Experience the backcountry of Brazil with all its rich cattle farming customs and hospitality. Superb riding, at all paces, at 3.000 to 5.500 ft elevations - surrounded by outstanding ever-changing scenery. Ride across wide open and hilly grass, bush and woodland with lush patches of magnificent South American Araucária pine forest that frame the landscape. You will cross a great number of rivers, canter through lovely green valleys and circle the edges of the Serra Geral canyons. Ride on top of the clouds or right amidst them.
The region is scarcely populated by small dairy farms and cattle ranches that seem almost lost in the vastness of the land. This is the home of the mountain gaúchos and horsemen. They have conserved and show proudly their traditions. On weekends, folks gather in the rustic galpões, the barn and animal shelters of the farmhouse and dance and sing while an opulent churrasco bbq is prepared at the open fireplace.
This trail from one fazenda to another has been designed for riders that seek harmony between the horse and the environment including the local people, with their traditions and their different way of living. For this reason emphasis has been given to authenticity in every way, rather than to luxurious resorts or hotels. Riders are always welcomed as friends when they meet up with locals anywhere on the trail. A comfortable trail for riders wanting to take home overwhelming impressions of the real life in the Brazilian backcountry.
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 MB of Saint Paul les Dax on 02/12/2019
Day 1 - Florianópolis-Urubici-Santa Barbara Farm
Pick-up at Florianopolis airport. Our regular transfer to Urubici is set between 10am and noon. A three hour scenic drive from sea level takes you to the high sierra of Santa Catarina and the village of Urubici. The village of Urubici is a community of farmers and ranchers producing vegetables and fruits that are exported all over the country. The region produces also apples (Gala and Fuji), plums and is the state biggest producer of vegetables. Mountain rainbow trout and mate tea are other products for which Urubici is known. There are no polluting industrial activities of any kind in the whole region!
After arrival clients usually like to visit a farm supply and handicraft shop. Here you can buy at very reasonable prices anything related to cattle, farming, the horse and riding. We recommend waterproof leather boots with rubber sole, beautiful gaucho ponchos and hats, horsewhips and lassos from raw hide and much more... Depending on the month/day/hour of arrival however we might drive over to the Gaucho Cultural Traditions Centre to watch a regional rodeo instead...
From November to May - nearly every weekend- the region hosts regional, national and international rodeos and rope throwing competitions. These are very colourful events where visitors will see beautiful horses, top riders, displays of fine leather handicraft, local products, typical food and drinks, and after all, since we are in Brazil: plenty of good music and dances. To put it simply: Urubici is rural Brazil at it’s best.
We will now proceed to our trail base, the Fazenda Santa Barbara Farm. The Fazenda Santa Barbara is part of the Jararaca community, named after a snake Bothrops jararaca, a venomous pit viper that is quite common in Brazil. No reason to worry however - the snakes did not survive the transformation of the region into cattle country. The Fazenda is surrounded by magnificent Araucaria angustifolha also known as Parana Pine forest. The tree, an endangered species, is characteristic for the Southern part of Brazil. The warm welcome of our hosts Rosie and Elvio, her husband and our guide, includes a generously set coffee table, here called Café Colonial. You will be shown to your rooms either at the main house or the new guest house, a 5 minute away, where you can relax from the long journey to get here. The group will meet again for dinner and overnight.
Day 2 - Santa Barbara Farm – Morro da Taipinha – Santa Barbara Farm
The hearty farmer breakfast includes a hot Camargo coffee, a local specialty. In the meantime horses are saddled and we leave to explore the greater area around the Fazenda. The ride will take us up to the Morro da Taipinha Mountain at about 1700m above sea level. To get there however we will have to tackle with dense forest, swamps and steep hills, safely negotiated by our sturdy mounts under the skilled lead of our guide Zorro Elvio.
A steep uphill ride, during which several breaks are recommended, the group arrives at the high fields that are characteristic for the region. Here we may see, but hopefully not hear the trumpeted cry of the siriema bird, Cariama cristata, as it advises bad weather ahead. They are also otherwise useful animals, since their preferred diet is snakes! The Quero-Quero, Vanellus chilensis will watch us all the way and shy us off from their hidden nest raising hell if we get to close. Another typical southern Brazilian bird is the Gralha Azul or Azure jay, Cyanocorax caeruleus, which plays a significant role in preventing the Paraná pine Araucaria angustifolha from extinction. More difficult to watch is the highly endangered red-tail Amazon Amazona pretrei.
