Open air activity
Cabalgatas: Getting to know Chile on horseback
Chile’s unique geography makes it the perfect place to discover mountains, forests and beaches by horse.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Horseback riding under the famous spires of Torres del Paine. (Photo: Travel South America/Flickr)
A journey on horseback is one of the best ways to experience Chile’s most remote corners, from the Atacama and Elqui Valley in the north to the spires and fjords of Torres del Paine and Patagonia.
With a long national history of horsemanship, riding is a great choice in Chile, either on short excursions or multi-day expeditions to otherwise inaccessible valleys and mountains. Previous riding experience is generally unnecessary for shorter rides, and guides will offer a brief tutorial on the basics. For longer journeys, it is usually best to have some previous experience on horseback.
The best way to experience riding in the Chilean wilderness is with an experienced guide who has a comprehensive knowledge of the unique topography that makes each region of Chile special. Here's our starter's guide to the top destinations and some useful tips for horseback riding in Chile.
In the far north, the extraordinary landscapes of San Pedro de Atacama and its surroundings are made all the more alluring by a warm climate throughout the year. The Elqui Valley, just inland from La Serena, is also a favorite destination, with its pisco vineyards, quiet towns and, farther inland, the stark peaks and observatories that have made the region famous for stargazing.
La Campana National Park is an ideal choice on Santiago’s doorstep, in the Central Coast region. Just 90 minutes from the capital and about 45 minutes from beach resort Viña del Mar, the high hills and forests of the park afford stunning views on clear days stretching the full width of Chile, from the Pacific coast to the Andes’ tallest peaks.
East of Santiago, the Yerba Loca Nature Sanctuary is a good choice on the road to the ski resorts near Farellones. Southeast of the capital, the Cajón del Maipo is rapidly becoming the adventure center for the Metropolitan Region, with rafting, cycling, hiking, and ,of course, horseback expeditions on offer. El Morado National Monument, 57 miles (93 km) east of Santiago and near the Argentine border, is the centerpiece of the region with its glacier and stunning Andean scenery. Within the Chilean capital, Cabalgatas Santiago takes visitors from the eastern fringes of the city in the borough of La Reina into the nearby foothills for stunning views over Chile’s largest metropolis.
Farther south, the Río de los Cipreses (Cypress River) National Reserve in the Bernardo O’Higgins Region, about 90 miles (140 km) southeast of Santiago, offers several trails and paths through its forests. South of the Maule River, the Melado Valley is a paradise for walkers and ridings, with Andean foothill scenery, snowcapped volcanoes, hidden lagoons and glaciers spread over 945 square miles (2,450 square km). Less developed than other areas in Chile, the Melado Valley does not always have clearly marked trails, but whatever it lacks in infrastucture is more than compensated for in tranquility and isolation.
The parks around the popular lakeside towns of Pucón and Villarrica, particularly Villarrica and Huerquehue National Parks, also offer well-developed trails through temperate rainforests at the feet of massive volcanic cones. The mysterious backwaters of Patagonia are an ideal place for off-the-beaten-track adventure amongst millennial forests and forgotten villages, while the sophisticated infrastructure of Torres del Paine delivers some of Chile’s most awesome landscapes with a minimum of stress.
Easter Island, the farthest flung of Chile’s territories, is also an ideal place to explore from horseback. Expeditions allow visitors to traverse the island’s archaeological sites, volcanoes and beaches while also becoming better acquainted with the singular topography of this isolated speck of land.
In Chile’s cental regions (roughly from La Serena in the north to Chillán in the south), the best times to ride are the spring and autumn months, with their long days, stable weather, and moderate temperatures. In these areas, March-April and November are the ideal times to explore from horseback.
In the far north, winter months offer cooler daytime temperatures, while in the south the summer months of December-February promise the best weather and most comfortable temperatures.
Horseback outings can be organized as a stand-alone activity or combined with trekking. Horseback riding allows visitors to cover more and in less time, without the strain of carrying their own packs, as well as allowing for easier maneuvering of obstacles. Though most people who choose to ride in Chile will depart with a guide, in the end the animal itself will be the best guide through sometimes challenging terrain.
Important pointers on riding – even basics like how to mount, steer, and control your horse – will be offered by most guides. Horses used for beginners are generally easy to manage and well-trained to respond to a variety of riders. If in doubt about your skills, just ask your operator before scheduling your trip to be sure that an appropriate horse will be available to fill your needs.