Guide to Horseback Riding in South America: 10 Best Ranches

It’s time to saddle up and frolic around the South American countryside, gaucho style. From the pampas of Argentina to the jagged cliffs and foothills of the Andes, witness the wild terrain from a different perspective. At one of these authentic ranches, or as the locals call estancias, experience one of the world’s last frontiers in the centuries-old tradition of the early pioneers. The hard-working ranch hands still round up cattle in the vast grasslands of the pampas and enjoy a rustic, simple country life.

10. Estancia El Bordo de las Lanzas, Salta, Argentina

For an authentic estancia experience, Argentina style, head to Estancia El Bordo de las Lanzas in Salta, a 400-year old ranch and the oldest of its kind in the country. It’s also a great spot for exploring the foothills of the Andes and the nearby Lerma Valley by horseback. After a ride with a local gaucho who knows every inch of the terrain, head back to the luxurious estate for some asado, the traditional Argentinian barbeque. This estancia, which still serves as a working ranch, is perfect for experiencing an authentic day in the life of an Argentinian cowboy. Join the gauchos for a cattle round up and a trail ride through the beautiful and romantic countryside of Salta. Established in 1609, the estate’s historic tradition of warmth and hospitality also comes with all the rustic trappings of the early pioneer days.

9. Estancia Puerto Consuelo, Puerto Natales, Chile

At Estancia Puerto Consuelo in Puerto Natales, Chile, you’ll have the chance to explore the romantic shoreline filled with flamingos and swans on horses that are as laid-back as the Chilean countryside. Once the gaucho shows you the ropes, get ready for a glorious, unforgettable gallop through Patagonia, one of the last frontiers. In 1893, the explorer Captain Herman Eberhard first arrived on the shores of the magnificent terrain and shortly after the Estancia Puerto Consuelo was established, one of the first ranches of the Ultima Esperanza Province. With the peaks of the snow-capped Andes and foothills, there is no shortage of breath-taking views, especially by horseback. After a day of riding the trails and exploring the rustic, pristine landscape, rest your sore legs and sip on a glass of Malbec at the Bories Hotel, a charming country house situated on the shores of Last Hope Sound.

8. Posada de la Laguna, Argentina

Posada de la Laguna is a working ranch in the heart of the Ibera Wetlands and a popular spot among nature lovers and horseback riders for its wild, beautiful landscape and Argentinian horse riding traditions. If you’re feeling adventurous, head out onto the trail bareback with gauchos leading the way. The ranch also offers accommodation in their elegant lodge, which is situated on the shores of the Esteros del Ibera Lagoon, a haven for caimans, capybaras, and exotic wildlife. Venture out for an evening gallop along the shores of the lagoon while taking in sights of the boggy wetlands. For those looking for an eco-vacation filled with scenic tranquility and natural wonders, this pastoral estancia provides a comfortable hangout in between trail rides and boat tours. And like the cowboys will tell you, when you’re in doubt, let your horse do the thinking.

7. Estancia Dos Lunas, Cordoba, Argentina

Deep in the heart of the Ongamira Valley is the 3,000 hectare Estancia Dos Lunas, a remote, hidden gem in Cordoba, Argentina. With big skies,

6. Sayta-Cabalgatas, Salta, Argentina

Another great spot for a horseback riding vacation is Sayta-Cabalgatas in Salta, Argentina. Situated among the ancient tobacco fields of Chicoana, the estancia is housed in a grand, whitewashed colonial style estate. In a place that literally means “where time stands still,” get swept away on a horseback trail ride through mountainous panoramas, big canyons, and trickling streams. At night, cowboys and visitors rest their tired legs over a glass of red wine and excellent Argentinian steak or barbeque. That way, when you climb into the saddle the next day, you’ll be ready for the ride. Because of its proximity to the remote areas of Bolivia and the Andes, explorers will get to witness up close the indigenous tribes that still live the simple, ancient way of life carried on by centuries of generations. In this rural, isolated region, you’ll feel miles away from the harried, bustling urban centers like Buenos Aires.

