The cultural aim of this immersive, hands-on expedition is to experience life as an Argentinian gaucho – a hard-working South American cowboy. The secondary, physical aim is to reach the dormant volcanic region of Cerro Negro, at the culmination of a multi-day horseback trip made in traditional gaucho style. You’ll be several hours by car (and three more on horseback) from the next settlement. This underlines the independent and self-sufficient nature of life as a gaucho on an estancia that makes the very most of its abundant natural resources.
Initially you’ll get involved in a period of estancia-based activities – from fishing and riding to farming and blacksmithing. Next, you’ll embark on an exploratory pack trip into the remote volcanic peaks at the estancia’s furthest edge, on the border with Chile. On this self-sufficient, expedition-styled journey, you’ll wild camp beneath Patagonian stars and share fireside anecdotes with your fellow adventurers and local support team. The team will also call in at the ‘puesto’ or summer pasture to learn about the life of the ‘puesteros’ who live there all summer.
- Develop or learn new skills on a remote, working estancia.
- Experience the unstaged daily life of a gaucho.
- Learn to ride or improve horsemanship skills.
- Practice river fishing – gaucho style.
- Help the experts at the sawmill, leather workshop or forge.
- Prepare for an extended pack trip (on horseback).
- Explore the vast estancia on foot and horseback.
- Carry out perimeter inspections at the estancia’s edge.
- Wild camp in the foothills of the Andes.
- Learn to load and work with mules.
- Look out for condors riding the thermals from Cerro Negro’s summit.
- Enjoy delicious organic food straight from the estancia gardens.
An iconic destination
Patagonia has long held the imagination of armchair and actual explorers – fuelled in no small part by that classic of modern travel writing, Bruce Chatwin’s ‘In Patagonia.’ Our in-country leader recommends anyone who hasn’t read it to bring it with you to enjoy once you’ve been in Patagonia for while (perhaps a treat for the flight home). There are many facets to this epic destination, from its jagged mountain peaks and bright glaciers to storm-whipped coasts and shimmering vanishing-point highways. This immersive expedition to the region’s fertile inner plains, bordered by the snow-capped peaks of the Andes, will reveal the characteristics – and characters – of rural, hardworking Argentina.
Argentinian Patagonia’s estancias are epic, sprawling and often very remote. This off-grid estancia is totally self-sufficient, accessed only by mule or on horseback. With everyone mucking in with everything to ensure that estancia life runs smoothly, this is your chance to experience the inimitable way of life in one of the world’s most renowned wilderness regions. Escape the tyranny of your inbox to immerse yourself in the nitty gritty of gaucho life, embracing everything this slower-paced way of life has to offer.
On this immersive expedition, you’ll learn to horseride (or improve your existing horsemanship skills) with the estancia staff and perhaps some of the legendary gauchos themselves. Other skills and activities are on offer, from observing or assisting at the forge, the sawmill or the leather workshop, with assistance on building or farming projects always welcome.
Epic horse riding terrain
Learn to ride a horse or improve your existing levels of horsemanship in this incredible riding playground. Different mounts are available to suit each rider’s proficiency, and lessons and tips will come from the gauchos and estancia staff to ensure that each teammate is sufficiently challenged and prepared for the multi-day pack trip. The riding and tack are ‘gaucho’ style, so even experienced riders can prepare to learn something new. Necessary clothing will be outlined in the Expedition Handbook, sent on request or upon application to join the team.
Gaucho: Dior style
Dior has created a visually stunning film depicting Gaucho life as part of its ‘Sauvage: Tales of the Wild’ series. Watch their five-minute Gaucho film below.
Secret Compass runs expeditions with framework itineraries, rather than guided tours with set daily plans. Read more about Our Approach here. The following is the outline plan for this culturally immersive expedition – the ‘substance’ rather than the specifics. A fuller itinerary is provided in the Argentina Expedition Handbook which is available on request or upon application to join the team.
