Latin America has a deep equestrian culture which predates the start of Western riding culture by several centuries. 'Cowboys' and their horses are scattered throughout Latin America: gauchos in Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil; vaqueiros in northern Brazil; pantaneiros in the Pantanal; huasos in Chile; and llaneros in Colombia and Venezuela. Today there are many opportunities for world class recreational and advanced riding as horse culture remains strong.
Latin America offers some of the best riding in the world, across vast and varied terrains. Many countries maintain strong cowboy traditions and horses are still central to their way of life. Rides can last from anything from half a day to a full week, so wherever you want to be and whatever level of riding you want to do, we can arrange the perfect rides for you. Whether a solo trip, or riding with family and friends, we can suggest options for all ages from children to grandparents, with a range of horses for all abilities.
The Spanish Conquistadors brought Andalusian horses to South America and most countries have their own variation on the Criollo breed - the traditional South American working horse. In every country these horses managed to adapt and improve depending on the geography and uses. In general these reliable breeds are medium in size but extremely strong, sturdy and fast, with a docile temperament.
Along with the horses, the classical Western saddle came to the Americas with the Conquistadors. The South American saddles widely used today are derived from the Western saddle though there is no horn because South Americans traditionally used bolas rather than lassos for cattle and wild game. They are heavily padded, laden with thick soft sheepskins, adding comfort for long days in the saddle. Bridles are also western style, the horses are trained to neck rein, leaving one hand free to rope if necessary and to allow the horse to go more independently. English riding style is possible in Ecuador upon prior request.
For dedicated riding trips the best options are in the northern Andes (Peru, Ecuador or Colombia), Patagonia (Chile or Argentina), the Pantanal (Brazil) and Uruguay. For more casual riding, nearly all our favourite estancias, fazendas and haciendas have horses available for rides.
Ride between colonial haciendas in Ecuador’s highlands, exploring the northern and southern sierras - two spectacular and distinct areas of the Ecuadorian Andes. Small group departures or private rides ranging from 1 to 11 days can be arranged. Ride along ancient Inca paths and Spanish colonial routes, passing through colourful villages and sharing a drink with the friendly chagras (Andean cowboys) as you go. For expert riders looking for an adrenaline-filled experience, the annual cattle roundup ‘el rodeo’ is not to be missed. Join the local chagras on a ride up into the mountains to round up the fighting bulls and herd them down into the corrals.
We can arrange private riding tours almost all year round particularly in the beautiful coffee region, Salento and the Cocora Valley. Dotted with avocado and banana plantations, the magnificent wax palms of Cocora Valley and lovely villages including the famous Salento, the coffee triangle is one of the most picturesque regions of Colombia. Riding through the magnificent landscape on a Colombian Criollo is the perfect way to connect to nature. Combine with the Colombian highlands for scenic riding through the rolling hills of the sierras between old haciendas, village inns and a monastery to the cobbled streets and plazas of the colonial town Villa de Leyva. Colombia's llanos grasslands is also ideal horse country.
Take a lesser known route to Machu Picchu as you gallop through open plains and climb high mountain passes, spending each night at a luxury mountain lodge. Peru’s Machu Picchu region is a must-see for any traveller, but for the keen rider, what better adventurous way to explore this enchanting part of the Andes than on horseback. This fixed departure ride is on the finest American Quarter Horses from top farms in Uruguay that have been extensively trained with the sole purpose of becoming perfect Salkantay mountainous trail companions for riders of varied levels (previous riding experience is required.)
In the world’s largest wetland, Brazil’s Pantanal, cattle ranching is the number one industry and the Pantaneiro cowboy the backbone of that economy. Explore the wild and remote region, as the locals do, from the saddle. Journey between three lodgings, riding through very diverse zones of the Pantanal. This trip has been developed specifically for those who are looking for a great trail riding experience in the Pantanal taking in the vegetation, wildlife and culture of the region. Accompanying non-riders are welcome and a host of other activities can be enjoyed by non-riding companions, from jaguar tracking to bird watching with specialist guides to sport fishing.
