Horse Riding in Puerto Natales, Patagonia.
Most people come to Puerto Natales in Patagonia for one thing – the breathtaking Torres Del Paine National Park. This is the jumping off point for the world famous W and O hiking treks. The guide books eulogize these making them some of the most visited trails in all of Patagonia. Here you’ll literally find scores of chipper hikers clad in expensive neon adventure gear gleefully making their way around the circuit.
Alternative to the Torres Del Paine treks?
But what if you’ve just busted your knee and can’t walk more than a few hundred meters without a mad pain doubling you up like a raspberry ripple? Good question, and one we unfortunately had to ask ourselves upon arrival due to a recent misadventure. Luckily we quickly found an alternative activity by emailing the good people over at Pingo Salvaje, a horse ranch or ‘estancia’ located 24kms east of Puerto Natales. A helpful chap called Fernando got in touch to invite us out for a half day ride across their 6000 hectare forest estate. They’d pick us up on Saturday morning at 8.30am and we’d drive out to the ranch where we’d begin a half day ride via a laguna trail. Sold.
Paula the manager arrived bang on time and drove us out to the ranch, dropping her husband off at work on route. The ranch is set in some of the most picturesque Patagonian countryside imaginable. Situated in a valley where thousands of years ago there was a massive glacier, it’s now home to a huge turquoise blue lake that seemingly goes on forever. In the distance huge snow capped mountains watch peacefully over the valley while huge waterfalls cascade down the sides feeding the lakes below. This is where we’d spend our morning exploring.
Catalina our friendly guide helped us get set up with traditional chaps and helmets before introducing us to our horses at the nearby stables. The last time we went riding (in Utila) the horse they gave me was tiny and it looked like I was riding a Shetland pony, much to everyone’s amusement. This time thankfully we had two massive stallions called Dormilon and Rotundo and were assured that both were very chilled and experienced.
We mounted our steeds and began the trek skirting the side of the expansive lake.
To say the surroundings were picturesque would be an understatement. They’ve managed to find themselves a piece of the world and preserve it’s natural beauty for generations to come. Everything here is done naturally. The animals are all grass fed, the electricity is generated from the waterfall and the fallen native lenga trees provide wood for the fire and material for furniture.
We trotted away from the lagoon up into the grassy hills for impressive views over the valley. Stopping to take it all in we commented on how quiet it was, until right on cue a huge black woodpecker started head banging on a nearby tree with uncanny timing. Our horses carried on, easily weaving their way through the forest – although they weren’t so spatially aware of low level branches. I quickly had to duck a couple of times to avoid a potential wooden clothesline to the face.
At one point we saw a few scattered bones and I wondered aloud what they belonged to. We soon found out as we discovered a gigantic half decomposed cow carcass. I’m a city boy deep down and couldn’t stifle my initial shock, much to the amusement of our guide Catalina. I know it’s all part of the great circle of life and all that, especially out here – but that thing was nasty!
We climbed higher getting ever better views before coming to a flat plane where we had the option to canter for a while. For people like me that don’t know too much about horse-speak this means going fast, and while a little apprehensive I was keen to give it a go. And go we did. Bouncing up and down like a sack of spuds, we galloped down the hill shaking up and down to bursting point. One of the most exhilarating things to do is push yourself to the point where you don’t feel like you’re in control – and that’s exactly how it felt. Saying that, Rotundo the horse seemed to know what he was doing and calmly came to a halt at the bottom. It was a lot of fun.
We trotted slowly back to the ranch savouring the last few minutes of the ride. We’d been out for three hours but it’d gone past in a flash. Catalina pointed out how far we’d gone and the huge distance covered. We could have stayed out there for longer and next time would have booked in for a full day’s ride. We stroked and thanked our tired horses before taking off our riding gear.
Fernando showed us some more of the ranch area including the other horse stables (they have over 100 here in the summer season), the camping grounds, the fishing area and mountain biking tracks. While there’s lots do here there’s so much space it makes it seem like you have the entire place to yourself. We didn’t see one other person the entire morning we were riding. This is what we wanted from Patagonia – the wilderness, unspoilt nature and beautiful surroundings. Pingo Salvaje has all this in spades and it was a privilege to spend the morning on their amazing ranch. Big thanks to everyone there but especially Fernando & Paula for organising everything and Catalina for being a great guide.
The Finer Details.
- Pingo Salvaje Ranch, 24km from Puerto Natales.
- Activities available: Horse Riding, Fishing, Hiking, Bird Watching.
- Accommodation: Camping and Lodge Cabin available.
- Opening Hours 9am-3pm
- Horse Riding: Cost: Half Day $38.000ch ($60USD) Full Day $70.000ch ($105USD)
- You can find more details of Pingo Salvaje Ranch at their website here.
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