The Best Horse Riding Destinations in Argentina
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Tango, soccer, and polo often spring to mind when thinking of Argentina. While it’s true that they are part of the nation’s identity, horsemanship, estancias, and the gauchos are also an integral part of its culture.
The country’s sweeping expanses, vast swathes of lush grassland, jagged glaciers, mighty mountains, glistening lakes, and thundering waterfalls are best explored on horseback. On a horse riding holiday in Argentina, you’ll ride proud Criollo horses under flying condors, stopping for yerba mate tea with the gauchos, and perhaps even have a slice of the country’s national pastime, polo.
From the magnificent Andes in the west to the lush pampas in the center and the Patagonian steppes in the south, we’re bringing you the best horse riding destinations in Argentina.
But first, a few words about the country’s estancias, gauchos, and Criollo horses.
Argentina’s estancias and gauchos
Estancias are deeply ingrained in Argentina’s culture. These authentic cattle ranches have been passed down from generation to generation. Some of them have been in the same family since the 17th century.
Central Argentina, especially Córdoba and Las Pampas, is the center of the gaucho culture and home to some of the most spectacular estancias.
Most of the horse riding holidays in Argentina use estancias as their base. You can opt for a more relaxed holiday, spending only a few hours in the saddle each day. Or you can go on an authentic ranch vacation in Argentina and participate in cattle herding and other traditional activities.
For a more adventurous escapade, you can embark on a pack trip and do estancia hopping – stay in a different estancia each night and cover long distances by day.
Estancias are the best places where you can immerse yourself in the gaucho culture. The gaucho is the traditional Argentine cowboy and a national symbol. While the traditional American cowboy is slowly vanishing, the Argentine gaucho is very much alive to this day.
Meet the Argentine Criollo horse
Horses have played a central role in the lives of Argentines. On a horse riding trip in Argentina, the preferred horse breed is the Argentine Criollo, one of the strongest and most dependable breeds in the world, renowned for its intelligence, loyalty, and fearlessness.
The Criollo is the national horse of Argentina. Along with Arabians, Criollos have the greatest endurance among all horse breeds. They can cover outstanding distances, as they’ve spent centuries adapting to the rough terrain and demanding gaucho lifestyle.
Native to Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay, this sure-footed, hardy, and very responsive breed is the result of selective breeding of the Baguales, the feral horses of the Pampas. They are the descendants of a pure-breed Spaniard shipment brought to South America in the 16th century. Most of them were left behind or escaped, and became feral horses.
Their population thrived in the wild, and they had adapted to the rough and inhospitable terrain and climate. Noticing this, both the natives and the Spanish began capturing the horses and using them as pack animals and riding mounts.
Where to go horse riding in Argentina?
The central region – the Córdoba Province and the Pampas area in the Buenos Aires Province – is home to the largest number of estancias and equine centers, offering itineraries for all levels of riders. However, the most spectacular trails can be found higher up in the Andes.
Argentina’s Lake District
Image credit: Estancia Arroyo Verde
The Lake District is the most populated and developed region in Northern Patagonia, as well as one of the most spectacular. Spanning across both Chile and Argentina, early settlers arrived to this part of the Andes to find gold, others to build estancias.
The Argentine Lake District is divided between the Río Negro and Neuquén provinces. Bariloche, Junín de los Andes, Villa La Angostura, and San Martín de los Andes are the main towns and bases for the many horse riding and hiking trails in the region.
On the south shores of the Nahuel Huapi Lake, Bariloche is a small alpine town, ski resort, and world-famous chocolate producer. It is the most popular destination in the area and a preferred starting point for visitors in Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina’s first and largest national park.
You’ll find trails for all levels of experience. You can opt for a few laidback hours in the saddle exploring the nearby lakes, or for a challenging multi-day tour.
If you’re looking for an authentic ranch vacation, the plains in the east of the Lake District are dotted with estancias. You can immerse in the estancia lifestyle at a working cattle farm. Or you can take it one step further and join the gauchos in helping them drive the herds of cattle to their summer pastures up in the Andes.
For the ultimate adventure, cross the Andes on horseback from Argentina to Chile, following old pioneer trails. You’ll begin near Bariloche, ascend high into the mountains, climb mountain passes, cross rivers, and end in the Chilean Lake District, at Llanquihue Lake near Puerto Varas. This trail ride is recommended for experienced riders who are fit enough to withstand long days in the saddle.
Image credit: Argentina Polo Day
The fertile lowlands in the Buenos Aires Province are the homeland of the gaucho. The Pampas is the second-largest open grassland in Argentina, after Patagonia. These vast swathes of succulent grasses have played an important role in Argentina’s survival as a nation. It’s the perfect grazing territory for cattle and other livestock and has always provided for the rest of the country.
