Posted on Friday, April 12th, 2013
Los Portreros is a 6000 acre ranch located about 1 hour outside of Cordoba, Argentina, which is the second largest city in the country. It is about an hour’s flight from Buenos Aires. The elevation is 4,000 feet. The ranch has been in the same Anglo-Argentinean family for four generations, and it is managed and operated by the owners, Lou and Kevin, a husband-wife team. Los Portreros translates to “the gates”, and it is so named because of the huge number of gorgeous old stone walls that encircle and divide the ranch into various pastures. The ranch and surrounding area is very green, lots of rolling hills and buttes, but you also encounter a lot of rock, hence the stone walls. They have 500 head of Aberdeen- Angus cattle and 120 horses. They also raise their own sheep and pigs.
They can take a maximum of 12 -14 guests, and there are two rides per day except for Sundays, when there is one ride only. Guests also ride once on the day of their arrival, in the late afternoon. The morning ride leaves around 10 am. Lunch is served around 2 or 3, and the afternoon ride leaves around 5 pm. Guests are welcome to stay for any length of time, leaving and arriving on the dates that suit them. They do not have formal, set weeks; people constantly come and go. They are open all year, except for the month of May. In the winter (June through August), it is dry, pleasant during the day and cold at night. In the summer, it is wet (you might encounter a rain storm during your stay, but it won’t rain for days on end) and very green with warm-to-hot days and temperate evenings.
The ranch has a swimming pool and lovely grounds to walk, should a guest want to take a morning or afternoon off riding. If a guest would like to go into Cordoba for the day, an all-day taxi can be arranged for around $125 – $150 US Dollars. The taxi will seat 4 people, and the cab driver will take you to all places of interest in Cordoba and wait for you while you sight-see or shop. Lou and Kevin happily arrange this for guests.
Los Portreros is a 40 minute drive from the Cordoba airport. They provide transfers to and from the airport for the guests, at no extra cost to the guest. A local taxi will pick up guests at the airport as they arrive (there is no need to wait for other guests’ flights) and drive the guests to the ranch. A rental car is not necessary, nor is public transportation an option.
Los Portreros made an incredible first impression as we drove up the very long gravel driveway. We saw gorgeous stone walls, lush fields, happy, grazing cattle, beautiful horses. When we arrived at the main house, where guests gather for meals, Lou and Kevin awaited us, dressed in traditional Argentinean riding garb. They were standing outside on the porch with their dogs, and they had a tray with a “welcome lemonade”. This wonderful touch made everyone feel very welcomed and was a sign of how attentive to detail the hosts would be throughout our week there. The grounds were immaculate, as were the rooms. You immediately felt it was a relaxing, happy atmosphere.
Lou and Kevin were our hosts, and they were entertaining and conscientious hosts. They have hired local people as cooks, maids, and gauchos. They also employ 4 foreign, English-speaking guides. Each ride has both a native gaucho at the front of the ride, setting the pace, and an English speaking guide at the back of the ride who can enhance the ride with stories and information about flora and fauna. Lou and Kevin typically ride once a day, and one of the foreign guides accompanies the group during the other ride. At dinner, the guests dine with either Kevin or Lou (they switch off nights with guests) and a foreign guide, who stays up with the guests until they go to sleep, happily filling drinks and engaging in entertaining conversation. A foreign guide also serves breakfast in the morning. The staff, both local and foreign, were dedicated, hard-working and very eager to please the guests. They were all excellent. Lou and Kevin clearly knew more about the history of the ranch than the foreign guides, so rides with them contained more interesting information.
