Patagonia is a staggeringly beautiful, ethereal place to be under any circumstances, but when you traverse its horizon-bending plains on the back of a magnificent criollo horse, the wind in your hair and the cares of everyday life far behind you, this glacial dreamscape seems to surrender up yet more of its treasures. Covering greater distances than you could on foot, gallop across Torres del Paine National Park, stopping for viewpoints, wildlife sightings or an al fresco picnic. This is a brand new offering from the superlative Explora Patagonia, and as can be expected from the Chilean pioneers of experiential travel, it's a richly satisfying fusion of the untamed natural world and personalised service of the highest quality. What's more, the fixed monthly riding departures come at no extra cost to the standard hotel rate – contact us for available dates.
Perhaps you've already heard about the alternative Inca Trails offering a less restricted and usually quieter route to Machu Picchu, among them the Salkantay Trek ('Machu Picchu through the back door'). But you may not know that it's also possible to ride to the ruins, staying each night at one of the comfortable mountain lodges that punctuate the Salkantay route for some well-deserved respite and relaxation after long days in the saddle. Along the way you will also pass time-resistant villages and homesteads adrift in the remote Andean countryside, where life continues largely unchanged by the centuries. The extraordinarily scenic trail first clings to the mountainside, leading across high-altitude grasslands indented with glassy lakes before dipping down to steamy cloud-forest. Finally it's a short hop onwards to Machu Picchu via the local train.
Special 5-day riding departures (as above) are also offered at the explora Atacama, where one of the most extreme environments on the planet can be yours to explore at a trot or a full free-spirited gallop. Here in the highest, driest desert in the world, life flourishes unexpectedly in oases born of Andean mountain streams. You'll be based in San Pedro de Atacama, the site of one such oasis, from where you can ride out into the Valley of the Moon with its otherworldly rock formations: eccentric monuments etched by the wind over millennia. The riding ranges from moderate to demanding, covering up to 18 miles a day along desert trails, grassy river valleys and dunes.
Ecuador isn't closely associated with horsemanship like Argentina, but our Horse Riding in the Ecuadorian Highlands adventure is reason enough to put this small Andean country on the map for serious riders. The immersive riding programmes (of two, five or eight days' duration) are paced to allow time for adjustment to life in the saddle, working up from an introductory ride through idyllic, volcano-backed pastures on the outskirts of Cotopaxi National Park to a maximum of around 7 hours a day spent on horseback in increasingly dramatic terrain. The bewitching scenery, blending from wild grasslands flanked by craggy peaks to forested valleys of Andean wildflowers, provides an ever-changing backdrop to the journey – and as the name of the area suggests, towering volcanoes stand watch from all sides. Accommodation is in a different rustic hacienda or cosy farmhouse each night, further adding to the authenticity of this one-of-a-kind riding experience.