Cow and calf
On the trail
Herding cattle in the Andes
One of the Gauchos
Cattle herd
Riding in Argentina
A birds eye view
Cacti on the mountains
On the mountains
Riding in the Andes
Inca Trail cattle drive
Riding on sand dunes
Steep hills

Head to the high Andes mountains in north-west Argentina and join the gauchos on one of the few remaining authentic cattle drives left in the world. Help herding cattle the way it was done in colonial times, riding along perfectly preserved Inca trails and driving cattle to ancient corrals and also assist in sorting, branding and doctoring the cattle. This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip involving lots of teamwork and adrenaline. The trail follows areas only accessible by horseback with impressive landscapes; tropical forests with crystal clear streams in the Lerma Valley, the Calchaquí desert with its multicoloured mountains and the Cafayate Creek with its water and wind-eroded hills. 

Join a small group of experienced riders to experience the authentic, essential and unspoilt life of the gaucho and cattle drives in the Andes. Riders must be riding fit and be able to ride your horse off track in steep mountain terrain on this unique once-a-year adventure. Travel up to altitudes of 3000m (9000 feet) where the forest changes to high altitude grassland, homeland of the Andean condor. Relax under the stars at camp enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.

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 MH of Holten on 14/10/2022

Ride Summary
What was your overall impression of the holiday
It was magnificent.
Overall impression
Unicorn Trails sales staff

Riding tour leader

Additional Comments
Our host is a wonderful wonderful tourguide. He has a lot of people knowledge and knows his stuff. Is very relaxed and made very thoughtful choices all the time. Also the gauchos were very nice horsemen as well as helpful. En oh my, the perfect objects to take pictures off in this landscape.
Horses and Tack

Additional Comments
Not all of them, but a few horses of the group were just too thin with some saddle sore and a sore back. What I found really nice is that all the horses hoofs and shoes were in perfect condition. I've ridden a lot all over the world and I've never seen hoofs in such good condition. We came across a different group and there was a big difference between ours and theirs. What champions though. They're like mountain goats, unbelievable how sure footed they are. Loved them.
Meals

Accommodation

Miscellaneous

Was this trip accurately described to you beforehand?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
Was there anything you should have known and were not told? NO
Please give more details to explain your response:
What could we do to improve this ride?
How would you rate the difficulty of this ride out of 10 where 1 is very easy and 10 is very advanced?
7
Please explain why you scored it as you did:
We did have a pretty unexperienced rider with us which worried me a little, but once he found his perfect horse that was absolutely fine. Potentially only for good riders but you can go as you want. So with the right horse and doing no crazy stuff also a little more unexperencied would be fine, though I think for the group it would be the nicest if everyone has a certain amount of experience and definately no shivers for riding in in rough terrain.
Would you recommend Unicorn Trails to your friends?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
I already did :)
May we use you as a reference for other people wishing to go on this ride?
YES
Unicorn comments: Thank you for your ride comments and sounds like you had a fabulous time.
Day 1 
Arrive Buenos Aires and take a short internal flight to Salta. Arrive any time before 4pm to be picked up from the airport. Visit the MAAM (Museum of High Altitude Archaeology)with its exhibits of items found at an Inca human sacrifice site on top of the Llullaillaco volcano (6730m). It holds some of the best preserved mummies in the world. Check in at a boutique hotel and enjoy a welcome dinner with the guide.

Day 2
After breakfast, riders are driven along the Cuesta del Obispo, with its breathtaking views across the Cardones National Park and a chance to spot guanacos. Reach Peñas Blancas (2750m) to be met by the horses and, of course, the gauchos. Lunch.  
The afternoon ride is through the valley to look for the cattle that is spread all around. The surroundings are dotted with small houses made with mud and archeological remains of ancient settlements. Stop to see the ancient pictographs painted by local Indians centuries ago and visit Isonza, a working ranch still practicing the ancient way of life, and Leuca Burgos, famous for its goat cheese. The milking and making of the cheese, and way they grow their crops is centuries old and passed down from Incan times. On the way there are herds of wild donkeys that were set free by the Spanish Conquistadors. Overnight at the camp at Estancia Peñas Blancas (cabin rooms with bunk beds, shared bathroom with running water but no shower).

Day 3
After breakfast, the day's ride will be dedicated to screening the area and rounding up cattle. The ride heads west at the beginning until it reaches the very steep Chilo slopes which divide two valleys. The view is magnificent and the perfect place to stop for lunch. By sunset the group should arrive at the corrals with not one cow left behind. Overnight at Estancia Peñas Blancas. 

Day 4
Today's corrals were built of mud over 200 years ago and have been used ever since. Get ready to start sorting and branding each of the cows and calves. Today will involve a lot of work and adrenaline while the local Food and Drug Administration officers check the health of the herd. It is now time for the gauchos and horses to blend together in a reining exhibition which has made them world famous. Relax and watch, or get into the corral and join the gauchos! Night in Estancia Peñas Blancas.

