Riding horses in Patagonia
Part Two of my holiday saw me join a tour of Torres del Paine national park and surrounding area on horse-back. I spent one night in Punta Arenas and had a very quick look around the town in the morning before catching the bus to Peurto Natales.
The bus winds its way through miles and miles of nothing, pampas grassland, with a huge sky arching overhead. I nodded off, warm in the sunshine steaming in the window, waking as we turned the corner into the town. I was met at the bus station and driven to the hostel, which was a welcome change from finding things myself!
That first evening I met the rest of the group: two French, one Swiss, one American, and our Chilean guide. We had a trail briefing and went to dinner together. Up early the next morning we spent several hours on a boat traveling up to Glacier Serrano, where, after a really quick look at the glacier itself, we met our horses and the adventure began.
The first day follows a narrow trail through the forest alongside the river Serrano, and past Lago Brush. The pace was very sedate due to the narrowness of the trail and some steep sections. Unfortunately I became violently ill shortly after lunch (stomach upset), so I couldn’t enjoy the afternoon, and missed the next days ride (apparently Glacier Grey is spectacular!). Fortunately the scenery from the campground gave some relief as I waited to feel better.
The next day I was back in the saddle for the ride from Rio Serrano to Estancia Laguna Amarga. Pitufo was a lovely horse, really solid & reliable feeling but easy to move into a gallop, and not too bouncy when doing that endless jog trot that Patagonia horses are trained to do – it covers a lot of ground but my god it can hurt!
This was a mixed day, some fast riding in open grassland just inside the national park administration station, some more calm sections up among the lakes, and then more hard galloping down to the estancia. The sun shone on us still, we had a lovely picnic, and some of the wildlife even deigned to pose for photos!
The next day was the beginning of the wild-camping part of the adventure, two nights in a gorgeous flower meadow at Lago Paine, with an excursion to view lake & glacier Dickson. The ride in was another very fast day and the famous Patagonian wind picked up as we galloped, blowing great clouds of dust into our eyes. Unfortunately the day of the excursion was wet and wild, especially at the lake Dickson end of the trail, so the glacier was only a grey blob in the clouds.
Emerging from the wilderness we changed horses to those owned by our next hosts, Estancia Tercera Barranca. The horse I got felt very tall and a bit fidgety after the completely solid Pitufo, ‘un poco loco’ as the guide said. But we navigated the river crossing and technical terrain up onto the pampas without incident. Another campsite with gorgeous views but very very exposed to the wind and the cooking shelter was very drafty.
The final two days riding took a slightly different format. We drove to meet horses at Estancia Las Chinas in the Sierra Baguales and took a ride high into the mountains, a crazy moonscape of rock and sand. This was the coldest day so far, I was in my down vest all day…
… But the next day topped that, we got SNOWED on while visiting the condor lookout at Laguna Sophia. Definitely all 4 seasons in one week given that I was riding in a t-shirt at the beginning of the trip!
All in all I had a wonderful time, there is something really special about seeing wild country from horseback, a connection to the way things might’ve been in years gone by, and a good balance between being able to see all the interesting plants and animals while covering more distance in a day than you would on foot.