Crossing the Andean Cordillera from Argentina to Chile is said to be one of the most spectacular horse-riding experiences in the world. It brings back the same odyssey that the Spanish conquistadors carried out almost 500 years ago.
This adventurous trip starts on Estancia Huechahue in Argentina, a vast working cattle ranch set on the remote edge of Patagonia. From here we head off into the snow capped Andes passes. Once over the Andes we descend into the lush temperate climate of the Chilean lake district, descending the steep slopes until we reach our end destination.
We offer 2 rides across the Andes, the one described on this page and Chile to Argentina, Across The Andes. This one, originating in Argentina, has a faster pace on is along a lower and more southerly route and can only be organised for private groups from 2014. There are no set departure dates. The Chile to Argentina one is along the original route, higher and more remote with a correspondingly slower pace and has set departure rates. See a point by point comparison of the two rides.
Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.
Review received from LH of Boston Spa on 15/02/2011
On arrival there will be a late lunch followed by an afternoon ride. A chance to familiarise yourself with the horses, the tack and the way we ride.
A full days ride on Estancia Huechahue with an "asado" lunch. Follow the Huechahue stream through its basalt canyons, riding as fast as you want across the water-meadows sending the plovers and ibis screeching, before returning over the top of Chenque Hill, where the Andes rise up behind you and the vastness of Patagonia stretches out before you.
Day 3 to Day 6
Set out from Huechahue for Chile. The next 8 days will be spent crossing from the wide open spaces of Argentine Patagonia over the Andes to the thickly forested steep slopes of Chilean Patagonia. From Huechahue you will ride for 4 days up into the Andes through the Andean Steppes, you will ford rivers, pass through Indian reservations, ride over ridges from where you think you can see the Atlantic and through magnificent rocky gorges, you will gallop across water meadows and race along sandy tracks. Nights will be spent camping by streams and rivers under the spectacular stars of the Southern hemisphere.
At lunchtime, at the base of Lanin Volcano in a forest of Monkey puzzle trees you will reach the Argentine / Chilean border, where our Chilean partners will be waiting for you. After immigration and customs formalities you will wave goodbye to Argentina and the horse that has carried you to here and you will start down the western slopes of the Andes on your Chilean mount.
Continue riding down through the magnificent Southern beech forests, with spectacular views of lakes and volcanoes. The western slopes of the Andes are much steeper, the terrain very different. Reaching the final campsite at picturesque Puente Barras, where Loth and Pamela’s families have been farming for generations.
Transfer back to Huechahue by road (about 3 hours). After a late lunch there will be a ride on the estancia. By now you will have heard of many places and you will be able to choose what you would like to see most.
A farewell ride on Huechahue before transferring to the airport.
Please follow this link for a map of the start point of this itinerary: Andes Mountain Crossing
Note: It is also possible to cross the Andes Mountain range from Chile to Argentina further north, from Santiago in Chile to Mendoza in Argentina. See our rides under Chile/Chile to Argentina - Across the Andes. This is a very historical route and over much higher passes.
You can fly to either Chapelco airport, San Martin de los Andes or Bariloche.
Transfers between Huechahue and San Martin de los Andes are included. On arrival and departure days we will be providing Bariloche transfers. These will be timed to be at Bariloche airport for 16.00 flight departures or 14.30 arrivals. We can arrange transfers at other times – please ask for rates.
If you choose to end the trip in Chile, we can organize transfers from Puente Basas to Temuco in Chile for around US$130 per transfer and to Pucón for around US$30 per transfer.
The single supplement is only charged to riders who are not willing to share.
We're avid readers here at Unicorn Trails and have selected several books connected to this ride. If you're interested in reading more about the area before you travel, or want to get into the cultural background, here are some suggestions that may inspire you. Click on the links for more information.
Gauchos and the Vanishing Frontier –Richard W Slatta
The Drunken Forest and The Whispering Land - Gerald Durrell
Saddled with Darwin: A Journey Through South America on Horseback - Toby Green
In Patagonia– Bruce Chatwin
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
In Argentina on Estancia Huechahue there are 70 home bred horses, 50 of which are ridden on the estancia. The estancia breeds Argentine Criollos, Selle Francais and some Thoroughbred crosses. There is something for everyone. The horses are ridden in bits and respond to neck reining. The saddles are local trail saddles with thick sheepskin covers. The riding is over wide open valleys and grasslands, gradually going up into the mountains. The riding is at all paces including gallop and some long days in the saddle are called for to reach overnight camping spots. The Andes Border Crossing is a ride for experienced riders who are riding fit. The first day is an 8 hour ride with 3-4 hours cantering. Once on the Chilean side, Pamela and Loth will be waiting with their string of horses. The veterinary regulations won’t let us take our mounts across. The saddles provided are Chilean called Avios. They are of Spanish origin and have been designed especially for long trips. The wooden frame, reinforced with iron is cushioned with "chiporro" and protected with leather. The other cushioning items beneath the saddle are called: batan, pellon and matra which are normally laid on ground by gauchos to provide a soft and warm bed. The stirrups are adjustable British type. The terrain becomes much steeper and more forested and the pace is dictated by the terrain on this side.
Experienced riders only for this trip who are fit enough to canter for extended periods and spend up to 8 hours / day in the saddle.