These were, hands-down, the finest horses I have ridden on any Equitours vacation. They have about 120 for 12 guests. They breed about 10 foals a year, and they buy horses as well. The gauchos train the home-bred horses on site. The gauchos are paid extra for each horse they successfully train, so there is a lot of incentive for them to train horses and train them well. They have a mixture of Criollo horses and Peruvian Pasos, which are gaited horses. Both the Criollos and Pasos at Los Portreros are much larger and better-built than the other Criollos and Pasos I have encountered. They have sleek coats, are beautifully groomed and are fed very well. All guests either ride Criollos or all guests ride Pasos during each specific ride, which is important to note. If someone goes there wanting to ride gaited horses, he/she will NOT ride a gaited horse every ride. They will ride gaited horses about half of the time. The horses are extremely well-trained and finely tuned. You ride a different horse every ride, maybe repeating one or two during your week. Lou selects horses for her riders, and she does an excellent job matching personalities. She is also very open to feedback and willing to adjust mounts if someone is not pleased with her horse. The gauchos do all of the farrier work, so shoes are clinched and checked every morning. As a result, we had no problems with loose shoes, and all horses moved quite soundly. There were no signs of saddle sores, and very few signs of bite marks. The horses live together in a herd out in the pasture (divided by breed, Criollos in one pasture, Pasos in another), so they are very comfortable with one another when riding. Guests could ride in any order, and we were welcome to change order throughout the ride. We experienced no kicking, no biting, no vices at all…not attempts to graze, no slow-walking. As I said, they were very finely tuned animals. They were also very friendly with people. They loved being pet before and after rides. We used mounting blocks to get on the horses.
They have three types of saddles: 2 types of English (polo and military) and Gaucho saddle. Each horse has its own saddle, so you ride in a different saddle every time you go out, which is also important to note. If you really like a specific saddle, you will not ride in it every time because you will be riding in a saddle that fits the horse. If the saddle were really important to the rider, I’m sure Lou could find other mounts for the rider that used the same type of saddle. The saddles all fit the horses very well. The polo saddles have a lower back and front and are most similar to a close-contact English saddle. The English military saddles have a very high back and front, so you are really held into position. The Gaucho saddle is much wider. It has a broad flat front and back…it looks like a large rectangle draped over the horse. They are comfortable, but they really encourage the lower leg to be quite far forward, since this is how the gauchos ride. If you fight having the lower leg forward, it becomes less comfortable. You definitely get a wider stretch through the hips in the gaucho saddle. Each saddle comes out with a gorgeous, huge sheep skin draped over top as a seat save, so all of the saddles are quite comfortable for the bottom. I found all of the saddles to be very comfortable, well-cared for and made of very high quality leather.
All of the horses neck rein, and the bridles are also made of beautiful leather. The horses wear lovely, thick leather halters with the bridles over top of them, so that they can be easily tied up during picnic rides. The reins are thick and a pleasure to hold. The tack room is gorgeous…perfectly clean, filled with fine tack. It is situated right next to where guests mount, and it was certainly an impressive sight.
Water bottles and saddle bags are provided upon request. The gauchos carry bottles of water, bottles of lemonade and cups with them in their own saddle bags, so guests are welcome to stop for refreshments regularly.
They ride in a bit of a hybrid English-Western style. They neck rein, as we do in Western riding, and the horses are extremely responsive. You are welcome to post the trot or sit the trot, and you are welcome to sit the canter or half-seat, whichever is most comfortable for you. They encourage you to sit in the saddle at all gaits, since that is what the gauchos do and that is how the horses are trained, but it is up to each guest. All three types of saddles have English style stirrups, but the Gaucho saddle is a little more reminiscent of a Western saddle, with its larger size. Going up hills, they ask that you lean forward a little to help your horse, but they do not ask you to actually get up out of the saddle.
We rode 5 – 6 hours per day. Most days you go out twice per day, but twice we had picnic rides. One of the picnic rides, the gauchos and foreign guides packed lunches, and we rode to a beautiful swimming hole, where we stopped for a few hours to read, swim and jump off rocks into the water. The other picnic ride was the day we played polo. We played polo in the morning, had lunch at the polo site, and then we stopped by Lou and Kevin’s house on the way home to play gaucho games (like pole bending and other games). It was a great day.
One of the best parts of Los Portreros was how varied the riding activities were. We went on trail rides, picnic rides, played polo, played gaucho games, herded horses and herded cattle. We also had the opportunity to ride to El Chiviquin, the cattle headquarters of the ranch, and watch the gauchos lasso and dip the calves in fly protectant. Each day was a new adventure, and it kept guest energy and morale up throughout the week.
The pace of the ride is varied, due to the hills and the rocks. We had many opportunities for good gallops, but we also walked quite a bit. As in most Latin American countries, there is not much trotting. We were either going on long canters or extended gallops, or we were walking. They are very amenable to adjusting the pace of the ride to the ability and desires of the group. Our group liked to go fast, and they made sure we were able to do so frequently. They send out different groups according to skill level, so they can accommodate people who have never ridden before all the way up to highly advanced riders. They also were able to accommodate our particular group by sending out extra guides with us, so that we could all ride together at times, since we had a variety of levels in our groups. With the extra guides, the more experienced riders could go on fast canters, and the extra guide could lead the less experienced riders on slower canters, and we could all catch up at the end of the cantering places. It worked well, and it was nice for the group to ride together sometimes.