Day 5
After breakfast the group will finish any work left from the previous day, before driving the cattle to Ovejería where the cattle truck will arrive to load them to be delivered to the market. Horseback ride back to Peñas Blancas to spend the night.

Day 6
Today is a full day cattle drive to Amblayo where the cattle will be delivered to the market. The riding today is mainly South along the valley, past Yaslaguala. Giant cacti are numerous and set the stage on route to Amblayo town (2400m) and an overnight stop. The village has just 150 inhabitants and is renowned for its goat cheese. Arriving on horseback in a village with no cars is an unforgettable experience! The route leads through archaeological areas where pieces of painted pottery scattered around, but do not remove any 'souvenirs' as this is one of the arrangements of being able to stay here. Overnight at Amblayo. (Rooms with beds, bathroom with hot water)

Day 7
After breakfast enjoy this picturesque town. Visit the ancient chapel with its 17th century paintings brought from Peru, After lunch, ride to the foothills of the Sierra Pelada. These multicoloured hills are unique to the region and there are oportunities for some good canters in the Río Salado. Overnight at Amblayo with a traditional goat barbecue at dinner to celebrate the end of the drive.

Day 8
High Altitude Wineries – Salta city: After breakfast, drive to Cachi. This area is known for its high altitude vineyards (between 2000 to 2500 metres high). It has just 1% of all vineyards in Argentina but gets 10% of total wine sales, meaning the wine produced in this region is of a very high quality. To complete the Argentinean experience, riders will be given a private tour to a local winery to taste some of their best wines. Enjoy a final lunch before the 3 hours transfer to Salta city.
Check into boutique hotel. Dinner not included.

Day 9
Departure day from Salta. After breakfast, check out and transfer back to the airport.


Optional additional nights
You can easily add up to 3 additional (non-riding) days onto this programme . Activities for the additional nights are:
Salta city tour: We walk and drive the city with a guide. Its colony buildings bring to life the way the city was at the time of the Spanish Conquistadors.
Quebrada de Humahuaca: Trip to Humahuaca Creek. Walk the ancient indian fortress in Tilcara. We reach Purmamarca and the 7 Colors Hill. Lunch. See a few of the small and picturesque towns along the creek.
Cafayate and its wineries: The road to Cafayate shows us very curious rock shapes (the amphitheater, the toad, the Titanic, etc.). In Cafayate we will visit the world renowned vineyards and wineries for wine tasting. The Torrontés variety is regarded as best in class and exported all over the world.

Small group supplement
A small group supplement is applied if the total number of bookings (including yours) reaches less than 6 riders. This is fully refundable before departure once more people book the holiday.

 

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.

Horses & Riding

Fit and responsive horses all in good condition, from 15hh to 15.3hh. Horses are ridden in the traditional style, which is similar to Western riding with neck reining and long stirrups. Instruction is given on first day for those not familiar with this style, it is very easy to learn and quite addictive. Terrain varies from mountainous to desert and the speed of the ride reflects the terrain and is mostly at a walk on the slopes of the Andes. There are plenty of opportunities for those who like to canter or even have a good gallop on the more open bits of terrain.


Rider requirements

This ride is suitable for riders who are able to walk, trot and canter on a good horse. There is usually 6 hours and more in the saddle on riding days, so a good level of riding fitness is recommended. A head for heights and a sense of adventure is recommended for the mountainous riding and basic accommodation during the drive.

Due to the length of riding days this ride is not recommended for children under the age of 10 and there is a weight limit of 95kg/15 stone. There is no need to walk next to your horse and assistance can be given when mounting and dismounting as long as you are a solid rider.

Weight Limit

The weight limit for this ride is 209 lb/95 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.

Six nights in basic mountain cabins (shared 'dorm-style' rooms with up to 6 bunk beds in each room), there are no showers available in the cabins, there is only a toilet and cold water available for washing. Please be aware that there is no heating in the cabins.

There are two nights at a boutique hotel in Salta with private bathroom.



Breakfasts consist of a choice of hot drink, toast and preserves. When available eggs and fresh fruit will also be offered. Lunches: these are usually in the form of a picnic with bread, salads and cheese. Dinners: traditional homely dishes with a complimentary glass of wine.


Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.

Documents - Visa and Consulate Info

Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip.

NB: Be sure to check the COVID status of the country you plan to visit including entry procedures and requirements while travelling.

Visa requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country.

Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate should you need a visa.

When visiting Argentina your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required.

In the UK the British Foreign Office gives advice: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/argentina

In the US: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Argentina.html

In Canada: https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/argentina

Climate Summary

The cattle drive takes place in the Calchaquí Valleys which are desertic and at an altitude around 2600 m high. So expect sunny and nice days with temperatures dropping significantly at night. The rainy season is from December to March.

