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 in the 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 a 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. Dismounting is required. The horses lead well down the path.  Mount up as the trail joins a camino real  flanked by bucolic countryside. Arrive at today’s destination, San Juan Chilateca.

Lodging for the night is at a colourful country home with comfortable lodging for the humans and the horses.

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.  The truck and trailer are waiting, horses and riders are transported a short distance to to the foothills of the Labrador mountains.

The afternoon’s journey meanders in a gentle ascent along this prominent landmark that rises abruptly from the southern valley of Ocotlan. We leave behind the flowers and vegetables for oak forests. There’s an enchanted feel to a hillside dotted with protected Ocote pines temperatures cool 2,200. meters . The trails are well-marked, used for centuries by donkeys carrying firewood down to the surrounding villages. As the sun drops low to the west, the trail too descends leading to the ecological training centre of Paraje Bonanza where we will settle into simple but comfortable cabins for the night.

Day 4  “frozen in time”

Our breakfast features the centre’s  sustainable agriculture. 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.

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 personal 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  signals that end of the ride and the Cantaranas eco-tourism cabins are near. This creative  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 5 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 transport truck and horse trailer are waiting for the short ride to the eco-tourism centre of San Sebastian de las Grutas. Settle in to your cabins for a two-night stay. Enjoy lunch looking across gentle farmlands to the massive Bald Cypress trees.  This is a free afternoon.

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

Day 6 Ranch arrival

Day 7 Ranch arrival

This is the Rio Atoyac and for the next 8 kms. we follow a historical postal route that carried mail to the south of the state. Towering Bald Cypress trees guard the river. We ride against the current into a narrow canyon, unique agaves and cacti cling to the exposed limestone escapement.

At the small town of La Compania, riding past a grove of tall cacti, the dirt road suddenly ends as we cross a wide stream.

Explore the conserved communal lands of San Sebastián.

Day 8 Departure

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

Tradicional, sustainable farming of the valleys.