We will be back at Santa Barbara late afternoon. Time free until dinner, when a delicious Entrevero, a local specialty, will be served. Total riding time today mounts from 6 to 6½ hrs.
Day 3 - Santa Barbara Farm – São Joaquim National Park – Vacas Gordas
After a solid breakfast the riders get on their horses for a long days ride that will take them into the São Joaquim National Park. On the way we will pass the village of Vacas Gordas which most significantly means: Fat Cows. Here, we pause briefly for a chat and refreshments with our hosts for tonight, before we continue all the way uphill now into the National Park. Ever changing terrain requires up- and downhill riding. On their way the riders may eventually encounter a man or two collecting herbal mate leaves Ilex paraguaiensis, a bush that grows here naturally between Araucaria and other Forest.
According to the legend, Jesuit Missionaries left the region between Paraguay/Argentina/ Brazil, when the order was abolished in 1773, seeking safety and new activities on the highlands of Santa Catarina and introduced thus the Ilex Paraguaiensis to the region.
As we arrive on top of the elevations the flat sections not only provide magnificent views but also invites for canters and gallops. Here, aside a soft flushing creek and beneath shadowy trees, we unsaddle and prepare our saddle bag lunch, which is normally a generous chunk of meat grilled over the open fire. There, also our brave horses find their share of delicacies. The siesta may not take too long as more riding is on the menu for the afternoon.
We estimate to reach our destination for the day sometime late afternoon, when will take care of the horses and let them graze on lush pastures. Meanwhile our back-up car has arrived and takes us on adventurous mountain roads to the village of Vacas Gordas. Unfortunately our hut in the mountains burned out recently, leaving us without overnight options within the National Park boundaries.
After showers a caipirinha, the Brazilian National drink, will prepare us for the following dinner of sumptuous local delicacies cooked on the old iron stove. With some energy left we may sit down around the fire place for some storytelling, before we hit the sheets for overnight in this cosy country house. The total riding time is about 7 hrs.
Day 4 - V. Gordas – São Joaquim N.P. – Cayambora Canyons - V. Gordas
The day begins early with the back-up car taking us again to the high fields. We collect the horses we left behind last night, saddle them and we are off with destination Cayamborá Canyons. Heading first for the Chapada da Macela or Macela high sierra, a region named after a herbal plant, used in therapeutic teas and recommended as treatment for gastritis, stomach and other related diseases. In autumn, when the plant is in flower, the green of the high fields contrast with the bright yellow of Macela. The region is also home of the mountain lion or puma, Felis concolor.
Further ahead, the riders pass a crystal clear creek, what would become some 250 kms to the west, the great Rio Uruguay. On our way to the Cayamborá Canyon we also pass by the Fazenda Salgado, the former home of our host Zorro Elvio. The National Park Authorities bought the Fazenda founded by Elvios Grandfather. It is now completely in ruins, an eyesore in an otherwise overwhelming environment of natural beauty. Between February and April raspberries, blackberries and delicious wild guavas can be collected on route.
While riding on top of the ridges, breathtaking views into the canyons and on clear days as far as to the 200 km distant Santa Catarina coastline can be appreciated by overwhelmed riders. Not far from here is the Morro da Igreja, with 1,822 metres the highest peak in Santa Catarina. Near a freshwater creek we break for lunch. It will be an authentic Churrasco, the Brazilian BBQ, lunch out of the saddle bag . After the feast, shadowy Araucarias invite for a nap, with the rich food doing the rest.
We take another trail on our way back over the mountains to the place where we unsaddle the horses and give them a good treatment. With the back-up car waiting for us we drive again to Vacas Gordas for dinner and overnight. Today, our time in the saddle will be 7-8 hrs.
