Patagonia: Across the Andes.
Chile to Argentina
The challenge of this trail is coping with the wilderness and knowing you’re far from civilisation: some people may find this daunting, others find it inspirational! The route begins in the “adventure sports capital” of Chile, the lakeside town of Puerto Varas. From P. Varas we head in a easterly direction, inland towards the Andes, weaving between snow-capped volcanos and crossing a huge lake to reach the roadhead. Here we meet the horses and set off on an epic trail to the Argentine border. Cross the border by jet-boat and drive the final short leg to Bariloche in Argentina, where the journey ends. The days are fairly long but not that strenuous because the horses are a pleasure to ride, the tack is comfy and the service from the gauchos superlative. This is an opportunity to explore the Andes Mountains in Patagonia, riding alongside gauchos and experiencing beautiful, remote Patagonia a long way from the tourist centres.
[“gaucho” = cowboy of the Argentine pampas. “Vaquero” is the Spanish word for cowboy. In Chile they say “Huaso” and “baquero” or “baquianos” pl.]
Day 1 Puerto Varas
The ride begins at your hotel in Puerto Varas where you meet your guide and the driver. After breakfast load the truck and begin the three hour drive to the road-head where the horses are waiting. It’s a stunning drive between snow-capped volcanos, skirting lakes and weaving through pristine Valdivian Forest. The road reaches the Reloncaví Fjord and lake Tagua-Tagua. We pause on the shore for a picnic lunch and this is a great opportunity to talk about your riding experience, with the owner of the horses, which helps her match horse to rider. Board the small ferry for the 45 min crossing. Disembark and drive for another hour or so to the trailhead where we rendez-vous with baquianos and the Creole horses.
The first task is to cross the River Puelo, just as the locals do: the horses swim on long lines and the riders jump into the boat with the tack. This is the Puelo River which we will cross several times in the next few days. Once on the far bank we ride for about 1 ½ to 2 hrs to reach Tino’s (below, red shirt) farmhouse, home for the first night. (B, L, T, D)
Timing: 4 to 5 hrs by car, 45 minutes by ferry, 5 mins small boat and 2 hrs riding.
Day 2 Into the Ventisqueros Valley
After a homemade breakfast head out to the farm stable where the “baquianos” will have prepared the packhorses. Luggage is packed onto packhorses while riders busy themselves packing saddlebags with camera, waterbottle and wet weather gear. Saddles are adjusted and stirrups tweaked and we’re ready for Patagonia. The destination today is to reach the Ventisqueros Valley. The trail leads through immense forests of sequoia and mighty pines; we ford several rivers which are upwards of 100 metres wide, briskly flowing and crystal clear. Every now and again we will ride passed tiny self-sufficient farms; some thriving and others that have been abandoned. Stop for lunch and relax. In the afternoon, we ford the Ventisqueros River, but not before a safety chat. The ride takes us to a remote farm, where the owner will lodge us for 2 nights. (B, BL, T ,D)
Timing: 6 to 7 hrs riding.
Day 3 To the Rio Blanco glacier
After breakfast and packing saddlebags, we set off on a circle ride, so the packhorses get a break and remain at home in the paddock. Crossing the Ventisqueros River once more we reach a trail on the far bank that allows to approach the glacier further up the valley. The valley turns wild and remote, with an incredible flora and devoid of human inhabitants. We reach the Alerce forests with trees that once reached 70 m and higher. A forest fire in the 1970’s destroyed much of the forest, but it has recovered well in the last 45 years and is approaching its former, massive, glory. Box lunch at the highest point of the trail, where we can get no closer to the glacier and time to relax on the riverbank. Ride back to the farmhouse. Later there is a chance to walk around the hacienda and chill on the veranda. (B ,BL ,T ,D)
Timing: 4 hrs riding
Day 4 Ride to Lago Las Rocas.
This morning we have a full day in the saddle: the trail leads us across “La Pasarela del Rio Puelo” a suspension bridge which is crucial for communication between local communities. This area is particularly spectacular and we pass a huge waterfall hidden in the forest. Stop for a picnic lunch near the bridge. In the afternoon ride along old trails that were originally cut by the early pioneer families who moved into this land less than 150 years ago. The trail emerges on the lakeshore, where we rendez vous with a motor launch that whisks us across the mirrored surface of Lago Las Rocas to an island way off shore: a private retreat that is just perfect. The horses, meanwhile, are corralled on the mainland. Welcome to Bandurrias Island. Accommodation and a great dinner at this enchanting and cosy cottage. We stay here two nights. (B ,BL ,T ,D)
Timing: 6 to 7 hrs riding.
Day 5 Explore Lago Azul
Another fantastic adventure awaits: this is the second circle ride, so once more the packhorses get a break! The trail leads uphill, touching a 4×4 piste road on occasion, to reach a steep descent down to the lakeshore. “Lago Azul” (the blue lake) has crystal clear water, so clean you can drink it, and abundant fish life. Majestic peaks and stunning landscapes surround it and it’s a perfect spot for picnic and a while to relax on the shore. After lunch our ride takes us deep into the forest using a more direct route to the southern tip of Lago Las Rocas. The ancient Alerce trees (Fitzroya Cupresoide) are huge and have never been logged in this area; other notable trees are giants such as the “Coihue” and “Arrayanes”(the cold tree). After leaving the horses in the corral we will return back to the Island, approaching from the opposite direction, and enjoy the rest of the afternoon there. You can swim here, but it’s bracing! (B, BL, T, D)
Timing: 5 to 6 hrs riding.
Day 6 The end of the trail.
