The Gaucho Way
14 DAY Horse Ride IN CHILE, PATAGONIA
Explore an untouched and largely unknown part of wild Patagonia. The Gaucho Way is our signature route. It follows traditional routes used by the Gauchos, Chilean cowboys who are friends and neighbors. On horseback, they herd cattle to market and return to their homesteads with flour, sugar, yerba mate and other sundries. The Gaucho Way denotes both their passage through the mountain landscape and their distinctive, gracious culture. We ride through beautiful valleys, lush forests, craggy mountain trails, and sandy beaches all with the Northern Patagonia Icefield rising 10,000 feet above you.
The horse is one of the most salient features of everyday rural life and to ride a horse in the vast expanse of wild Patagonia is more than a simple adventure. It is also a chance to become momentarily immersed in the distinctive and gracious culture of the local cowboys, or gauchos, and to be offered a glimpse into one of the most traditional cultures of Chilean society.
Day by Day at a Glance:
- Day 1: Depart country of origin on international flight to Santiago, Chile (SCL).
- Day 2: Arrive Santiago. Domestic flight to Balmaceda Regional Airport (BBA). Private transfer to Puerto Tranquilo. Overnight in Pto. Tranquilo at Local Guest Cabin or Bed and Breakfast.
- Day 3: View Marble Chapels by Boat. Picnic lunch at Confluencia with optional day hike or game viewing in Patagonia National Park. Private transfer to Puerto Bertrand. Overnight Pto. Bertrand at Local Guest Cabin or Bed and Breakfast.
- Day 4: Full-day trek with two short boat shuttles. 7 km. (4.5 mi.). Overnight Tent Camp at Cacho Ranch.
- Day 5: Full-day trek. 12 km. (7 mi.). Overnight at PF Guest House, Main Ranch.
- Day 6: Day at main ranch. Options for day hike or riding. 0-18km. (0-11 mi.). Overnight at PF Guest House, Main Ranch.
- Day 7: Begin multi-day supported ride. 12 km. (7 mi.) Overnight at Tent Camp at Cacho Ranch.
- Day 8: Ride to view Northern Patagonia Icefield. 12-18 km. (7-11 mi.). Overnight Tent Camp at Glacier Camp.
- Day 9: Continue ride down valley. 12-18 km. (7-11 mi.) Overnight at Tent Camp at Cacho Ranch or alt. camp.
- Day 10: Complete ride trek. 12-16 km. (7-10 mi.) Overnight at PF Guest House, Main Ranch.
- Day 11: Day at main ranch. Options for day hike or riding. 0-18km. (0-11 mi.) Traditional Patagonia asado (BBQ). Overnight at PF Guest House, Main Ranch.
- Day 12: Boat shuttle to Puerto Bertrand. Raft the Baker River. Option for day hike or game viewing in Patagonia National Park. Overnight Pto. Bertrand at Local Guest Cabin or Bed and Breakfast.
- Day 13: Private transfer to Balmaceda Regional Airport. Domestic flight to Santiago. Begin international flight.
- Day 14: Arrive final destination.
Day 1: Depart your country of origin on an international flight to Santiago, Chile (SCL).
Day 2: Upon arrival to the Santiago airport you transfer to a domestic flight. Your driver will meet you at the regional Balmaceda airport (BBA) where you will continue your journey. You travel south on the Austral Highway on pavement and improved gravel roads. In nearly 300 kilometers of driving you pass just two small villages, Villa Cerro Castillo, at the foot of the impressive peak that gives it its name, and Puerto Río Tranquilo, a village on the shores of Lago General Carrera, Chile’s largest lake and South America’s second largest lake.
After checking in to your accommodations, the evening may be spent relaxing or taking a stroll about the lakeshore and town.
You overnight in Puerto Tranquilo.
Driving time is approximately four hours.