This expedition will begin at Neuquen Airport, with all teammates due to arrive at or before 1000 on 18 Feb 2018. Your professional Secret Compass guide and local leaders will meet the group at the airport for the all-team briefing. The expedition begins with a six-hour road trip to the edge of the estancia, followed by a three-hour horseback journey across the 100,000 acre estancia to get to your initial base camp near the estancia’s office buildings.
Camping near the estancia office for four days, you’ll immerse yourself in the culture, food, rituals and daily life of the gauchos. There is an element of flexibility during this phase, with teammates able to follow their preferred pursuits. Horse riding and trekking on a variety of mounts are available, so beginners can get used to the saddle and experienced riders can improve horsemanship while learning some local tips and tricks. There are fish-packed rivers that you can visit to try your hand at fishing, gaucho style. The estancia has a working forge as well as a sawmill and a leather workshop, so you’ll be able to help out and to see how useful estancia items are crafted on site in the traditional ways.
At the estancia you’ll embed into local life. You’ll learn the skills required for the expedition’s second stage – a five-day pack trip on horseback to the distant edges of the estancia near the border with Chile. The aim of this pack trip is to explore the remote Cerro Negro volcano, wild camping all the way. If lucky, you’ll spot condors circling far below from your lofty trekking heights and evenings will be spent sharing stories beneath the stars. You’ll also visit the ‘puesto’ – the summer pastures for the gauchos and their livestock and herds.
Teammates should note that though gaining an insight into gaucho life is a major part of the expedition, the gauchos themselves are, naturally, very busy with the demands of the estancia. You’ll spend much time in the company of your Secret Compass teammates (normally a very interesting international mix) and with English-speaking (North American and European) estancia staff and volunteers. The owners of the estancia are from California and Sweden. Many gauchos speak little or no English so if you have any Spanish, that will lead to more interesting conversations.
Returning from the wilds on horseback on the final night of your pack-trip adventure, you’ll enjoy a celebratory ‘asado’ (Argentinian barbecue) to chew over the fat of your Argentinian endeavour. On the final morning, pack up and saddle up for the horse ride and road trip back to Neuquen Airport for your homeward flights or onward travel. The expedition officially ends at the airport with teammates free to book any flight out departing on or after 1925 on 1 March).
Secret Compass expeditions are achievable by anyone with a healthy lifestyle and a good level of general fitness. This culturally immersive Argentinian expedition involves long days in the saddle and hard work around the estancia.
Though each expedition is different, some teams need to complete certain distances or activities per day in order to achieve the expedition’s aim. For this reason, arriving physically and mentally prepared is vital to give your team the best chance of achieving its aim.
Applicants will receive a Handbook with further expedition information. View Secret Compass’s suggested Training Plan and get in touch with any fitness, health, training or kit questions that remain. Teammates must be comfortable with the following.
Minimum fitness requirements
- Hike: covering uneven terrain for up to eight hours.
- Daily activity: varies from little at the estancia to up to seven hours (pack trip).
- Carry: up to 15kg in a daysack around the estancia. Mules carry the gear on the pack trip.
- Swim: not required though swimming and fishing are available.
- Ride: Learning to ride a horse at the estancia up to cantering is required.
As a teammate you’ll camp throughout the expedition in one-person tents. During the first half of the expedition (while near the estancia office) there will be bathrooms and shower facilities. During the pack trip (on horseback), you’ll wild camp in tents with the option to sleep under the stars.
The food will include fresh, local produce that is harvested, line-caught or prepared by the team. This will form a staple of your communal meals which are shared with the estancia workers and gauchos. Due to the remote location and the necessity of bringing in bought goods by horse or mule, the estancia is necessarily very self-sufficient. This results in wonderful meals based on hearty portions and complemented by Argentinian wine. At least once throughout the trip there is likely to be an asado – a pit BBQ which draws in the whole estancia for a night of music, dancing and tall tales.
