If your travel fantasies involve lush, rolling vistas, delicious outdoor meals, dancing under the stars, and endless adventure without boundaries, then you may just have something in common with the Argentinean folk hero, the legendary gaucho. These mythic horsemen and cowhands who roamed the Argentine grasslands, closely associated with the country’s independence from Spain, are perhaps the most venerated symbol of national identity for the Argentinean people. Today, the lifestyle and traditions of the gaucho are carried on through the country’s thriving estancias, ranches that welcome guests from around the world for a thrilling peek into the livestock and agricultural practices of modern day gauchos! Saddle up and read on – then get in touch with our team to learn more!
The gaucho is often pictured just as romantically as his North American counterpart, the cowboy. As in the case of the cowboy, being a gaucho was not only a physical way of life, but a spiritual one. Fiercely nomadic, gauchos roamed the Rio de La Plata Basin where the Pampas of Argentina meets the borders of Uruguay and southern Brazil, dressed in a baggy bombacha pants covered by a skirt-like chirpa. Undisputed in their horsemanship skills, gauchos made their living rounding up escaped livestock and wild horses, while sleeping under the stars and living off asado – meat barbecued over an open fire – and yerba mate, a tea made from a species of South American holly.
If the cowboy’s signature was his lasso, then the gaucho had his boleadoras – three rocks bound together on long leather straps used to snare an animal’s legs and tangle them (arguably an even more impressive method of entrapment)! Although they were at first denigrated by the Argentinean government for their lawlessness, gauchos rose in status during the Argentine War for Independence from Spain, where they aided Argentinean independence efforts with their intimate knowledge of the country’s terrain and became national heroes in the process. But fame was not important to a gaucho, who held his freedom and his horses in the highest esteem. Unfortunately, just like the cowboy of the American West, the gaucho was no match for the onward march of progress. In Argentina, as the Pampas began to be fenced in with commercial estancias (or ranches), the gaucho was forced to adapt and turn to commercial cattle herding.
These days, the rich history of the gaucho has actually been preserved through these estancias, where visitors can indulge in feasts of asado, sweetbread, and empanadas, take a turn at improving their own horseback riding skills, or even learn traditional Argentinean folk dances – like the vigorous malambo – that were popular during the height of gaucho fame. Though more luxurious than the gaucho lifestyle of yore, these estancias are perfect for travelers motivated by the same wandering spirit and love for open land. Here, travelers can view a thrilling demonstration of horsemanship during a rodeo, take a horseback ride through the rolling pampas, or simply sip a fine Argentinean Malbec while witnessing the day to day workings of the farm.
For a totally unique day trip or a weekend back in time, look no further than estancias like La Bamba de Areco, one of Argentina’s oldest estancias which features horse-whispering shows, or Estancia El Puesto in Argentina’s Mendoza region, which faces the stunning views of the Andes Mountains and evenings around an open fire enjoying a wide variety of unique local wines.