Day 3: Following breakfast you’ll depart by boat to explore the fascinating and labyrinthine intricacies of the Marble Chapel and Marble Cathedral along the lake’s coastline towards the south. After the boat tour your journey continues south, poised between the profound blue waters of the lake and the sharp, snowy peaks flanking the Northern Patagonia Icefield. You arrive at the tiny hamlet of Puerto Bertrand, located at the headwaters of the Baker River, Chile’s largest volume river, a world-class fishery and the centerpiece of a dormant, yet contentious dam-building project by the Spanish energy consortium Endesa.
You’ll enjoy a picnic lunch viewing the mighty Confluencia, the junction of the Baker and Nef rivers as they thunder over a precipitous drop. You’re also close by to the Chacabuco valley, site of the newly formed Patagonia National Park, an excellent spot for game viewing guanaco, condor, fox and other wildlife.
You overnight in Puerto Bertrand.
Driving time is approximately three hours.
Day 4: After breakfast and final preparations for your first two days of trekking, you depart mid-morning, taking a short boat shuttle to the start of the hike. Your way follows a trail up and down along the lakeshore as you hike stock trails, carrying daypacks loaded only with essential items. The rest of the luggage, equipment and food comes by horseback or boat under the watchful eyes of our horse packers and staff. This leaves you free for exploring and adventure. A short boat shuttle is required towards the end of the day depending upon the final path chosen to your tent camp for the night.
Trekking distance is approximately 7 kilometers (4.3 mi).
Day 5: Today holds a spectacular segment of your trek. Your way rises up intermittently forested slopes to a high shoulder overlooking the joining of waters between Lago Bertrand and Lago Plomo. These waters connect through a breach in the long, narrow moraine that forms a peninsula separating the two lakes. This short gap clearly demarcates where the deep blue of Lago Bertrand abruptly changes to the jade green of Lago Plomo.
After the trail’s initial ascent, you hike along rocky outcroppings, across high alpine valleys, and through enchanted forests of moss-covered beech trees. The glaciated peaks are at your shoulder and the waters of the lake are below your feet. Keep an eye skyward in search of an Andean condor with its distinctively broad wingspan. As we near the lake’s end you view far up the wide Solér Valley floor and beyond to where the afternoon sun stands watch over the enormous expanse of the Patagonia Icefield summits.
Finish the day with a descent past a marble outcropping, sculpted by time and the elements, and walk across forested pasture to the dock, boats, houses and barns of the main ranch, all of which you’ve been glimpsing from a distance. It will be a long, satisfying day finished with a wholesome meal, a glass of fine Chilean wine, and falling asleep in the rustic, comfortable guest house while listening to the horses soft grazing on home pasture.
Trekking distance is approximately 12 kilometers (7 mi.).
Day 6: Today you’ll meet some of the ranch’s sturdy Criollo mounts and become familiar with the comfortable Gaucho tack. Plan on riding and exploring as you get to know the horses and some of the surrounding terrain.
The horse is one of the most salient features of everyday rural life here and visitors soon notice the ubiquitous mount, saddled and waiting outside each sparsely scattered homestead. Here, the relationship between horse and rider begins early in life. It is no surprise to come across a child atop a horse, far from anybody, confidently riding along a mountain path.
In the evening loads are prepared for panniers and packhorses that will accompany you on the next portion of your trip. You spend the night in the guest house.
Riding distance is approximately 0-18 kilometers (0-11 mi.).
Day 7: Begin the day with yerba mate, a bitter tea sipped from a gourd through a metal straw. It is a traditional start to any Patagonia day and an important social custom. After a hearty breakfast the horses are saddled, the packhorses loaded with food and camping gear, and you begin your trek.
The long valleys, lush temperate forests and mountain peaks offer a wide variety of terrain in which to ride and it’s not uncommon to see soaring condors. The varied terrain means that you’ll be able to experience everything from craggy mountain trails to long, sandy beaches, and always with a backdrop of the majestic mountain panorama.
Tonight’s destination is situated on the banks of the Cacho River at the beginning of another Patagonia Frontiers ranch. This tent camp is located just beyond the intersection of two large valleys facing each other across the Solér Valley floor. This is one of our favorite spots in the valley and we always sense energy here, be it from the massive peaks, the open space, the flowing water, or the pristine landscape. There’s contentment here in an evening fire, enjoying good company, and watching the horses graze against a slowly darkening backdrop that reveals southern stars above white, jagged peaks.
