Estancias, or ranches, play a huge part in Argentina's culture, economy and history. In the early days these establishments were responsible for making Argentina one of the biggest meat and grain producers in the world. These enormous ranches dotted the entire countryside and are to this day where the best steaks in the world come from. For Argentines, superlative beef is not just a pastime but a national obsession, with more than 50 different cuts of meat that are offered in many restaurants.
Estancias also give tourists a rare opportunity to stay as a guest at a working ranch and to experience the unique gaucho culture in a tranquil and beautiful setting of untamed countryside. Most estancias are over two hundred years old and still maintain a daily way of life that is firmly grounded in traditional practices and values. Many are restored colonial houses, and each is unique.
Gauchos in Argentina
The typical Argentine estancia is a mansion in a combination of French, English, or colonial architectural styles, with the main residence usually having been converted to receive guests. These elegant and historic buildings overlook vast expanses of countryside where cattle, sheep, goats, and horses graze.
Estancias also are known for their excellent cooking, especially when it comes to barbeque, which usually means fresh local meats of lamb and beef with vegetables from the garden. Some chefs may even let you in on their recipes. It is also common to see a group of people at a fire playing the guitar in the evenings. If you know Spanish and can hold a tune, expect to be asked to join in!
Gauchos, much like the American Cowboy, have become a national icon, their lives retold in stories and legends. However, what passes for myth in the United States is very much reality in Argentina. Today they are still very much an integral part of the working estancia. Also like the cowboys, gauchos are master horsemen. It is typical to see a jaw-dropping taming or a horse show arranged in many towns on a daily basis, as well as impromptu ones staged out in the fields during the cattle drives.
What to Expect on your Estancia Visit
While some are known more for their horseback riding activities and facilities, all estancias invite guests to experience their unique culture. You'll get a giant-sized taste of asado, traditional Argentine barbeque, empanadas (stuffed bread or pastry) and plenty of other local specialties, which often include dishes for which Argentina is not as well known for such as finest freshwater fish offerings. You'll also get a glimpse of daily ranch life, which may include an Argentine tango and gaucho show in the evening.
Specialized Estancias: Horseback Riding and Showmanship
Horseback riding has played a huge role in life at an estancia and is one of the most popular ways to explore the vast regions of Argentina. Some estancias specialize in breeding horses and offer ideal conditions for travelers wanting the ultimate horseback riding vacation. Ranging from beginner to expert levels, these ranches usually offer guided trail rides, polo lessons, and a chance to ride along with the gauchos as they go about their daily ranch activities. There are even a few that will let small groups of guests take on roles almost to the point of being a gaucho for a week or more. At the other extreme, some ranches also have their own tack shops and will outfit a guest in gaucho apparel and equipment whether he or she ever rides a horse. Those estancias that cater more to serious riders tend to be located to the north and far south of Buenos Aires while dude ranches can be found on the outskirts of almost all major cities in Argentina.
Other estancias, while offering horseback riding for guests, also have regularly scheduled events on site that demonstrate the unique skill of the estancia's gauchos. On these ranches, a visitor usually will see gauchos displaying their world-class horsemanship as they break a young horse or display showmanship of their considerable equestrian talents. Many of these incorporate other cultural aspects of ranch life, such as songs, dances and games, into group activities. Thanks to their innate appeal to many tourists, these specialized estancias are found primarily around Buenos Aires and Bariloche.
Horseback Riding in Argentina
Estancia Locations and Activities
Estancias are found all over Argentina, from the Pampas outside of Buenos Aires to the mountains of southernmost Patagonia. Being located in such a beautiful natural setting makes estancias excellent places for all types of outdoor activities, including horseback riding on trails or, for the more adventurous, with the gauchos on a cattle drive. You can choose to join in on the daily activities of the ranch hands at different levels of participation. Many other excursions, such as whitewater rafting, bird watching, hunting or fishing, golf, tennis, are available depending on the location of the particular estancia.
Bariloche Estancias El Calafate Estancias Tierra del Fuego Estancias Peninsula Valdes Estancias Mendoza Estancias
Finding an Estancia near Buenos Aires
For many visitors, a trip to Argentina means a stay in and around Buenos Aires. For those looking for equestrian showmanship or opportunities to soak up the estancia culture without the need to test their horseback riding skills, there are dozens of locations within an hour's drive west and southeast of the city. Most large hotels in Buenos Aires will know how to reach these places and may even have shuttles available for weekend transport.
For a more complete visit, you can stay for a number of days in the acres and acres of the rolling fields known as the Pampas, arguably the true home of Argentina's estancia traditions. This still largely untouched land is a great place for eco-tourism adventures and discovering the way of life of the gauchos. The beautiful, peaceful countryside is dotted with several places to relax and sample life as it was almost three centuries ago. Many of these more traditional, working estancias, some of which are large enough to rank as kingdoms in their own right, offer their guests all of the amenities found in luxury hotels, but in the tranquility of a rural setting.
Buenos Aires Relaxation Estancias Buenos Aires Riding Estancias
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