Lots of this expedition will be on horseback starting with the three-hour ride from the road to reach the estancia office buildings. Mules are available for less confident riders for this first excursion whilst the expedition has been planned to optimise the first half of the trip for riding lessons for newcomers or daily rides throughout the extensive grounds for more experienced riders. The horses are mainly Argentine Criollos, strong, sturdy, calm, surefooted and familiar with the rugged mountain trails that border the estancia. They are fun, easy to ride, and dependable as good working partners. The rest of the expedition will be spent on foot, exploring Cerro Negro volcano and wild trails in the far corners of the estate when you want a break from horseback. The only vehicles on this trip are the transfer between Neuquen Airport and the estancia boundary as well as the occasional tractor for specific tasks.
The Argentina Expedition Handbook contains a full recommended kit list. This online Handbook is provided to all potential teammates upon application to join this team.
Get ready for departure
The Get Ready section clarifies what you need to consider in advance of departure. It has advice on things like fitness, flights, insurance and kit.
- Professional Secret Compass leader with full communications kit and medical kit.
- Specialist guides and instructors.
- Ground transfers to and from Neuquen Airport.
- Use of horses and pack animals throughout.
- Tented accommodation throughout.
- All food (snacks and meals) and soft drinks.
- International flights/ travel to and from Nuequen.
- Travel insurance (obligatory) to cover horseriding.
- Visas where relevant.
- Tips to local guides (discretionary).
- Alcohol unless provided by hosts with meals.
- Personal equipment (full kit list in the Handbook).
On application, potential teammates will receive a detailed Expedition Handbook. Here are some expedition-specific questions and our general FAQ will answer many other questions. Get in touch if your question remains unanswered.
Do you need to be able to ride a horse?
No, but you need to be willing to learn to ride a horse up to cantering, as we describe. A few lessons in advance will set you in good stead. The journey to the estancia itself is a three-hour trip on horseback and horses are integral to the gaucho way of life. There is no way of avoiding the initial three-hour ride out to the estancia, and a large element of this experience will relate to horses. Gauchos are cowboys after all!
Can experienced riders join?
Absolutely. There are different types of mount available for different skill levels and for different tasks around the estancia. Activities are flexible while based out of the estancia so you could opt to do more horse-related activities (on horseback or concerning the horses and their tack), plus more challenging/ faster paced options can be worked in while on the pack trip so that riders of all speeds and skill levels are challenged.
Do I need to bring a helmet?
No, the estancia has a good selection for all shapes and sizes.
Do I need jodhpurs?
If you have them, great, bring them. If not, then certain types of trousers will do instead – things to remember are that any seams will rub, and loose-fitting trousers aren’t great either as there’ll be movement and therefore friction. Stick with tighter fitting trousers (on no account shorts) and the fewer seams the better. You don’t need padded trousers.
What’s the riding style?
It’ll be gaucho style saddles, that is to say, neither Western nor English! They have a fleece on the top and are tightened with a system that uses no buckles. Learning to saddle a horse and to ride this way is part of the experience. Gaucho riding isn’t like English riding at all. It is practical and functional. It’s crossing rivers, getting through gates without get off, rounding up other horses and just getting to work rather than dressage.
Do I need riding boots?
If you have them bring them but these are not necessary, other sturdy boots will suffice. Ensure boots are comfortable and broken in.
Are dietary requirements OK?
Yes, please outline your dietary needs (vegetarian etc) on your Application Form, the estancia is happy to accommodate.
Can you book additional accomm. for me?
The Neuquen area is fascinating with its incredible archaeological and dinosaur-related sites. Secret Compass can’t book other elements for you but Booking.com has a wealth of options for those who wish to explore the area either before or after the gaucho trip.
Can I charge all my electricals?
This will be very challenging with limited access to power. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, power packs or solar chargers to avoid frustration.
Is there internet?
There is no standard WiFi; there is some satellite WiFi. Joining this expedition with the aim of getting away from it all to fully immerse yourself in the local life is the ideal approach.
Must I speak Spanish?
This isn’t necessary as there will be fluent English speaking international staff with the team at all times.
How can I find out more?
Apply for this expedition team using the button below to receive your Expedition Handbook with fuller details. The Application page explains the joining process. View FAQ or explore the Get Ready section for advice on things like kit, fitness, visas, flights and travel insurance. Secret Compass is then on hand to help with your unanswered questions or to firm up your place on the team.