Chile and Argentina offer a wonderful variety of rides, both fast and slower paced to suit experienced and novice riders. Stay in comfortable lodges, camp under the stars, stay with local families, cross rivers or gallop across wide open plains, even try your hand at polo - there is something for everyone. Perhaps the most spectacular riding experience in South America’s southern cone is crossing the Andes from Chile to Argentina, traversing the stunning Puelo valley - an utterly remote and untouched area, accessible in parts only on foot or horseback. Ride through breath-taking mountain scenery and primeval forests, and even swim the horses across rivers. Staying with local families en route allows riders a true insight into rural life.
Sandwiched between neighbouring giants Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay has plenty to offer the intrepid traveller, not least, some fantastic riding. Uruguay’s unique cultural identity is one closely linked to the respect for the land and those who make their living from it - the local gauchos. The country is dotted with traditional haciendas and few days based at one of these can offer a very satisfying riding experience, exploring the environs on day rides. For anyone with a little longer, a trail ride is highly recommended. Starting at a coastal estancia, ride across beaches and undulating sand dunes, along palm groves and wetlands to the country’s interior and inland estancias. A longer ride allows you to explore this enigmatic country and experience the local hospitality on world-class local Uruguayan Criollo horses who are known for their endurance across long distances.
Ride some fine horses - from Criollos to Peruvian Pasos while you admire the incredible beauty of Patagonia, track jaguars and other wildlife in the Pantanal, visit Mayan ruins in Mexico and Belize or those of the Inca Empire in Peru, the pampas and Andes of Argentina or the vast plains of Colombia's llanos. The options are endless and if you are an equine lover, there is no better continent to enjoy some epic rides.
Argentina and Polo
Argentina is obsessed with soccer but visitors don’t realize that the sport the country truly dominates globally is polo. Polo was enthusiastically adopted by Argentines after the British began playing it in the country in the 1870s, and its popularity never waned. Polo and Argentina are a perfect fit - Argentina has a strong equestrian tradition, a temperate climate and the grassy expanse of the pampas on which to play. To breed the best pony for the sport, the native Argentine Criollo horses, known for their endurance, are crossed with English Thoroughbreds, for their speed and grace, to produce the quintessential Argentine polo pony.
Polo season in Argentina runs from October to early December. The three most important polo championships, collectively known as the ‘Triple Crown’ are all played in Buenos Aires. Two take place in the leafy suburbs of Hurlingham and Tortugas but the most celebrated tournament is the Abierto Argentino (the Argentine Open) set in Palermo’s Campo Argentina de Polo, known around the world as the ‘Cathedral of Polo’. The tournament pits eight teams against each other, providing visitors lucky enough to be in town a ringside seat to witness the high-speed drama of a match, while also getting a glimpse into the lives of Argentina’s bourgeoisie.
For those who want to try their hand in the sport, a trip to one of the polo schools or estancias just outside of Buenos Aires is a special experience. The instructor-guides give you an introduction to polo in Argentina and, of course, to the magnificent Criollo horses. Learn the basics as you take the reins of extremely well-trained horses. Prior horseback riding skills are not required as instructors, horses and equipment are available to riders of all levels. The expert instructors teach you how to ride, how to hold the stick and how to hit the ball – as you sit on a wooden horse, before moving on to a real one. Finally, end the day playing a chukka yourself, and for experienced riders, be ready to gallop! Home-made empanadas, delicious Argentine wine and a traditional asado (meat grill) are served after the lesson.
For friends or family members who do not wish to take polo lessons, they can walk around the estancia's sprawling grounds and enjoy the birdlife and nature, relax by the swimming pool, do a wine tasting, even ride one of the beginner horses or learn how to prepare and cook an authentic Argentine barbeque for the riders.