Riding in Uruguay
A fast-paced ride across estancias and along the beaches of Uruguay, with very varied scenery and wildlife. Fixed departures in February, March and April, November and December. Operated by Sally Vergette of Ride Andes (see link).
Day 1: Met at Montevideo airport or pier, free day to explore the city and overnight in a hotel.
North of Punta
Day 2: After breakfast driven to the Brazilian border and into Rocha, arguably the most beautiful province in Uruguay with its pristine beaches, emerald shores and network of lagoons. As you arrive to the hotel you can admire the beach, have lunch and prepare for the first ride which will enable you to discover the Cerro Verde natural protected area. A beautiful setting with firm beaches, sand dunes and coastal forest. The grassy rocky headland that gives its name to the area is also the base for a sea turtles research and protection organisation (Carumbé). Gauchos and horses will be waiting for you and after a short introduction you will be riding and having your first beach canter! You pass a shipwreck buried in the sand – one of many along this treacherous coast. Polonio, where you ride later is named after a Spanish galleon that went down just off the point. Luckily Beagle with Charles Darwin aboard did not succumb to this fate and Darwin spent quite some time in Uruguay collecting species and most likely starting to formulate his theories of evolution. Most days there is a wonderful sight of dolphins feeding in the bay. Stay overnight in Parque Oceánico where you can enjoy the gardens, pools and relaxed atmosphere.
Day 3: During the morning cross La Coronilla tiny town and ride towards the Brazilian border. Enjoying a fast-pace ride, ride along the wonderful, isolated ocean beach of ‘Barra del Chuy’. Visitors seldom reach this beach so you can enjoy a long, exhilarating canter with no signs of habitation as you ride across the pure white sands alongside the Atlantic Ocean. Sometimes you go inland and you can hope to see ibis, herons, egrets, storks and a legion of migrating birds (birds arrive here from as far as Alaska and the Falkland Islands). Enjoy a picnic lunch and then after a short siesta canter back along the water’s edge to the hotel.
Day 4: Ride south, into the immense Santa Teresa National Park. The centre piece of the park is a fort started in 1762 by the Portuguese to defend the edge of their territories, then completed by the Spaniards who took it by assault just a year later. This was just the start of a succession of conquering, loosing and reconquering the fort; it was not until 1825 that the newly forming Uruguay finally captured and held the fort. From the fort there is a nice view of the famous Laguna Negra (the black lagoon, named after its dark waters). The fort is surrounded by 3,000 hectares of forest containing over 2 million trees, most of which come from other parts of the world. After a picnic lunch enjoy riding along the forest trails, down to the beach and towards Punta del Diablo fishing village. After this full day riding, meet the vehicle and head to a nearby working Estancia El Sauce for overnight.
Day 5: El Sauce is a working estancia run by its owners and you will enjoy a full day riding around the crops and very varied vegetation on the property. The estancia, built in 1920, is very comfortable – it is not a hotel but the family house where guests are invited to stay, offering you an incredible experience and a very special insight into the life in the country. The gauchos and their mate are inseparable and a ceremony has developed around drinking mate. In addition to the cattle grasslands this estancia has a large area of marshlands and also rice crops both of which are teeming with bird life (more than 400 species in this area) making another very varied ride and giving you the chance to see the graceful black-necked swan (largest populations in the world found here), the rare white goose and many ducks and other birds such as the largest bird in South America - the ostrich-like ñandú (rhea). Otters and capybaras inhabit the marshlands and streams and at several points on the trip you will see the pink flamingo – a species of flamingo with very bright pink pigment and quite common in Uruguay. Overnight is at the estancia.
Day 6: The day starts with a short drive along a scenic road where you will be able to enjoy an incredible view of the unique extensive palm groves. Despite a number of stories, no one knows how the palm trees got here! Some 300 years old, they are not native but they give the landscape a very exotic look. During the trip you will pass many roadside stalls selling the fruit and the less innocent hooch brewed from the palm nuts. The cloudy, sticky liquid is so potent that if you leave the cap off the old bottles it is sold in the liquor evaporates in a flash! Pretty close to the coast meet the horses and ride into the desert. Ride through an area which has been declared a natural animal reserve and a Biosphere Natural Reserve by UNESCO and ride towards Cabo Polonio, a charming fishing village which can only be reached by horse or four wheeled drive. The fascinating part is the huge area of shifting sand dunes and as you ride through it is possible to imagine that you are right in the middle of the Sahara. After lunch at a typical restaurant on the beach you will have the opportunity to see seals and sea lions that populate the small islands and make up one of the largest populations of seals in the world; very occasionally it is possible to spot a migrating Right Whale. After this ride full of surprises and diverse scenery stay at a lovely comfortable working estancia, El Charabón.
Day 7: Ride across the scenic estancia lands traversing the eucalyptus forests and grasslands then across the huge fields of the neighbouring estancias, towards the coast with a chance of some long canters as you ride across the flatlands. After a picnic lunch, ride back to the estancia and relax around the pool or take the minibus to the nearby beach for a late afternoon swim in the sea or stroll along the beach. Return to the estancia to watch the sunset over the surrounding hills and then gaze in awe at the star-filled southern hemisphere sky (4-6 hours riding).
Day 8: Morning riding on the 1200 hectare (2900 acre) ranch (4 hours) with the friendly gauchos with their berets, ‘bombachas' (riding trousers) and knives tucked into their colourful belts. They all seem to have been born on a horse and it's a delight to ride with them. After lunch driven back to Montevideo for onward connections.
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