Volunteering in Salta, with Gaucho Argentino


After spending about two weeks volunteering with horses in Corrientes, working alongside the Gauchos in the seemingly endless Argentinian countryside, it was time for a change of scenery.

So, we started the long drive from Corrientes to Salta. The journey took us from the lush grasslands with plenty of water everywhere you turned, to the desert literally overnight. Argentina is such a diverse country with so much to offer, it’s almost impossible to get bored. 

These blogs about volunteering in Argentina are written by Stine Andersen, for questions you can contact her on Instagram, or stine@hoovesaroundtheworld.com. To find out more about Gaucho Argentino, make sure to check out their Instagram: @gauchoargentinocabalgatas and @gauchodario.

Also read: Living with the gauchos in Corrientes

Gauchos sitting in front of a stone house
The Salta team. From left to right Rodrigo, Carlos, Dario, Sebastian and Manuel

The city of Salta, Argentina

The trip officially started in the city of Salta, where we also met some of the other guests who would be joining this unique tour. In the evening, we visited a Peña – a kind of festival accompanied by Folklore music, food and drinks. Hard to tell which was the best part! Small groups of musicians are spread throughout the location and perform their songs – without being paid for it! As mentioned in the previous blog post, passion is the main drive in this culture and there is nothing more beautiful than watching people do what they love and sharing it with everyone else. If you are ever in northwestern Argentina, we recommend visiting a Peña to witness this beautiful part of the culture!

Gauchos in a car drinking mate a typical Argentinian drink
Quick mate break on our way to the starting point of the ride

The start of the horse riding and volunteering adventure

After our well spent time in Salta, we were ready to start our adventure. In the morning, we took off with two cars to Cachi, a cute little town nestled in the Calchaquí Valley of northwestern Argentina. The route took us over the mountains, going as high up as 3500 m, which was quite the change after Corrientes, which is probably flatter than the Netherlands! We took in the breathtaking view and then descended into a national park. After driving for a while, we stopped at a small house in the middle of nowhere. Traditionally, the houses are made of Adobe, which basically is dried mud bricks made from some sort of mixture of sand, clay, straw and water. It’s great for a hot climate, since it absorbs the heat throughout the day and then releases it slowly at night when it cools down outside.

Also read: Horse riding adventure in Patagonia

guanaco grazing in a field in front of the mountains
On the way you will see endless amounts of guanaco grazing on the side of the road

We met the owners of the house, a family with two kids, and figured out the reason for our little stop. Handmade ponchos. Ponchos play an essential part in the wardrobe of a Gaucho, especially in the colder regions. The wool mostly consists of sheep or llama and those ponchos can definitely help getting you through a cold night in the mountains! The process of making a poncho takes up to 15 days, and with its time-consuming manufacturing process, it’s a work of art.

After a quick ‘how-to-shoot-a-slingshot-lesson’ on the side of the road, we arrived in Cachi, dropped our stuff off at the hostel, and went to have a much-anticipated lunch. Colonial buildings, great food and wine describe this adorable town pretty well! This is also where we spent the second night of the trip.

Cars and horses in between the mountains of Argentina
Unpacking the trucks and getting ready for our first night

The first horse (or mule) ride of the week

Well-rested and after a delicious breakfast, we got into the car to drive to our next location, a ‘refugio’ in the middle of the desert. This charming adobe hut would be our place for the night, but before that, it was time for the most essential thing of a horse-riding adventure – a ride! The horses were saddled and we spotted some mules amongst them, joking that we’d probably get to ride them. Indeed, Stine was the lucky one, and was introduced to the smallest of the mules, Galleta (or cookie). Having ridden a mule before in Panama, it wasn’t a first, but mules are very stubborn and so is the rider, which led to a few discussions over the days, but besides that, they made a great team and developed an unbreakable bond over the days. We got on our four-legged friends and took off for a two-hour trail ride around the area. It’s not often you ride through a forest of cacti, with the majority of them being around three meters tall. It’s safe to say this was quite the change to our previous weeks in the land of never-ending flatness, and it was impressive. With the mountains in the background, this made the perfect scene for the next western movie.

Two riders on mules in the desert in front of the mountains
Dario and Stine

Good food, wine and music

Back at the refugio, we were greeted with coffee, tea and some snacks, and then it was already time to start cooking dinner. You might think dinner far out in the desert won’t be anything special, but here’s us to prove you wrong. Fresh veggies and meat, spices and whatever magic they put in were combined in a huge pot over the fire and turned into a delicious stew. In our years of living with Gauchos, we’ve learnt that pretending not to know how to cook is a clever choice, and so far, we haven’t been disappointed.

Also read: Hooves Around Argentina December 2023 equestrian meet-ups

Gaucho cooking on the fire in front of a stone house in the desert
Dario preparing dinner over the fire

We enjoyed our food and then spent the rest of the evening sitting around the fire, listening and singing along to the songs Darío played on the guitar, and drinking wine. The night sky in the desert is incomparable, with no light pollution anywhere close, you can see more stars than you can imagine. Since the weather was ideal, we decided to take some mattresses and put them outside, and it was the perfect decision! Waking up to an awe-inspiring sunrise makes you feel like you are in literal paradise.