Climate Chart

Health

COVID: Be sure to check the latest COVID regulations for travelling in any country you visit.

Yellow fever vaccination is recommended for travel to some parts of the country.

Health authorities have classified Argentina as having a risk of Zika virus transmission.

Dengue fever can occur throughout the year. You should take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

Please refer to your country’s latest health guideline for travel in Argentina and contact your own GP for up to date advice on vaccinations and prophylaxis prior to travel.



Health (ride specific)

Sunscreen and insect repellent are recommended. Remember it is easy to burn at high altitudes even in weather which is not sunny.

Electricity

In Argentina the supply voltage is 220V. If the appliance is a single voltage rated appliance, it will need to operate at the same voltage as the supply voltage of the country i.e. 220V. If this is not the case it should be used alongside a voltage transformer or converter to allow the appliance to work safely and properly.

Film and Camera Equipment

In Salta and Buenos Aires you are likely to be able to stock up on camera or phone necessities. During the first 4 days of the ride you will have 12 V DC provided by solar panels which is appropriate to recharge phones and some batteries. On the last two nights full 220 V AC electricity will be available.

Packing List

During the ride it is much better to keep your personal clothing and items light! Normally, you only use half of what you take. As these are pack trips saddlebags are provided to place your personal items that you need while on the ride and your main luggage will be transported via truck.

Clothing and Luggage
• Two changes of clothes: loose trousers, long sleeve shirts which protect better from the sun than t-shirts. For the cold weather it is better to carry along a few thin warm clothes (t-shirts, undershirts, etc) than only one thick garment. Polar sweaters do well both in summer and winter
• Warm undershirt and underpants
• Waterproof jacket and/or poncho
• Hat (not a cap) and riding helmet
• Neckerchief
• Gloves (optional)
• Trekking shoes or riding boots
• Half chaps
• Sneakers (the ones that can get wet)
• Rain cape

Hygiene
• Personal hygiene items such as soap, shampoo, toothbrush, tooth paste, etc, in small packaging
• Small towel
• Larger towel
• Wet wipes (optional)

Health
• Personal medicine
• Sunscreen
• Insect repellent (optional)
• Sunglasses
• Prescription glasses or contact lenses
• Water bottle

Accessories
• Binoculars (optional)
• Camera and/or video camera and spare batteries
• Sleeping bag (optional, available to rent onsite at extra cost, sheets and blankets provided)

Documentation
• Medical and accident insurance details
• Photocopy of documents

Programmes

This is a 9 day/8 night/6 days riding programme on one set departure a year.

Departure Dates

2023: 29 Apr; 30 Sept

Pricing
No single supplement is charged if the rider is willing to share with someone of the same sex, and a sharer can be found.

Single supplement is for a single room when staying in a hotel (2 nights). No single rooms are available while on the trail.

No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description £
2023 - 8 nights9d/8n6double pp1,485
2023 - 8 nights9d/8n6single supplement; hotel nights only83
2023 - 8 nights9d/8n6supplement for group of 4-5149
2023 - 8 nights9d/8n6supplement for group of 2-3325
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
2023 - 8 nights9d/8n6double pp1,669
2023 - 8 nights9d/8n6single supplement; hotel nights only94
2023 - 8 nights9d/8n6supplement for group of 4-5169
2023 - 8 nights9d/8n6supplement for group of 2-3365
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description $
2023 - 8 nights9d/8n6double pp1,789
2023 - 8 nights9d/8n6single supplement; hotel nights only99
2023 - 8 nights9d/8n6supplement for group of 4-5179
2023 - 8 nights9d/8n6supplement for group of 2-3389
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
2023 - 8 nights9d/8n6double pp18,805
2023 - 8 nights9d/8n6single supplement; hotel nights only1,049
2023 - 8 nights9d/8n6supplement for group of 4-51,889
2023 - 8 nights9d/8n6supplement for group of 2-34,099
Recommended Reading

Reading List

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.



Rough Guide to Argentina - 2nd Edition - Danny Aeberhard

On A Hoof And A Prayer: Around Argentina At A Gallop  - Polly Evans

Footprint Argentina Handbook - Christabelle Dilks


Other Activities

There are plenty of other activities available in this beautiful area. We can arrange for white water rafting, rappel, trekking in the Andes or Four Trax (2 hrs). A Salta city tour and winery tours are also recommended if you have the time.

Wildlife

Condors are regularly seen on the trail as well as the typical wild and tame llama and alpacas. Eagles, foxes, hares, armadilllos and chinchillas also live in the area. The largest predator in the area is the puma who is rarely seen as cats move around only at night.

Other Country Information

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 distinctly 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.

Travel Summary

Meeting-point (getting there):
Salta Airport (SLA), Argentina
Transfer:
Included from Salta airport or city centre.
Flight Guide:
London - Buenos Aires return from £850. Buenos Aires to Salta flight from £55
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