“Always approach a horse from the left, never the right. Remember if you want them to stop you have to pull the reins.”
It’s hard to forget our first lesson on saddling up and riding a horse gaucho style at Panagea ranch in Uruguay. Juan, the boss, was patience personified but a disciplinarian at the same time. He repeated these simple lessons until they were fixed in our heads and our confidence around the horses slowly grew. By day 5 we’d herded cows, castrated calves, wormed sheep, and become experts at giving Alberto, the orphan calf, his daily feed. A Uruguayan ranch experience is completely different from our other adventure holidays and it’s one we highly recommend.
Why stay on an Uruguayan ranch
Let’s face it. A hotel is a hotel is a hotel just about anywhere you go in the world. As much as an hotel may try to incorporate local styles, culture, and arts into their decor, there’s almost always a generic feel to the places you stay. Of course sometimes you find that one magic place where the owners make you feel like you’re entering their home or where the service comes not from the standard book on hotel etiquette but rather straight from the heart. But these places are rare. It’s the nature of the hotel game. So what do you do if you want to stay somewhere a little different?
A stay on an Uruguayan ranch is one way you can tip the scales in favor of a vacation experience that’s different from the rest.
A stay on a ranch is the opportunity it gives you to see and experience the local culture and way of life as it really is in the middle of the Uruguayan countryside. While our stay on Panagea ranch was definitely more of an adventure style option, we were also equally free to just sit back and relax if that’s what we wanted. We didn’t have to take part in the activities described.
If you’re not so interested in the working side of traditional farms, there are also ranches that offer a more luxurious stay and the chance to experience living in a typical estancia setting. What’s typical? At some point or another, expect to get stuck into a traditional asado meal (Uruguayan barbecue) as well as other gaucho foods. It also helps if you’re an animal lover as most estancias usually have at least one cat and dog. At El Galope, another ranch we visited, there were 3 cats, 3 horses, 1 dog, and some sheep.
What can you do?
There are so many different opportunities available to you. Because you’re in the countryside there are often other farms or vineyards nearby so you can easily take a look at some other aspects of traditional life. Tasting freshly made goat cheese, enjoying a wine tasting session, and taking a relaxing stroll through the fields are great ways to pass your time. If you’re into horse riding, almost all estancias will have this as an option and many will also offer classes for beginners.
Besides the local activities and surroundings, the ranch provides artists, writers, and musicians a fantastic setting for stimulating creative ideas. If you choose this kind of vacation, take your paints, pencils, or music scores with you and enjoy exploring your medium in a totally new environment.
Things you need to know
If the idea of a stay at a Uruguayan ranch is something that sounds like your thing, you’ll need to know how to get to them. Why? Well they’re almost all down dirt tracks, sometimes as far as five miles or more from a major surfaced road. To get to them you need to either drive yourself (a relatively simple and painless experience in Uruguay), book a remise or taxi to take you there, or get a bus to the nearest mile where the estancia dirt road begins and get the owner to pick you up there (if they offer this service).
You also need to be aware that, because you’re in the middle of the countryside, bugs and critters are an unavoidable part of the experience. If you really have a bug phobia and can’t bear the thought of insects getting into the same room as you, this may not be the ideal experience for you.
How to find out more
This is where a little research is needed. Because Uruguay is still under the radar, a lot of ranches are not yet advertised in the English speaking holiday sites and guides. If you can read Spanish then you’ll have no problem finding information, but English is in short supply.
And remember, if you happen to go to Panagea Ranch and work with Juan, start by approaching the horse on the left.
Photo credit: author’s personal collection
This is a guest post from Honor at TryUruguay. Honor is originally from the UK, but now lives in Uruguay because of its under the radar profile and the opportunity to really explore what the country has to offer. Having spent 4 months traveling round the country, she is now firmly in love with the country and looking for a way to live there at her earliest opportunity. Honor has a section on her website dedicated to stays at Uruguay ranches if this article piques your interest. Her top three travel destinations (besides Uruguay) are Jordan, Bali, and Tokyo.
Mary Jo Manzanares | Mary Jo Manzanares is a founder and the editor-in-chief of The Traveler’s Way, an online travel magazine proving informational and inspirational travel recommendations for curious Baby Boomer travelers. She has been a speaker at various industry events and has a personal travel blog at Traveling with MJ. When she’s not traveling, Mary Jo likes lingering over a cup of coffee, wandering in a museum, sipping wine at a cafe, and sharing it all with friends and readers. Mary Jo's top travel destinations are Italy, Portugal, and the Caribbean.