Riding distance is approximately 12 kilometers (7 mi.).
Day 8: Mate and breakfast are around a campfire this morning as you watch the long, creeping approach of the morning’s sun slip down from the peak tops to the valley floor. Today, you ride and explore an untouched depth of wild Patagonia that is seldom revealed.
If the day is clear your views will encompass the immediately surrounding peaks and glaciers, five and six thousand feet in elevation above you, as well as the awe-inspiring and formidable Northern Patagonia Icefield with Cerro Hyades standing firm at the head of the Cacho Valley. The difference in elevation between the valley floor at the far end of our Cacho Ranch and the summit of this colossal peak is 10,000 feet!
Along the way is old-growth forest of Coigüe, or Dombey’s beech, with its elegant branches and thick, lustrous evergreen leaves. The large Magellanic woodpecker is frequently seen here, or heard, with its resoundingly deep echo reverberating through the air as it searches for grubs in the ruin of aged trunks. This is also home to the endangered huemul, or South Andean Deer, as well as predators such as Geoffroy’s Cat, Patagonian Fox and Puma. Hidden in plain view, inconspicuous amongst the grandeur of so much else, is a marble mountainside.
You overnight at the Glacier tent camp. Riding distance will vary and is approximately 12-18 kilometers (7-11 mi.).
Day 9: The night’s long song of rumbling ice falls and murmuring tree branches gives way to the crackle of campfire and early morning calls of the Chucao and Hued-Hued. Weather, river levels, equine health as well as the group’s energy ultimately influence our route today. When conditions permit you may reach as far as the massive glacier’s edge before continuing towards the main Solér Valley.
Perhaps you’ll have an opportunity to pass by one of our few neighbor’s homesteads, subsistence ranches deep in the wilderness and enclaves of human presence and affable hospitality.
Your tent camp location will be chosen based on conditions. Riding distance will vary and is approximately 12-18 kilometers (7-11 mi.).
Day 10: As the sunlight edges toward camp from across the river you’ll sip yerba mate around the morning fire and marvel as the light plays over the peaks of snow, ice and rock. There’s plenty of time to enjoy the morning routine before packing camp, and heading back home down valley. There’s no hurry to depart, yet eventually you travel one of several routes down valley to the main ranch.
Riding distance is approximately 12-16 kilometers (7-10 mi.).
Day 11: This morning you may choose to be leisurely, active or somewhere in between. In the afternoon we enjoy a customary Patagonian barbecue, or asado. Guests, staff and neighbors traditionally all share in this feast of meat, slow-roasted over an open fire, new potatoes, fresh salads from the greenhouse, bread and wine. Don’t be surprised to find yourself staying up late listening to the strumming of a guitar and a soft, Spanish melody.
Trekking/Riding distance is approximately 0-18 kilometers (0-11 mi.).
Day 12: Breathe in this morning’s clean, cool air. Spend the morning taking a stroll along the beach, or through the orchards, gardens and greenhouses. Take a walk in the pasture and share a moment with the horses, or simply relax as you prepare to say goodbye to the ranch and shuttle by boat to Puerto Bertrand. The dock there is the departure point for a whitewater rafting descent of the crystal-clear powerhouse that is the Baker River.
You overnight in Puerto Bertrand and freshen up in a local guest cabin, or bed and breakfast.
Day 13: Your driver will meet you for the return north directly to the regional Balmaceda airport, your domestic flight to Santiago and international departure.
Day 14: Arrive final destination.
We hope that this sample itinerary highlights what this trip offers. Ideally, each trip is best crafted by working together with our guests and clients. Each trip’s length, activity types, and skill level may be adapted to meet a party’s goals and desires.
Whether you choose an established itinerary or create one of your own, our commitment is to accommodate your interests and to provide you with a thoroughly enjoyable, safe and memorable experience. We look forward to hosting you at our wilderness ranch home.
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