Sprinkled throughout South America, from the wilds of Patagonia in the south to Venezuela in the far north, are privately owned working ranches. Known as estancias in Argentina and fazendas in Brazil, those which have opened their doors to visitors offer a privileged window into traditional rural life and a chance to really get to grips with these vast countries.
In direct contrast to a typical hotel experience, in staying on an estancia you are often plunged into family life, share a common table for meals, muck in with farm activities while being able to choose to ride, go fishing, help round up cattle or spend a leisurely afternoon by the pool or swinging from a hammock - all without leaving the confines of the property. This is very much the charm and appeal of an estancia stay.
It’s in the countryside, and these working ranches particularly, where the true beating heart and spirit of South America truly resides – in the vast open spaces, riding for miles without experiencing a fence, sharing a delicious traditional asado barbeque and in the culture and faces of the people who call it home.
The gauchos, or cowboys (vaqueros in northern Brazil and huasos in Chile) who work these vast estates, always on horse-back, are a tough bunch who have developed their own distinct culture and dress. Riding out with these proud people, watching them at work, hearing their stories, perhaps taking part in a cattle-round ups, go some way to explaining why we are such big fans and often suggest including an estancia stay.
Each farm is quite distinct, not only geographically but also with regards its setting, standards and the activities it provides; as such it’s critical for us to know each one personally so we can match you with the correct one. While most are set within extensive estates, there is huge variation from opulent estancias on The Pampas and outside Cordoba to far more modest one’s, particularly in parts of Patagonia.
In Argentina, those interested in trying their hand at polo should head out into the flatlands of The Pampas where there’s a wide selection of estancias, many of which have immaculately manicured polo pitches. If you’re keen to explore from the saddle with the chance to also cast a fly, Patagonia has some fantastic estancias, while the estancias of Cordoba specialise in dove shooting. Alternately an estancia stay can easily be incorporated into a Northwest Argentina itinerary, a fascinating corner of the country with a strong Andean flavour which very much sets it apart from the rest of the country.
The Pantanal in Brazil, the vast wetlands area, is arguably the best place in which to experience fazenda life. Often very remote and accessible only by light aircraft for much of the year due to the flood waters, these ranches offer a very different side to Brazil than the bright lights of Rio and Sao Paulo – traditional, small in scale, owner run and always very welcoming. Arriving by plane onto a private grass runway, surrounded by vast wilderness with a plethora of game to enjoy while exploring on foot, by boat, on horseback or by jeep – its as close as South America gets to an African safari.
For more details of how to incorporate a stay at a working ranch, estancia or fazenda into your South American trip please do get in touch.
By Marcela Kunova - 20th April 2017
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