Day 5 - V.Gordas – São Joaquim N.P. – Santa Barbara Farm
After an early breakfast we say goodbye to our hosts and take the car to meet our horses again. The trail back to Santa Barbara Farm leads past the Fazenda do Baú, a 2nd century old ranch house, right on top of the Morro do Gado Quebra or “crashing cattle mountain”, with another story to be told at the right moment. Not far from there is the former Conta Dinheiro Farm, which was owned by Elvios relatives and has also been taken over by the National Park Authorities. Typically, it is also in ruins now. We pause at an old, wind worn cemetery. Stories about people who got lost in the mountains and were buried here will be making the rounds in the evenings.
The trail continues over several high mountain ridges, and on top of the Morro Careca or Bald Mountain, at 1,700 metres above sea level, the riders enjoy magnificent 360º views. Here, the terrain allows for great canters on rolling hills. Further down and in sharp contrast with the high fields, we ride through dense jungle of Dicksonia, giant ferns, here called Xaxim, and Bracatinga, Mimosa scabrella trees.
We estimate to arrive at Fazenda Santa Barbara in the early evening hours. As we have not changed horses for the last 4 days, demanding all of the strength and energy they could muster, they will be are tired now and have earned the best possible care, which is what they will get. The riders are offered an invigorating Chimarrão tea and hot showers which should prepare them to enjoy one of these dinners only Rosie puts on the table, which is a big one…..Later on, when the flames blaze in the fireplace, Zorro Elvio will tell us how and why he loses newborn calves and pigs frequently to the puma. As usually one story leads to another, intercultural encounters, knowledge and understanding spreads among the group, which is one of the aims of our rides. This was another long riding day, with estimated 7-8 hrs in the saddle. Overnight.
Day 6 - Santa Barbara Farm – Cadet / Fazenda da Mena
After breakfast we mount on fresh horses to a region, called Cadet, which is today's destination. Differing from the previous days we will be riding through landscapes with small elevations. On mostly open hilly terrain we observe agricultural activities, like vineyards, apple orchards and cattle farming. During the ride we will have opportunities again to take our mounts to enjoyable canters and gallops.
Before we arrive at Fazenda da Mena we have to cross the river Uruguay, provided the water level and currents will be adequate for safe passage. We estimate to arrive at Fazenda da Mena in late afternoon. Relax, refreshments, shower, dinner. This Fazenda is another property that belongs to the large family of our host Rosie, who was actually born here. The charming old wooden building is framed by enormous Araucaria trees and a lake, where frogs concert in the warm evening hours and at night. It is nearly 100 years old and one of the first cattle farms of that region. The group will have spent 6 -7 hrs in the saddle today.
Day 7 - Cadet/Fazenda da Mena – Santa Barbara Farm
As on the ride to the Cayambora Canyons we have a support car carrying provisions and personal belongings. While Elvio saddles the horses we give Rosie a hand to load luggage and the other stuff onto the 4x4. For the way back from Fazenda da Mena back to Fazenda Santa Bárbara we ride on another trail which offers nice and easy riding. En-route we break for visit to the Salto do Rio Lavatudo waterfall, a river that forms, together with the Rio Pelotas the Rio Uruguay. Here, right at the falls, we will have a scenic lunch.
Arriving at Jararaca horses are unsaddled and left to graze on the rich pastures of our trail leader and host Elvio's property. Those who wish to change activities for a moment and relax their minds can go fishing in the pond right behind the main house, or take a walk around the property, playing with the dogs and cats, watching pigs and chickens, until Rosie calls us for dinner. Most probably the entrée will be some crispy grilled fish….
Today's estimate is around 6-7 hrs in the saddle.
Day 8 - Santa Barbara Farm – Monte Cará – Santa Barbara Farm
Today we head to another great destination over 1,600 metres above sea level, which is the Mount Cará. After having passed some nearby properties the group passes open fields and dense forest and will hardly meet any living soul in this area.
Wild flowers and splendid orchids like the lovely red Sofronites and bromeliads grow from December-January on branches draped with moss. For our siesta, we have chosen a beautiful panoramic spot at the top of the mountain with great views of 360º and as far as to the village of Urubici down below. Here a spring surfaces right out from between the stones with the purest mineral water, beating Perrier, Evian and other sophisticated brands hands down. We picnic sandwiches, cheese, fruits, cookies out of the saddle bag, washed down with a fresh boiled coffee or tea prepared cowboy style, on the open fireplace.