You’ll find an abundance of relaxing horse riding itineraries for all levels. You can hop in the saddle for a day out in the sun just outside Buenos Aires, or enjoy an extended stay at an estancia where you can truly immerse in the gaucho way of life. You can also try polo in Buenos Aires, as there are numerous equestrian centers specializing in Argentina’s national pastime on the outskirts of the capital.
Numerous authentic estancias can be found near San Antonio de Areco, considered the birthplace of the gaucho culture. Each year in November, the San Antonio de Areco Gaucho Festival is held here, a wonderful opportunity to observe the traditional cowboy skills.
Image credit: La Constancia Mountain Horseback Trek
The wide-open spaces in the Córdoba Province are a heaven for horse riding enthusiasts. This excellent horse riding territory is at the center of the gaucho culture. Once famous for its many estancias, Córdoba’s many cattle farms have turned to tourism as a source of income. Nevertheless, these estancias have stayed true to their Argentine heritage.
In Central Argentina, Sierras de Córdoba is an ancient mountain range that predates the Andes. In stark contrast with the Andean steep slopes and pointy peaks, these mountains are deeply eroded and rather resemble highlands. They offer a wide variety of horse riding trails. You can ride out with the gauchos and help them move and count cattle. You can go on a tour of the local churches, take a dip in a natural rock pool along the way, or even try your hand at polo.
Just west of the city of Córdoba, Sierras Chicas is the easternmost mountain range in the Sierras de Córdoba. These ancient, rounded hills are covered in woodland and shrubbery, with trail rides in an unspoiled natural landscape isolated from modern society.
A fascinating patchwork of vineyards, as well as peach, cherry, plum, apple, and pear groves, is nestled between the desert and the Andes. For Argentines, Mendoza is synonymous to wine, and the province accounts for two-thirds of the country’s wine production.
Ride through vineyards and verdant orchards at the foothills of the Andes, climb to viewpoints, and venture deep into the heart of the Andes.
To the southwest of the province, the Uco Valley is the wine capital of Argentina. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, it is home to rich wildlife. Follow ancient paths leading high into the Andes, condors flying overhead. Take well-deserved breaks by the shimmering creeks and enjoy some rejuvenating yerba mate tea. While here, go on a wine tasting tour and try the famous Malbec wines produced in the region.
Image credit: Pioneros Riding Tours
For the trip of a lifetime, cross the Andes on horseback. Start in Upsallata in Mendoza and end in Los Andes in Chile, riding on a historical trail flanked by the highest mountains in South America, Aconcagua and Mercedario. Follow the exact same route of General José de San Martín, the liberator of Argentina, Chile, and Peru. In 1817, during the war with the Spanish Empire, he led his “Army of the Andes” on horseback across the Andes to secure independence for Chile.
Los Glaciares National Park
Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (Glaciers National Park) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Southwest Argentina. With spiky glaciers, towering peaks, crystalline glacial lakes, and fantastic wildlife, it boasts some of the most staggering landscapes in the country.
The park is located within the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the second largest extra-polar body of ice on the planet. Half of it is covered in ice fields, which connect over 45 major glaciers. The park also protects two of Argentina’s largest lakes, Lago Argentino and Lago Viedma, as well as the towering Monte Fitz Roy, also known as Cerro Chaltén.
On the southern shore of Lake Argentino, El Calafate is the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park. It is the main tourist hub in the area and a premier destination for exploring the pristine wilderness of the wide Southern Patagonian expanses, whether on horseback or on foot.
Located close to the ice flows that run from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, El Calafate is surrounded by glaciers. The most famous are the Perito Moreno, Onelli, and Upsala glaciers, all of which flow into Lake Argentino. Perito Moreno Glacier is the largest and most spectacular, the size of a 15-story building, with dramatic icefalls crashing into Lake Argentino.
In the northern part of the park, north of Lago Viedma, the sleepy little town of El Chaltén lies at the footsteps of the towering Fitz Roy. Dubbed the “National Trekking Capital of Argentina”, it is a main starting point for the numerous hiking and horse riding trips in the area, lasting from a few hours to a full day, or even over a number of nights.
Tierra del Fuego
Image credit: Centro Hipico Fin del Mundo
At the southernmost tip of South America, Tierra del Fuego, the “Land of Fire”, is divided between Chile and Argentina. Follow in the footsteps of the first explorers of Patagonia and discover a land at the edge of the world, stepped in history and legend.
On the northern shore of the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia is one of the most important towns in the region and the gateway to Tierra del Fuego National Park. It’s also a base for Antarctic expeditions, as well as for those looking for a fantastic adventure on horseback.
The Mitre Peninsula is the easternmost point in Tierra del Fuego, home to some of the most diverse wildlife on the island. Far from civilization, horses are the traditional mode of transport in these parts. Ride to the Fin del Mundo, the “End of the World”, along jagged coastlines and deserted beaches. Spot penguins, seals, sea lions, and wild horses, while majestic condors fly overhead.
Ride like a gaucho through outstanding rugged beauty on a trail riding holiday in Argentina!