The accommodations were very neat and well-maintained. They are not fancy, but they are lovely. They are decorated with the typical décor of the region, and they are cleaned daily by very attentive maids. They also provide free laundry service any day you would like, though all clothes are line-dried, and depending on weather, it can take a day or two to get your clothes back, which is important to note.
While they can take 12 – 14 guests, they have 8 rooms/cabins, so to speak. There is a cute stand-alone cottage that is fit for one person, a single, which is very charming and has lots of natural light. There are two rooms that are physically attached to the main house, where we eat meals, and each of those can accommodate two people. Then there is a stand-alone building that would be great for a family, which has three bedrooms, one of which has bunk beds for kids, and two bathrooms. Then there is a third stand-alone building that is quite large and has two bedrooms, each with adjoining bath. There is also a large sitting room and even a kitchen (though it was not used while we were there!). All rooms have private bathrooms, no shared.
There are many thoughtful touches taken with the rooms as well. The maids put in fresh-cut flowers from the ranch each day, which were a lovely sight and smell to come home to.
There is free internet available in the main house, where we gather for meals. It is wireless, but it is not terribly fast, which is important to note. Downloading large files would be a frustrating endeavor! So, people needing to conduct business while at Los Portreros should be warned that while they have internet access, it is not the fastest or strongest of signals. It is perfectly adequate for checking and writing emails. The hosts ask that no one use internet during meal time, cocktail hour or tea time. That way no one’s holiday is disrupted by continued computer use. Appropriate times for using computers and internet are after breakfast (before the first ride) and after lunch (during siesta).
Meals are included in the cost, as are alcohol and other drinks. They have a full bar in addition to beer and red and white wine. They are very generous with the alcohol, always willing to pour and encouraging people to have as much as they want.
They bring tea or coffee to each person’s room in the morning, which was such a luxury! They bring the tea or coffee at 8 or 8:30 and breakfast is it 9. They have fresh fruit, freshly squeezed juice, cereal, as well as hot breakfast to order (think eggs and bacon however you like it).
Lunch is typically at 3, depending on when the morning ride returns. They offer beer, wine, juice, soda and water with lunch. Lunch is plated and served to you, so it is not a buffet and there is not a huge amount of choice. They can accommodate vegetarians, vegans and any dietary restrictions.
Guests are invited to tea at 5 pm before the afternoon ride goes out. Snacks are served as well.
Cocktail hour begins at 8 or 8:30 with light hors deuves, and dinner is at 9. Again, dinner is plated and served to you, so you eat what you are given. The meals are very delicious, very balanced and made with fresh, home-raised ingredients whenever possible. There is a bell at the dining room table, which Kevin or Lou rings whenever we need service. When the bell rings, waitresses come to clear the plates and offer the group seconds. Dessert is served with dinner.
If you were ever hungry between meals, you would be welcome to go to the kitchen for a snack. While the water is safe to drink, they provide bottled water at all meals, in the rooms and on the rides, so there is never a lack of fresh, bottled water!
To be totally honest, some meals were better than others, but even the lesser meals were well within the range of acceptable. I would not say that food was the strongest part of the Los Portreros operation.
As noted, there is a pool, and swimming was also offered on the picnic ride when we went to the swimming hole. It would be a lovely ranch to explore on foot as well, for those interested in hiking or running. Also, they are very willing and able to accommodate non-riders who are interested in watching the polo and the gaucho games, but not actually taking part. At some point during the week, almost every client on our trip took a ride off to rest, read, relax or swim. It is a place with a great energy, so just enjoying the surroundings is a lovely way to spend the afternoon.
Gratuity is not included, and it is suggested that each guest leave $15 – 20 per day if they thought they received excellent service. Every client in our group certainly felt the gratuity was warranted, given the level of service. They accept any form of currency for gratuities, pesos, dollars, euros, pounds, whatever!
Also, to get into Argentina, Americans are required to pay a $140 visa tax per person when they land in the country. It can be paid with credit card or cash. This visa tax lasts for 10 years, so if you return to the country within 10 years, you will not have to pay it a second time.