The Gaucho Trail
8 days; 6 days riding; 7 nights.
An 8-day horseback adventure across the southern grasslands of Brazil. The ultimate trail blaze for riders looking for an exciting experience living the gaucho way of life and riding gaucho style.
Brazil is a huge country and remarkably varied: Amazon rainforest and pristine sand dunes along the Atlantic coast; mighty Iguaçu Falls and the wetlands of the Pantanal; sophisticated Rio and the remote savannah of the Deep South. The landscapes are diverse and as beautiful as a film’s backdrop.
In the south cattle are still worked in the traditional ways and the horse and rider is a more effective combination than the tractor or quad bike, and make no mistake, this is for real! The hardened gauchos and their agile “Criollo” horses make a formidable combination. The “Gaucho do Brasil,” the legendary South American cowboy, chooses not to break with tradition which make the gaucho way of life the liveliest equestrian culture in the world.
The Brazilian gaucho lives in the southern states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. They all have European roots because this area was pioneered by people from Western Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries creating a recognisable tapestry of interwoven rural communities.
First …. a new word! “Fazenda” is the Portuguese word for the Spanish “hacienda” or “ranch house”. These are working cattle farms and where we’ll be spending each night. Riding days are about 6 to 7 hrs long with a long lunch and siesta most days.
Day 1: Fazenda da Chapada
We’ll meet you at the airport of Florianopolis which requires a domestic flight add-on from Rio or Sao Paulo. Transfer (3hrs drive) to Coxilha Rica, an area of grassland that resembles a sea of green as the grass sways in the breeze, about 1,000 m above sea level. Check in to Fazenda da Chapada and meet Daniel, the ranch owner, and the gauchos who will accompany you throughout the ride. After a welcome drink walk out to the corral and get acquainted with the horses. Dinner and the evening is spent around the fireside getting to know your fellow riders, guides and host. Local gaúchos might even be persuaded to perform a song or two from their repertoire. It’s a great first evening!
Day 2: Fazenda da Chapada to Fazenda Rodeio Bonito
After breakfast, we saddle-up early and leave around 09:00 heading for Fazenda Rodeio Bonito. The trail leads across wide, rolling green countryside dotted with Araucaria trees and fords crystal-clear rivers. You will never forget your first canter with your criollo horse. The trail is about 4 hrs and we should arrive in time for a typical fazenda lunch. After a good meal, and a siesta, we remount and continue to fazenda Rodeio Bonito through the beautiful landscape of Coxilha Rica.
This is the Tropeiro Trail (Tropeiro means Trooper = ‘the way of the trooper’) which is about 250 years old and is the trail gaúchos used to take cattle from Rio Grande do Sul and Argentina to Sao Paulo and Rio. Gaúchos used to drive cattle herds thousands of miles through Coxilha Rica and the State of Santa Catarina to reach market. It wasn’t just cattle either, a whole trade route emerged. The route is wide in places and much of it is paved, built by slaves.
We follow a few miles this historic route and arrive around 17:30 at Fazenda Rodeio Bonito. We are welcomed by the owner Lucia. A hearty and delicious dinner is ready and we spend the night at this traditional gaucho fazenda.
Day 3: Fazenda Rodeio Bonito
This morning we mount our criollos and trek through a rugged Coxilha landscape. We climb and descend, trot and canter, crossing rivers and seeing waterfalls. On top of a green mountain you have a fantastic panoramic view of the landscape, just you and the great outdoors! Coxilha is THE Brazilian cattle region and most cattle fazendas consist of thousands of acres and are over 200 years old. We arrive at a little farm where Dona Vera has prepared a fantastic lunch. In the afternoon we ride another 3 ½ hrs to complete the loop and return to the Fazenda Rodeio Bonito. After a refreshing shower and a delicious dinner, a soft bed awaits you at this very cozy fazenda.
Day 4: Fazenda Rodeio Bonito to Fazenda Lua Cheia
We head for the high pampas and the wonderful views as we steadily gain height. The group of horses, the gauchos, the landscape, the atmosphere in the group, the sense of freedom … nobody wants to travel back home after this trip. After a picnic lunch we continue to the next fazenda where owners Dido and Sonia have prepared the best roasted lamb in the world. Dido is a vet and loves to BBQ, a perfect combination of skills! This is also a great opportunity to sample the local brew Chimarão which is known as maté in Spanish Latin America. It’s a sort of tea but very different from good old Brooke Bond!
Day 5: Fazenda Luca Cheia to Fazenda Sâo Joâo Rancho
After breakfast we saddle our horses. Depending on the season, sometimes before heading off we give the gauchos a helping hand on the farm, rounding-up cattle or sheep on horseback. The stock are corralled for vaccination or dipping; a great opportunity to watch the gaúchos perform their daily job. Want to learn how to rope? Our gaúchos teach you the tricks of the trade! After lunch we continue our ride to the colonial Fazenda Sâo Joâo.
Upon arrival at this Portuguese style Fazenda pull off your boots, take a shower and before you know it, you’re called to the table for a good meal, a cool beer or a warming Pinga (local rum).
Day 6: Fazenda Sâo Joâo to Fazenda Ferradura
In this area we frequently encounter gauchos who are busy at work. These South American cowboys still live and work as they did a hundred years ago, gaúcho and horse matching perfectly together. Climbing and descending, one slope steeper than the other, the ride regularly invites a long canter and the horses are really fun to ride. We arrive at Fazenda Ferradura and are welcomed by the owner gaucho Benjamin Krüzen. A hearty and delicious dinner is waiting and we spent the night at this traditional fazenda.
Day 7: Fazenda Ferradura to Fazenda da Chapada
Today is the final day in the saddle and we complete the extended loop back to Fazenda da Chapada. Daniel, the owner of the farm, welcomes us back with an ice-cold Caipirinha (distilled grape juice and tonic). The ladies of the house make us a delicious lunch while the musical gauchos bring their best songs, guitar and accordion to the barn. The bottle of Pinga makes its rounds and sometimes we dare to dance! : O) It’s always such a pleasant evening, we enjoy the warm gaucho atmosphere and forge friendship.
Day 8: Fazenda da Chapada to Florianopolis airport
After our last breakfast we set off for the return drive to Florianopolis bidding farewell to the guides, gauchos and horses. If you’d care to stay longer in Brazil we can drop you off downtown in Florianópolis; others may fancy a visit to the extensive Foz do Iguaçu waterfalls, go for a samba in pulsing Rio de Janeiro, discover the 70 Islands around the colonial beach-town of Paraty, go for a jungle adventure to the Amazon, explore the colonial towns and cities along the Estrada Real in Minas Gerais or spend more time in Santa Catarina – or easiest of all, relax at one of the 40 beaches that make up Florianopolis. Too much choice! Let us know and we can help with the necessary arrangements.
End of the program.
We will do everything possible to follow the indicated itinerary, although on-the-spot changes can occur due to unforeseen circumstances, as is the case with all our rides around the world. And just like all our rides in Latin America, this is a sporty and adventurous holiday!
The “Criollo” horse is legendary! The breed in Chile has a separate stud book to the breeds in Argentina and Brazil. A Latin American breeder is able to tell t’other-from-which, but to my eye they look and ride remarkably similarly. They are an intelligent breed with outstanding stamina; they’re fast and agile and a joy to ride. If you are dreaming of a unique equestrian experience and a thoroughly authentic riding holiday, well, this is it!