(High water option; ends Bariloche): after breakfast set sail from Bandurrias Island for the last time and cross Las Rocas Lake to the corral. Saddle-up and set off for the source of the Puelo River, the Inferior Lake. The Puelo River lies ahead and you’ll see glimpses from time to time through the forest. The trail guides us to the Chilean border police station which must be one of the most remote and most beautiful of any border post anywhere in the world.
We reach “Retén de Carabineros Paso El Bolsón” where we exit Chile. A short ride leads down to the shore of Lago Inferior and the waiting jet-boat. This is Puerto El Retén where we leave our horses. At the other end of the lake we need to mount some rapids and sometimes, depending on water levels, we need to disembark and portage around the rapids. Other times there is enough water to continue straight up through the white-water. The rapids are the natural border between Chile and Argentina. Enter the much larger Lake Puelo which is an Argentinean National Park and cross to the far side. After going through the Argentine border formalities, a privatetruckn will be waiting to take us to El Bolsón. Lunch at a great local restaurant and time for buying souvenirs and exploring. Travel on to San Carlos de Bariloche where the trip ends.
Timing:1.5 hrs riding, 30 minutes motorboat, private transfer to the town of El Bolsón, 20 minutes, and 2 ½ hours to the town of San Carlos de Bariloche. (B, L)
End of our services in Bariloche.
(Low water option; ends Puerto Varas): after breakfast set sail from Bandurrias Island for the last time and cross Las Rocas Lake to the shore. Saddle up and ride along the valley to a small farm called La Collina (1 hr) which is where we leave the horses and say farewell to the baqueros. Rendez-vous with the 4X4’s and drive back to Lake Tagua Tagua for the 45 min crossing back to the ‘mainland’. A mini-bus will take us back through the Valdevian forest to P. Varas where the ride ends.
Timing: 1 hr ride; 30 mins drive; 45 min ferry crossing; private transfer to the town of Puerto Varas 3 ½ hours (B, L)
End of our services in Puerto Varas.
We can of course arrange onward travel; additional accommodation in Chile and Argentina or any other private travel arrangements.
Full board throughout (including 1 bottle of wine shared between 3 riders at dinner whilst riding).
Local guides, baquianos or “Huasos” and tour leader (French & English speaking).
VHF radio communication equipment throughout for emergency use.
Saddle horses and packhorses.
All In/out private transfers by minibus, motor boats and ferry crossings.
International flights (please call us to discuss the options)
Visas (Not required for British passport holders)
Travel insurance (mandatory)
Tips for guides
If you would like to stay on after the ride, or fly out early, no problem! Venture Co specialise in tailor-made travel. We have our own ATOL license and take care of every aspect of this itinerary in-house. We have a wealth of wonderful ideas to personalise your holiday and create an adventure that is as unique as you! Call us to talk through some ideas.
Terrain: The ride is exciting but not too demanding; saddle time per day varies and some days will be fairly long. There are several river crossings which are great fun and allow riders to experience the local way of doing things. There will be steep up-hills and undulating terrain which can make the going tougher than you might be used to, particularly if the weather is not good. This adventure ride is an excellent way of combining lots of different terrain and being able to ride one of the toughest horse breeds in the world. Clients may canter (short distances) on open ground, trot in the forest, or simply enjoy the ride at their own relaxing pace.
Pace: 10% Canter, 20% Trot, 40% long Trot, 30 % walk.
Hours riding: between 4 and 7 hours per day.
Horse Breed: The Creole is extremely strong and loyal. It has a low metabolism, a high threshold for discomfort, a great immunity to disease and a remarkable rate of recuperation. Their hooves are strong and their thick coat makes them well suited for both cold and dry/hot weather. The Chilean breed is the oldest registered Creole breed, the oldest registered horse breed of South America, the oldest registered stock horse breed in all the Americas and the third oldest horse breed of any kind in all the Western Hemisphere. The Argentinean Creole is similar and is equally able to adapt to its environment. The breed originated from Barb and Andalusian horses imported by the Spanish conquerors, before becoming feral. The Creole served the partisans in their quest for freedom in the 19th century. The Gauchos claimed the breed for their own about 120 years ago and developed the horses we see today.
Tack: loosely based on the Macllelan cavalry saddle, with local adaptions. Chilean saddles are used in Chile and endurance saddles in Argentina. Both are designed for comfort over long distances. I think there is no need to bring a seat-saver or comfy-rumps because the saddles are so comfy.
Best Season to ride: November to late March. Outside these months the rivers become difficult to ford and roads can become tricky due to rainwater erosion. December to January can bring a few horse flies and the end of February to March wasps are around on the trail. They don’t cause too many problems but if you are allergic you may consider bringing antihistamine.
Accommodation: We overnight in a variety of places:
3 nights at local farmhouses – rustic, clean rooms mainly as twin, triple or quad rooms with shared facilities and hot showers
2 nights at a private retreat; Las Bandurrias Island.
Is not available
Only experienced guides with extensive local knowledge are employed. They hold a certificate in WFR (wilderness first responder) and are friendly, great fun and highly passionate about the Puelo Valley. Guides are trained to stay a step ahead and offer help and assistance to ensure the trip runs smoothly.
Local “Huaso” guides or “baquianos” will always be there to help and look after you. They are a great support for the whole group and well attuned to the regional climate. They also have an uncanny sense of predicting the weather!
Rider’s weight: Due to the size of the Creole horse, riders over 90Kg/198lb are required to have an extra horse to allow alternation between morning and afternoon. This will incur an additional cost.
Minimum Number: 4