After a break for horses and riders, the trail goes on through highland forest covered mainly with shadowy Paraná pines and the ever present Vassourinha bushes, which are used for firewood, broom, brushes, but also produces pollen for a delicious honey, that is even exported to Europe. We are planning to arrive home around 5pm totaling some
6 hours in the saddle.
Day 9 - Santa Barbara Farm – Monte Alegre – Santa Barbara Farm
The last full day of riding will take us to the Monte Alegre mountain, claimed to be even higher than the Morro da Igreja, which is 1822 m above sea level. To get to the Monte Alegre and back, the riders will face again dense forest, swamps, steep and rocky ascents and high camps with grassy hills, accessible on hidden trails that only a trained scout as Elvio can identify as such. Our saddle bag lunch today include most probably a decent chunk of beef masterly grilled on the open fireplace, homemade cheese and rolls, cookies and apples, coffee and tea. After all that we recommend to take our sheep skins off the saddle as they guarantee a comfortable snooze.
A long days ride, but it is worthwhile the effort, mainly because of great adventure riding and an overwhelming mix of outstanding landscapes and views.
Back at the Fazenda, Rosie has prepared some decent caipirinhas for an apéritif and a farewell dinner for the last evening, with delicacies from the local cuisine. For the rest of this last evening among our hosts we have invited friends with their gaita and violão. So there will be dancing and great music from the Gaucho lands, like the hot and swinging chama-me, venerão, xote, milonga, chimarrita.
Today's estimate is 6½ hs riding time.
Day 10 - Santa Barbara Farm – Urubici - Florianopolis
Packing gear and getting ready for departure to Florianópolis. Depending on the flight times there might be the chance to go for some early riding in the morning. There is always enough time however to pay a visit to the mysterious pre-historic stone wall carvings, unexplored and unexplained to this day. If not done so already on the arrival day, leather handicraft from saddle to boots, ponchos and hats, reins and other riding accessories can be purchased for reasonable prices in the local stores. We recommend booking a late afternoon flight out of Florianópolis.
Please follow this link for a map of the start point of this itinerary: Santa Caterina Trail
Please note: This itinerary is given for your guidance only and it may be altered in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
A particularly nice time to go there is the spring (Oct/Nov) and autumn (March/April).
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.
Riding is at all paces, at 1200-1800 m above sea level, sometimes on top of the clouds and right amongst them. The horses are cross-bred criollos, sturdy and sure-footed. A good balance and confidence is more important than technical ability and stamina for long hours in the saddle is needed.
To get the most out of this ride, you should be a competent rider with an adventurous spirit. You should be able to walk, trot and canter and be comfortable for up to 7 hours in the saddle.
The weight limit for this ride is 209 lb/95 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
Riders are accommodated in double or single rooms when available. Bathrooms with hot and cold showers have to be used jointly. The rooms do not feature air conditioning which is dispensable in this mountainous region. In general accommodations are rustic but clean and comfortable.
There is a broad range of food available which is mostly homemade and includes best Brazilian beef of cattle grazing all year round in the open on naturally grown pastures, receiving no additives whatsoever, homemade sausages and chicken, homegrown vegetables and fruits of the season, homemade cheese and a variety of dairy products, pasta, rice, beans, homemade breads and rolls, jellies, honey . While on trail the provisions are carried in the saddle bags, containing beef, meat, sausages, for the bbq in the open, plus meatballs, manioc flower, sandwiches, crackers, cookies, oranges, apples, coffee, tea, milk. Vegetarian food is available.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip. If Visa’s are required the 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 on request.
British nationals are normally admitted to Brazil without a visa as tourists or business visitors for an initial maximum stay of 90 days. You should retain your immigration landing card (green) and enough cash to pay the US$38 or R$ 115 airport tax, if this has not been paid with the airline ticket; both the landing card and payment of the airport tax are required to leave Brazil.
