The horse did not want to follow me. No matter how hard I pulled on the leash, it was more interested in the bucket with food than the prospect of an inexperienced rider on its back. I waited patiently for it to stop chewing, then gave the rope another hard tug. Finally, it looked up and, very slowly, began to move.
It was our second day on the El Galope farm and I was about to get a riding lesson. A real one, with instructions on how to brush a horse and the appropriate posture. As the horse finally came with me, I was more than happy I had decided to stay on a ranch in Uruguay.
But horses are not the only reason to choose to stay on an estancia. Keep reading and I will explain to you why a farm stay is an essential stop on every trip to Uruguay.
#1 You get an authentic glimpse of rural life in Uruguay
Staying on a ranch is your chance to find out what life is like for many Uruguayans. As mentioned above, we stayed at the El Galope farm, halfway in between Colonia del Sacramento and Montevideo. Our hosts, Miguel and Monica, were very friendly and we had plenty of opportunities to talk to them. I learned more about Uruguayan culture and mentalities than anywhere else in the country.
Plus, staying on a farm was a welcome break from all the cities I had been visiting lately and a great way to experience the countryside.
#2 You can go horse-riding
What better place to go horse-riding than on a ranch? The El Galope farm owns a couple of horses that are grazing on a meadow behind the building. We picked them up from there and then I learned more about horses than I would have imagined. How to brush them, how to mount them, how to sit on them, which posture to keep, how to steer them, how to stop them and also how to get them going. It was a great lesson. Both Miguel, the ranch owner, and the horse were very patient. By the end of it, I felt prepared to go riding again (the feeling lasted until the next day when I woke up completely sore).
This is the country of gauchos. If you have the chance to go horse-riding on an estancia in Uruguay, I highly recommend you take it.
#3 You can eat home-made food
After almost two weeks in Chile and Argentina, I was tired of eating out. Most restaurants seemed to serve the same kind of food and everything beyond burgers, pizza and pasta was too expensive. Fortunately, we had the option of eating home-cooked food on the El Galope farm.
Since most estancias are remote, you will almost always have your meals included or get the option to order them there. We had cottage pie on our first evening and an amazing cheese fondue on the second day. The cheese was produced locally, by one of the neighbours. This was definitely not anything we could have eaten in a restaurant and it is, so far, some of the most delicious food I had in South America.
#4 You can go for long walks
I appreciated the opportunity to go for a walk through the Uruguayan countryside. Especially after having been to many cities, being out in nature was a nice change. We walked in between fields and cow pastures. Traffic was so light that we could walk in the middle of the road. On our way, we saw many colourful birds that I wish I had been able to identify. If you’re interested in bird-watching, make sure to bring binoculars and a guide book.
We eventually had to turn around because the path got too muddy, but I easily could have kept going for an hour or two.
If you’re interested in staying fit and healthy, those country roads are also great for running and beat crowded side-walks and traffic-heavy cities any time.
#5 Estancias are beautiful
Most farms that accept guests are well maintained and beautifully decorated. El Galope was no exception. It consists of two buildings, one of which is used by the owners. The other one houses several guest rooms. We had a large living room and kitchen in which we spent hours talking to the other guests at mealtimes.
And then there was the garden with its lemon tree and a large patio with a pool. After the horse riding lesson, I was happy to sit down in a chair in the sun and just enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
So there it is. Five reasons to stay on an estancia in Uruguay. I hope I have convinced you to experience life in the countryside because it would be a shame to miss out on such a special opportunity.
You can find estancias for every budget, from the great-value dorm rooms at El Galope to high-end, luxurious farms. Most will offer some kind of transfer or pick-up service to make it easy for you to reach them. With a little bit of research, it should be easy to find the kind of ranch you are looking for.