5. Estancia Cerro Guido, Puerto Natales, Chile

On the border of the Torres del Paine national park in Chile is Estancia Cerro Guido, a typical style ranch that follows in the old pioneering traditions of the first gauchos. Ride to the top of the heaped stone cairn surrounded by snow-capped peaks and feel on top of the world. Experience the Patagonian tradition at one of the country’s grandest and most beautiful estancias. Besides horseback riding adventures, the estate also offers a menu in the old world tradition of barbeque lamb, fine steaks, and lots of South American red wine. Founded in the 19th century, the ranch was built as part of the “Sociedad Explotadora Tierra del Fuego,” and the establishment as Chile’s premier sheep-farming trade. It might be the 21st century, but in this remote part of the continent, you’ll feel as if you’ve traveled back in time to the pioneering days.

4. Pampa Estancia, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia

The setting of the Pampa Estancia in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia is impressive with the surrounding jagged foothills of the Andes and the dense, exotic Amazon rainforest. Saddle up and head out into the countryside and explore the vast, open grasslands of the Reyes pampas as the poncho-wearing gauchos make their cattle wrangling rounds as they have done for centuries. In a fantasy of a lifetime, visitors of all riding levels get the chance to be an authentic South American cowboy for an entire week on their popular eco-tours. So, get on your chaps and ride out into the sunset to discover hidden lagoons, a thriving wildlife habitat, and unchartered terrain. The ranch house also offers riders a peak into the life of a Bolivian cowboy as they go about their daily chores. Prepare yourself for adventurous days of horseback riding through the pampas, evenings with traditional Bolivian food, and beautiful crimson sunsets.

3. Estancias Los Potreros, Cordoba, Argentina

For a horseback riding adventure in the Sierras Chicas, head to Estancia Los Potreros, a working cattle ranch in the Cordoba region of Argentina. Stretching across the western border, the Central Sierras is one of the highest mountain ranges outside the Andean cordillera. Situated on top of a mountain, the estancia is an oasis of dramatic scenery, riding trails, and the traditional way of life of the Argentinian cowboy. For centuries, the gauchos have been perfecting their horse handling skills, including breeding methods. At Los Potreros, horse riders will get the chance to ride the Paso Peruano, a Peruvian horse that is considered to have the smoothest gate of any horse breed. After a day of adventure, take an evening gallop over to Potrero de Loza, the main guesthouse, and relax by the fireplace in a room decorated with charming relics from the old days.

2. Estancia Huechahue, Argentina

For exploring the Patagonian Steppe of Argentina, locals recommend crossing the rugged, wild terrain on horseback, a tradition carried on by Estancia Huechahue for over four generations. Follow the cattle hands on trails through the mountains and witness up close the natural beauty of Argentinian Patagonia. With a rich history of horse riding, the gauchos know every cliff, foothill, and grassy plain of the Andes, and their horses probably know it even better. In a world of vast, untamed terrain, it’s the perfect spot for a glorious gallop across the valley. After a day of trail riding, head back to the lodge, a cottage that encourages rest and relaxation with big trees and a tranquil pond. In a land of homegrown food and a thriving cattle business, visitors have the rare chance of experiencing one of the last remaining cultures that cultivate a simple, wholesome way of life.

1. El Galpon del Glacier Estancia, Argentia

In the heart of the dramatic landscape of Argentina is the El Galpon del Glacier Estancia, a traditional style ranch in the El Calafate region of Santa Cruz. With the word glacier in their name, you can expect spectacular horseback rides through the jagged glaciers known for their magical, iridescent hue of aqua blue. With such a varied landscape, riders have the chance to see impressive panoramic views of iceberg-filled lakes and vast pampas of the grasslands. On a peaceful ride at the edge of the world, you’ll be far away from the smog and noise of the urban centers like Buenos Aires. El Galpon del Glacier is a joyous departure from modern life and the typical vacation. Visitors will get the rare treat of seeing the challenges and bliss of estancia life. From the shores of the Argentinian Lake, hop on one of their sturdy horses and gallop along the waters.

The 11 Most Beautiful and Underrated Destinations in Western Europe

The upwards trend in European tourism shows a definitive increase in Western European tourism—the less visited half of the continent. Throughout the west, particularly the UK, France, Germany, and Spain, there have been more visitors over the last five years than ever before. It’s no wonder really, with the many amazing historical towns and villages, ancient castles, palaces, and forts, thriving backcountry, natural wonders, and so many other attractions. From Scotland’s islands to Portugal’s architecture and Italy’s renowned Riviera, Western Europe is rich with things to do and see.

