Posted November 6, 2013 by Marie Plaska in Festivals

Machachi Celebrates Paseo del Chagra July 19

A woman dances in Machachi, Ecuador
A woman dances in Machachi, Ecuador

If you happen to be in Ecuador on July 19th of this year, and you looking for an authentic way to really immerse yourself in the horse culture of the Andean highlands, make sure to check out the Paseo del Chagra festival in Machachi, just outside Cotopaxi National Park.

A chagra rides his horse at Paseo del ChagraThe small town of Machachi, located about 40 minutes south of Quito, puts on this annual festival to the delight of equestrian enthusiasts and tourists from around the world. Each year hundreds of “chagra,” dressed in traditional riding attire, come down from the mountains and surrounding areas to participate in El Paseo del Chagra, which is held in the month of July.

The festival forms part of the agricultural festivities of Machachi (known as the “cowboy capital” of Ecuador), and has its genesis in the year 1877, when the Cotopaxi volcano last erupted. The locals, filled with desperation, begged the pastor to relocate the Lord of the Santa school. The move of the school led to a mass and a procession of horsemen, which became the Chagra Processional Walk, and the Paseo del Chagra.

The word chagra comes from Quechua (the language of the Inca still spoken in Ecuador today) and means parcel or piece of land, but now it is synonymous with “Andean cowboy.” The Spanish originally taught the chagras their trade, and today the chagras live in the highlands of Ecuador. Twice a year these accomplished horsemen round up cattle from the highlands and bring them to a ranch or hacienda.

The Paseo del Chagra has evolved into a parade that allows riders and horses alike a chance to dress up and strut their stuff. A striking part of the festivities is the garb of the participants. The chagras dress in brilliant red and black wool ponchos, llama fur leggings and cowboy hats. Their saddles are replete with ornate carved wooden bucket stirrups. Women and other family members, dressed in their own traditional costumes, dance behind the chagras as the sounds of folkloric Andean music played by local bands fills the air.Parade at the Paseo del Chagra festival in Machachi, Ecuador.

The rodeo that is part of the Paseo del Chagra festival testifies to the skills of the chagras and features riding competitions and demonstrations. Before the rodeo the chagras and their noble horses parade and prance through the city streets; their antics are a joy to watch. The horses are taught to saunter sideways, to bow, leap into the air, and even lie down. Of course, the horses are dressed up too, some with leg wrappings, others with ribbons or tassles in their manes. The parade and ensuing spectacle always draws a large, enthusiastic crowd as it shows off a rich tradition of horsemanship and the agrarian lifestyle of haciendas.

Hundreds of horsemen from around the country take part in the event, riding their best horses through the streets of Machachi. The festival is accompanied by traditional foods, such as potato and pork dishes, cuy (roasted guinea pig) and locally grown corn.

Women dance at the Paseo de Chagra FestivalVisitors with horse riding skills may participate in the rodeo, which includes a roundup and herding of  “Ganado Bravo,” or “fighting cattle” from the 12,000-ft. high plateaus of Cotopaxi National Park. Among the challenges is locating the bulls and, of course, wearing down their resistance to be herded to the haciendas and ranches in the valleys below.

Paseo del Chagra is definitely a festival that horse enthusiasts will enjoy. It provides a great chance to mingle with and talk to the locals and really feel the pulse of Ecuador’s vibrant chagra culture. As a foreigner, you will surely be invited to more than a few sips of Caña, the potent local bathtub gin derived from cane sugar. Just remember that the altitude here is nearly 9,500 ft. above sea level so the nights can be quite chilly; bring along several layers of clothing and a warm jacket.

The festivities are set to begin at 9am and will last long into the night. Book your hotel/hostel accommodations now as rooms in Machachi are limited.

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Marie Plaska

Marie Plaska
A wide and varied career spanning 50 years has taught this experienced writer/editor that there’s always something new to be discovered and savored. Join Marie’s adventures in the lush tropical playground of Ecuador.