The first long horse ride in the desert

The following day started with freshly prepared breakfast, and off we went on our first long ride in the desert. Soon we passed the most incredible rock formations, shaped by wind and weather, and the views literally took our breath away. We stopped for lunch in the shade of one of the huge ‘rocks’ and yet again we were served great food. After filling our bellies, there was time for a little siesta, before we headed to the next little town we would be staying at.

Rider on black horse surrounded by cacti in the desert in front of the mountains
Hannah and her 4-year-old mare

Once again, we were greeted with open arms, drinks and snacks by the family who owns the place. A little rest and a shower and we were ready for dinner! A little tired from the sun and a long day of riding, we decided to go for an early night, which was a great idea before our next adrenaline filled day!

Climbing mountainsides with horses and mules

Still in the desert, we hopped on our horses and honestly, we were not expecting what this day was about to bring. Stine and Galleta were great friends by that time and apart from having the occasional argument on who decides where to go, their love for each other was obvious, which was a good thing since Stine has a severe fear of heights and this day would be anything but riding on flat ground. An advice from a gaucho that got Stine through the fear was “Confía en tu mula” or “Trust your mule”. So she did, and whenever they were balancing on the mountainside, Stine closed her eyes and trusted her mule.  

Two gauchos on their horse and mule in the desert
Dario and Manuel

After less than an hour of riding, we started our ascend. It was unbelievable how quickly we left the desert and entered another world. Packed with all the essentials we would need for the night; the path took us up the mountains to a lunch spot with a magnificent view. Lunch was followed by a descent into the valley, with many little creek crossings and the guys having to clear the way with their machete every now and then. Lucky us, we were in the back, so by the time we rode through most of the bushes were already out of the way!

A gaucho and his mule in the green mountains
Sebastian and his mule

The Gauchos always made sure everything was in order, that your saddle was in the right position after every up and downhill and that you felt comfortable in the demanding terrain. Paired with their incomparable humour, it was the perfect day of riding. After a total of around 5 hours in the saddle, we reached our place for the night. And when we say it was in the middle of nowhere, we actually mean it. Everything needed to build this refugio, plus its interior, had been carried up the mountains by mules over time - even the solar panel! Hats off, Galleta and friends!

Rider on mule in front of gigantic cacti in the desert
Stine and Galleta

The place is stunning. The little hut is located on a small hill in between two creeks, where most of us took advantage of a quick and refreshing river shower. To make sure we would have enough daylight, we started cooking straight away. And by 'we' we mean we cut some veggies and Darío did all the magic - as per usual. As it started raining, we spent the rest of the evening inside, chatting and laughing with the Gauchos, making music and enjoying this incredible time together. There is something that hits different when you sit in the mountains, surrounded by strangers that you formed this little family with, that is now part of your life for a few days, and it’s an experience I would recommend to anyone. As another incredible night with our newfound friends came to an end, we laid out the mattresses in the big room and all went to sleep to the sound of the rain on the almost sealed roof. 

Riders and mules in the green mountains in front of the desert
Stine and Sebastian on their mules enjoying the last green grass before descending back down to the desert

The last day out on trail

Our last day of riding came around way too soon, but it sure did not disappoint. Leaving our little mountain refuge, we started the climb of the - thanks to the rain - very muddy and slippery hill. The horses were absolute stars and got us up the hill safely. Hannah was riding a four-year-old horse that was still quite new to the game, and she loved every second of it. The horses are incredibly sure-footed and will take you over paths that you wouldn’t trust yourself on.

After riding underneath the circling condors right above us, we soon were covered in the clouds where we couldn't even see the beginning of the group anymore. Once it cleared up, we were left speechless. The view of the mountains and the valley in the distance gave us chills. The last descent of the trip was just as epic as all the other ones, and seeing the cars with our lunch arriving in the distance made it even better.

Cowboy and horse riding through the desert
Back in the desert

The final bit of the ride consisted of crossing the desert back to the refugio we stayed at the first night. One last time, we sat around the fire, and the evening turned into night accompanied by wine and music. 

People gathered around a fire playing guitar and drinking wine
Bonfire, guitar and wine is part of every evening

It is safe to say that it was an adventure of a lifetime. Of course the scenery was spectacular, but what made this ride so special were the people, the entire team that stands behind Darío. A tour like this requires incredible amounts of work and preparation; however the Gauchos make you feel like part of the family and clearly take pride in sharing their way of living and feeling with us. 

Gaucho and his mule in front of red mountains in the desert
Dario chewing coca leaves

Make sure to check out Stine’s Instagram highlights from GA Salta to relive our ride with us! In our upcoming blog post, discover the journey of crossing the Andes!

Horses resting in the desert in front of red mountains
Horses resting at our lunch spot
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