11. Jungfrau Region, Switzerland

Switzerland’s Jungfrau Region is calculated by magnificent mountains, endless outdoor pursuits, and some of the most interesting resort towns on this side of Liechtenstein. Just an hour and a half south of Zurich and 45 minutes from Bern, Jungfrau is where intrepid travelers head for enterprising vacations. Area attractions include the Kleine Scheidegg watershed at the Eiger North Face foothills. It offers an out-of-this-world cable ride soaring from Grindelwald-First, spanning more than 2,600 feet to Schynige Platte, an area reached by 19th century cog wheel train from Interlaken, the starting point for hiking along the mountain pass. This isn’t a destination for idleness, or even half-hearted exploration. Jungfrau demands a lot from visitors who can move at a relatively quick pace—it’s not a place to stay still. It begs to be explored with enthusiasm and key attractions require some ambition, but it all pays off in spades.

Jungfrau Region, Switzerland

10. Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland

The ebony-hued, interlocking basalt columns spanning the Causeway Coast in Ireland gave credence to legendary tales of a centuries-old route trekked by giants between Scotland and Ireland. Though the tales still run rampant between Irish generations, we can all acknowledge it’s one intensely cool natural marvel. More than 40,000 columns are located in this rich, seafront Northern Irish area which most agree was caused by a volcanic eruption centuries ago. Arriving to the coast is pretty exciting in itself, with a long, curving drive along the highway dotted with residential homes, shops, pubs, and striking natural sights—if you can take your eyes off the water and the road ahead. The vivid drives, cozy, small-town feel, extra friendly locals, and incredible hikes along the extensive cliff-top paths are endearing traits that make this area of Northern Ireland one-of-a-kind.

Giant's Causeway, Ireland

9. Cordoba, Spain

Travel styles vary from person to person but most get on board with marveling at architectural wonders, relishing savory food, delving into old bodegas, and enjoying easy tours of interesting places. Cordoba is magnified by Mezquita, an example of seasoned and worldly Islamic culture, and a site overlooking the city’s heart and drawing onlookers into its fabulously embowed interior. Arteries running throughout the Jewish Quarter (Juderia) reach away from the Mosque like central nerves but with finales upon extremely pleasant plazas. The center of town is the heart and soul of Cordoba, and where almost everyone will wander around, whether for a few hours or every day. Restaurants, bars, and shops are the center of social life here, where the strident vibe is magnetic. In fascinating contrast, west of town is Medinat al-Zahra, an Islamic ruin that piques the imagination with its gravity.

Cordoba, Spain

8. Bruges, Belgium

The medieval city of Bruges is a nostalgic reminder of Venice with long, narrow canals, awarding it the moniker “Venice of the North.” Exploring is akin to life in a fairytale—not only are the canals lovely but the buildings that compliment waterways are just as sublime, creating a picture-perfect scene you won’t want to step out of. Paint in some cobblestone lanes, historic churches, buzzing market squares, and whitewashed houses and you might never want to venture out of town. This loveliness doesn’t come without a price; the floodgates open for tourists each year—word  has been out for some time about the beauty of Bruges. With that in mind, most trek in during daylight hours and leave by sundown. To get your piece of Bruges, stay overnight and you’re privy to the emptiness and beautiful floodlights at dusk, giving an unequivocal air to the area.

Botond Horvath / Shutterstock.com
Botond Horvath / Shutterstock.com

7. Sintra, Portugal

Perfectly tucked between the sea and mountains, Sintra is one of Portugal’s most naturally blessed cities and a destination most deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage site designation. Gleaming palaces, alluring gardens, and misty woodlands are each part of the appeal of Sintra, which is historically rich and filled with natural beauty. No wonder the Celts chose Sintra to exalt their god; the Moors constructed a dizzying castle, and the royals of 18th century Portugal luxuriated in its verdant hills and dreamy backdrop. Cultural attractions dot Sintra and the culinary landscape is beyond compare. The number of ancient fortifications and magnificent residences draw tourists in droves during the summer months. It’s worth contending with crowds in the thick of things, but there’s plenty of merit in seeing it outside of peak tourist season too.

Sintra, Portugal

6. Porto Santo, Portugal

While most island-lovers head to Portugal’s Madeira Island, there’s a little island northwest of it deserving of a lot of attention. Porto Santo is a small, Portuguese island—an ideal place to get your fill of blue skies, white sand beaches, and crystal water. In simple terms, Porto Santo is a slice of land hugged by 40+ kilometers of sand and flanked by a few resorts and hotels. There aren’t as many beautiful island destinations with so few visitors with such incredible scenery. There’s not too much in the way of attractions, which is music to an island-lovers’ ears. The small town square has some shops and a smattering of bars and restaurants. Along the beach, there are eateries and outdoor areas ideal for meals and cocktails. Otherwise, put your feet up, close your eyes, and prepare to daydream your time away.

