the horses showed. They breathed heavily as we gained altitude, but they never seemed to want to slow down or rest.
We stopped for a picnic at the Inca archeological site of Moray. Archeologists believe that the Incas may have used the circular terraces at Moray for agricultural experimentation.
My guide gave me a brief tour. Then, we flopped down on the grass and ate our sandwiches and fruit while the horses grazed nearby.
After lunch, we continued our ride to the ancient Inca salt pans at Maras. Here, the Incas diverted water to form thousands of pools where a thin crust of salt remains as the sun evaporates the water. These salt mines have been in continuous operation since the Inca Empire.
I dismounted and followed my guide onto the narrow paths bordering the pans to get a closer look at a man harvesting salt. The salt crunched beneath my feet.
Farmers have been harvesting salt from Maras since before the Inca. They work cooperatively to channel water from pond to pond to increase the concentration of salt until it is ready for harvesting. The color of the salt varies from white to a light reddish- or brownish-tan, depending on the skill of an individual farmer.
It was late afternoon as we descended from the salt pans across an open field on our way back to Urubamba. We could hear thunder in the distance and lightening flashed across the sky. Dark clouds floated above the mountains that ring the Sacred Valley. It seemed like it was raining everyplace except where we were.
As the gate to the stables creaked open, the first raindrops started to fall. I dismounted and patted Amauta’s neck, feeling sad that the ride was over so soon.Ride Details: 7 to 8 hours of walking, trotting, and galloping on open roads and some steep ascending single-track trails.