In the UK the British Foreign Office gives travel advice on 020 7008 0230/ 0233 or www.fco.gov.uk
In the UK the Brazilian Embassy Consular Sectioncan be found at: 3rd and 4th Floor, Samuel House, 6 St Alban's Street, Haymarket, London SW1Y 4SQ, tel: (020) 7930 9055 web site: www.brazil.org.uk
In Brazil the UK Embassy can be found at, Setor de Embaixadas Sul, Quadra 801, Conjunto K, CEP 70200-010,Brasilia – DF, Brazil Telephone: (55) (61) 3329 2300, local opening hours Mon-Fri: 0830-1730, Website: www.uk.org.br
This region consists of the southern states of Paraná, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul. Both along the coast and in the plateau districts inland, the climate is warm-temperate rather than tropical, and is similar to that found in Uruguay and northern Argentina. Even on the coast there is a distinct cooler season when frost can be expected in the winter months. Here winter has a real significance and the difference between the seasons is determined by temperature rather than rainfall. During the warmer summer months temperatures reach similar levels to those found farther north in the tropical regions of Brazil. This region has a generally healthy and pleasant climate with an average of eight to nine hours' sunshine a day in the summer months.
Inland, where the land is higher, frosts are quite common in winter but snow is very rare. Inland the wettest months are during the summer, in contrast to the coastal district.
At Unicorn Trails, the health and safety of our customers is of paramount importance.
Tap water is heavily treated giving it an unpleasant chemical taste but is safe to drink in most urban areas providing it has been passed through a charcoal filter system; you should check with your hotel/restaurant management before drinking tap water. Tap water in remote areas can be unsafe even if filtered; stick to bottled mineral water, which is available virtually everywhere.
As a preventative to Dengue fever you are advised to minimise exposure to mosquito bites by covering up and using repellents. Malaria is also a risk in some northern parts of Brazil. You may need to take anti malarial medication, depending on the areas to be visited. Take medical advice before travelling.
You are recommended to have good medical insurance.
Electricity 110/220V 60HzHz. Electric Plug Details: European plug with two circular metal pins, American-style plug with two perpendicular flat blades above a circular grounding pin, Japanese-style plug with two perpendicular flat blades.
We recommend that you bring all required equipment, including batteries with you when you arrive. You should contact your network provider for mobile phone coverage.
It will be hot during the day and possibly cool in the morning or evenings.
Riding Hat, riding boots and chaps
Long sleeved and comfortable shirts
Walking shoes and sandals
Sweater or pullover for mornings and evening in winter (dry season July to November)
Light rain coat
Insect Repellent - we recommend at least 50% DEET
Sunscreen and sunglasses
Camera on a shoulder strap with a pouch which can be secured to your belt and batteries/chargers
This is a 10 day/9 night programme with 8 days riding available on set dates.
2019: 5, 19 Dec*. (*special Christmas ride, early booking required).
2020: 10 Jan (confirmed)
|Riding days||Product item description||£|
|2019||10d/9n||8||small group supplement pp (3 riders)||83|
|2019||10d/9n||8||small group supplement pp (2 riders)||165|
|2019||10d/9n||8||Xmas 2019 - no UK guide||2,665|
|Riding days||Product item description||€|
|2019||10d/9n||8||small group supplement pp (3 riders)||99|
|2019||10d/9n||8||small group supplement pp (2 riders)||199|
|2019||10d/9n||8||Xmas 2019 - no UK guide||3,199|
|Riding days||Product item description||$|
|2019||10d/9n||8||small group supplement pp (3 riders)||115|
|2019||10d/9n||8||small group supplement pp (2 riders)||225|
|2019||10d/9n||8||Xmas 2019 - no UK guide||3,615|
|Riding days||Product item description||SEK|
|2019||10d/9n||8||small group supplement pp (3 riders)||1,029|
|2019||10d/9n||8||small group supplement pp (2 riders)||2,059|
|2019||10d/9n||8||Xmas 2019 - no UK guide||33,429|
There is plenty of time for wildlife observation and photography, swimming in the rivers, fishing, etc.
There are many species of animals and plants living of this part of the tropical highlands. Birds such as red-headed macaws, trogons, siriemas and corucacas and many others, are often seen. The area is also the habitat of the puma and you may be lucky to discover its trail, while he is far ahead or...behind you. There are also azur blue jays, black birds (Gnorimopsar chopi) and coatis,capibaras (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris) , crab-eating foxes (also interpreted as wild dogs, Pseudalopex gymnocercus ).
Around 156,000 British nationals visit Brazil each year.