The weight limit for this ride is 14 st/198 lb/90 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
The accommodation at the estancia is very comfortable. There are 8 twin bedded rooms with private bathrooms. The rooms are partly in the main house with some situated in nearby cabins. Whilst on pack trips, you stay in two-man tents and all camping equipment including good quality down sleeping bags is provided. The camp staff arrange all the setting up of camp, cooking and care of the horses. Sometimes riders choose to sleep under the stars on the sheepskin saddle covers. The food is varied and plentiful. En route there are typical Argentine Asados (barbeques) and picnics prepared by the staff. Argentina is famous for it's beef and this beef is raised on the estancia! Home grown vegetables are included in the meals.
Unfortunately vegetarian or other unusual dietary requests cannot be accommodated on this trip.
This crossing is only possible in the South American summer months of December/January/February.
This ride is only available for a limited period of the year. The weather is generally hot and dry during the day with a maximum temperature between 22 and 35 deg. C. As we are at 700m and higher, it always cools down at night, generally to between 5 and 10 deg. C, it can be colder. It rarely rains on the Argentinean side - however it is necessary to be prepared with adequate raingear.
We strongly advise you to consult with your General Practitioner before travelling. The best medical advice regarding suitable immunisations and prophylaxis to enable you to travel safely requires knowledge of your medical history and therefore cannot be covered in this advice sheet. Recommendations are also subject to change and it is important to obtain the most up to date information available.
At the time of going to print visas are not required for UK passport holders staying under 90 days, but please check before you depart. In Argentina the UK high commission is Dr Luis Agute, 2412/52, 1425 Buenos Aires. Tel: +54 11 4576 2222, and is usually open 12.45 –17.00, hours extended during the Summer months (Jan –March). In the UK the British Foreign Office gives travel advice on 020 7008 0232/0233.
It is recommended you bring plenty of film and batteries with you since the ride is very remote. Electricity is available on the estancia (although the supply is limited as it is hydroelectric generated on site) to charge video and camera batteries, but not in between.
Riding pants - jeans or breeches
Sunglasses with secure string (It can be windy here!)
Riding boots paddock boots or
Riding trainers (with heel)
Second Pair comfortable shoes/trainers
A buff (full face mask ) to protect from the dust
Riding hat with brim (It needs to be secure to ride in, it can be windy)
Lipbalm with sunscreen
Hard hat (recommended, some available at estancia)
Half chaps (recommended)
Camera and film
T-shirts and shorts
Sarong or Wrap
Neck scarf/bandana to avoid dust in your face whilst riding
Lightweight long sleeved shirts
Bum bag or pouch
Sweater (Spring, Autumn & Winter)
Plastic bag for wet clothing
Warm Jacket (Spring, Autumn & Winter)
Informal wear for evenings
Copy of passport
Additional passport photos
Wearing a waist pouch is a handy method for keeping items such as camera and lipbalm readily accessible.
ITEMS PROVIDED : sleeping bags, thermorests (in Chile inflatable mattresses), ponchos, small towels (if required) and tents.
There is one night when you will not be met by vehicle at the camp site. For this night all camping gear including sleeping bags, tents and food are carried on pack horses. There will be no thermorests this night but you will use your saddle and sheepskin as the gauchos do. Each guest is provided with a set of saddle bags for their personal possessions - change of clothes, toiletries, camera etc. Jackets and pullovers can be tied to the back of the saddle.
On all the other nights there will be a vehicle, however space in the vehicle is limited to one hand luggage size bag per person which we provide. In this bag you will need:
A change of clothes.
A light pair of shoes, eg. Trainers - for when you want to take your boots off.
A set of thermal underwear - a light way of carrying extra warmth, hopefully unnecessary.
Rain gear – jacket and trousers. Please note that whilst the Argentine side is semi-desert, the Chilean side is rain-forest.
Swimwear, wash bag, towel, small torch.
This crossing is only possible in the South American summer months of December/January/February. There are set departure dates lasting 9 nights.
2017: this ride can be organised for a mimimum of 12 riders in January and February (FULL).
2017: please enquire.No single supplement payable if willing to share with someone of same sex. Should you wish to book a single room, please see supplement price below.
Guanaco, rhea, red deer, wild boar, armadillos, black necked swans, ibis, plover, eagles, vultures and Andean condors are all regularly sighted.
Thick bamboo forests, monkey puzzle trees, pampas with spectacular views from the backdrop of the Andes.
Argentina is the second largest country in Latin America after Brazil (almost all the countries of Western Europe and Scandinavia could fit inside Argentina's land mass). The country is diverse and includes rain forest in the north, vast areas of fertile farming land in the centre, the Andean mountain range to the west and the desolate plains of Patagonia in the south, leading down to glaciers at the southern tip. Argentina has the world's southernmost city (Ushaia).
Despite Argentina's recent economic woes, its pleasures - stunning natural wonders, an elegant capital and a passionate culture - are still as tempting as ever. Argentina has a dinstinctly European feel, Argentinians are much more European in temperament that their South American neighbours but their Latin spirit is still evident such as in their love of football and in the tempestuous dance of the Tango.
Argentina is three hours behind GMT. Remember in the summer the UK is one hour ahead of GMT and daylight savings is not in use in Argentina. They use the metric weights and measures system, so kilometres and kilograms instead of miles and pounds. There is approximately 1.6 kilometres in a mile and 2.2 pounds in a kilogram.
The international dialling code is +54.