Porto Santo, Portugal

5. Marsaxlokk, Malta

Marsaxlokk is a busy trading port established by Phoenicians in 900 BC, when they first arrived on Malta. It’s a tiny dot in the Mediterranean Sea, below Italy’s “boot,” seemingly kicked out into the vast ocean. Fish drives the economy so of course the port is the most important aspect of life where the daily grind is arduous and busy with fishermen supplying the entire island with fresh seafood. Whether you’re a seafood aficionado or just love fresh fish, visit the port when a huge market spills out each week, presenting an incredible variety of fresh food. This seaside town exemplifies a rare side of Malta, devoid of contemporary buildings to deter from its original appeal. The boat designs are said to be based on Phoenician blueprints, adding a captivating charm to their unique look. Stay awhile and enjoy life in the middle of the Mediterranean.

In Green / Shutterstock.com
In Green / Shutterstock.com

4. Portree, Scotland

Within the Isle of Skye in Scotland is Portree, the biggest island town and a thriving cultural hub and port with a small population. As with any port town, the harbor is the central point of activity, presenting a tight knit network of seafood restaurants and numerous pubs all with incredible waterfront views. The region is wild and unruly and best explored from Portree, a base where unwinding from adventurous excursions is easy and extra pleasant. Portree is near many of the island’s best outdoor attractions including the incredible Quiraing pinnacles, famous Kilt Rock, and northern Trotternish Ridge. Films, theater shows, and concerts are put on at Aros Center while the water plays host to boat cruises, swimming, and fishing. Take in some salty air and bed down at any of the town’s higher end hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs, private apartment rentals, or even the nearby campground.

Portree, Scotland

3. Loire Valley, France

Historical tales of the Loire Valley in France paint a picture of opulence and indulgence. The royals, along with their large courts, used the valley as a stronghold, constructed magnificent fortifications, and built their grand residences throughout the wide, outstretched valley that today is strewn with some of the most impressive and lavish fortresses and castles in the country. Loire Valley is ripe with rural, dramatic, and architectural wealth. Skyscraping turrets, lush vineyards, and time-honored towns are all a part of a massive UNESCO World Heritage Site exemplifying 10 centuries of France’s history throughout a storybook landscape. If you’re looking for the finest example of history and architecture in the Loire Valley, look no farther than the mammoth and beautiful Chateau de Chambord, the valley’s most distinct attraction. The best modern highlights, besides award-winning wines, are the historical landmarks left behind by centuries of hedonistic aristocracies.

Loire Valley, France

2. Ronda, Spain

Within the Malaga region and set inside a tapering gorge is Ronda, once inhabited by some of history’s greatest people; the Arabs, Celts, Romans, and Phoenicians were taken with Ronda, pioneering the region with progressive philosophies and architecture. The historic district exemplifies the age of Arabs, with a fascinating medieval design dotting the southern reaches of Guadalevin river. More contemporary Ronda rose to its peak during the 16th century. The city is sprawled across Guadelevin’s north point, joined to the south by several magnificent bridges. Ronda will make you feel small (everything seems to vault skyward) but this Andalusian city is also empowering, a reminder of humankind’s powerful capabilities. Revel in incredible panoramas of El Tajo gorge from Puente Nuevo, explore maintained Arab bathhouses, and enjoy a meal while exploring Duquesa de Parcent Square, a modern center filled with ancient indications.

Ronda, Spain

1. Manarola, Italy

Across the bay from Monaco is Manarola, Italy, a little seaside town and the stuff of Old World dreams. Set between Nice and Genoa, there’s plenty around to get your fill of city life, but when looking for downtime, and a backdrop of vibrant architecture on the waterfront, Manarola is the place to be. From the water is a resplendent scene: a cluster of tall stone buildings in a rainbow of colors, set high across grassy cliffs and flanked by rugged shoreline. Manarola is part of the Italian Riviera called Cinque Terre where a series of five small coastal towns are connected via rustic hiking trails with ample vistas. Manarola is second in size within the streak of towns, it is also the oldest, and is marked by 14th century San Lorenzo church. Social centers include the town square and the busy little harbor and vineyards dot the entire area.

Manarola, Italy