Epic Adventures Los Glaciares

Horseriding with gauchos in Los Glaciares

When it comes to experiencing the great outdoors, for some people it’s a case of two legs good but four legs better. I love to ride even more than I love to hike – and Patagonia is a brilliant place for horseback riding. 

To get the most out of my time in the saddle on my most recent trip to Argentina, I joined our Riding to Hidden Glaciers trip in Los Glaciares National Park, which gave me four full days in the saddle to explore the wilderness and connect with the gaucho culture of the Patagonia frontier: Argentina’s original cowboys. 

Saddling up

The trail began at Estancia Nibepo Aike, just over an hour’s drive from the Los Glaciares gateway city of El Calafate (and also near to the spectacular Perito Moreno glacier). The estancia is more than a century old and is still a working ranch, raising several thousand head of sheep as well as a much-prized herd of Hereford cows. 

Estancia Nibepo Aike

Despite its proximity to the city, Estancia Nibepo Aike feels very much like a defiant wilderness outpost. It sits on the shores of Lago Argentino at the end of a long gravel road, with the vast Cordon de los Cristales rising up above to dwarf the collection of ranch buildings. It felt like the perfect landscape to explore by horse. 

We were met by our guide Juani, who was dressed for the occasion like a true gaucho in beret, poncho and sturdy bombachas de campo trousers tucked into his boots. As we gathered around him at the fence of a corral, he introduced us to our horses and the way that riding in Argentina might differ from how we had experienced it in other countries. 

Horse and tack

Our horses were criollos, an Argentinian breed descended from the wild horses who had escaped during the first Spanish attempt to form a colony in Buenos Aires in the 1540s. They’re the classic gaucho horse: famously strong and sturdy, and perfectly adapted to their environment with the ability to ride for days in the toughest of conditions. Our ride was just going to be four days, but it was good to know we’d be with such renowned animals. 

Criollo horse

My horse was a grey-brown dun mare with a dark mane – a rare colour in European horses but apparently common among criollos. Her shade also gave her her name: Lobuna, from the colour of a wolf. I looked forward to getting to know her over the course of the trip. 

Juani also gave us a close tour of the horse tack. The biggest difference in riding in Argentina to other countries is the saddle. Instead of the classical lightweight European riding saddle or the sturdier American saddle of cowboys and dude ranches, the Argentinian gaucho saddle (called a recado saddle) is a more intricate affair. It is made up of several layers of blankets, saddle pads, a leather seat and a sheepskin, and is designed to serve as a gaucho’s bed when he’s out on the range as well as his horseback throne during the day. 

Chloe and Lobuna

With that, we were ready to head out into the wilderness. I put my foot in Lobuna’s stirrup and pulled myself up. Holding the reins loosely in one hand in the approved gaucho manner, as Juani instructed us, we gently made our way out of the ranch. 

Out on the trail

We followed a trail that led along the lakes before riding through lenga and guindo trees. We were making our way to La Rosada, a puesta or outpost – a simple building where the gauchos stay when looking after their herds. A short ride away was the International Milestone, a simple post marking the frontier between Argentina and Chile. With no border guard in sight, Lobuna walked me across the border and then back again. There was no need for passports in the saddle apparently. 

Lakeside trails

The recado saddle proved incredibly comfortable. It was all too easy to believe Juani when he told us that gauchos often slept in them, safe in the knowledge that their smart criollo mounts would take care of the essential business. The only major difference I noticed in the way I normally ride is that I like to stand in the saddle when I’m trotting, while the gaucho style demands that you sit down. 

A gaucho puesto, or outpost

The terrain gently rolled out before us as we explored the area around the outpost. It was the sort of undulating landscape that a hiker might be itching to escape from to get into the mountains that were our constant backdrop. For a rider however, it was perfect. Your experience is totally transformed when you’re in the saddle with a light wind in your hair and the sound of a horse’s hooves beneath you. 

Close to nature

I feel a lot closer to nature on the back of a horse. And nature can feel a lot closer to you. Birds on the ground or in the bushes don’t rise up into the sky so quickly as you approach like they do when you’re hiking. The next day we rode along the shores of a lake where flamingos, ducks and geese barely looked up at us as they fed. 

The gaucho life

At other times the focus shifted from wildlife to livestock as we rode with cows and their calves and Juani told us about gaucho lore and the best way to round up a bull that had gone wild. That was one tradition we were happy not to have to try. 

Lobuna was a delight to ride and over the next few days we were able to build up a good and trusting relationship. As long as I didn’t try to make her cross any water that is. I soon discovered that she really didn’t like getting her feet wet, and we had to have a patient discussion every time we had to ford a river. 

Gaucho outposts

At the end of each day we slept in one of the outposts. To call these huts simple would almost be an understatement, but I absolutely loved them. Call them million star accommodation, sheltering under the greatest starry skies that Patagonia could summon. 

The outpost kitchen table

Made of simple wood and corrugated metal, they were surprisingly cosy inside, with simple bunks and a long kitchen table next to an impressively ancient-looking cast iron stove. After a day’s riding, we would lead our horses into the corral and brush them down before carefully stowing the intricate layers of our saddles.

Then it was a lovely evening around the kitchen table, warmed by the fire while a pot of stew bubbled on the stove for our dinner and fresh bread baked in the oven. Every night we would almost lick our plates clean before passing around the mate to drink. Riding in Patagonia definitely gives you a good appetite. 


In total Lobuna and I spent four days riding together through firebush and calafate scrub, under glaciers and past lagoons and forests. I was sorry to say goodbye to her when we got back to the estancia. After many attempts I had finally even got the hang of putting together her saddle. 

Lobuna leading me home to Nibepo Aike

As we rode into Nibepo Aike, there were a few flakes of snow on the wind. It was still summer and a useful reminder that however cosy the outposts had been for our stay, they would have felt very different after a long winter of rounding up livestock. But for a few days at least, the chance to follow their life on the saddle felt like a wonderful escape from busy modernity. 


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Chloe Mazille

Swoop Patagonia Specialist

Chloe grew up in the French Alps but has lived in Chile since 2012. She has hiked and ridden extensively throughout Patagonia and is also a keen long-distance runner, having competed in marathons from Chicago to Helsinki as well in her Santiago home.