Spending a day as a gaucho in Argentina

written by
Heidi Fuller-Love

updated 16.02.2024

For some, a trip to Argentina would not be complete without a day tour with a local gaucho. A prominent figure in Argentine culture, gaucho typically refers to local nomadic horsemen, known for their bravery and ability to rope cattle. See how travel expert Heidi Fuller-Love gets on while spending a day in gaucho Argentina.

Spending a day as a gaucho in Argentina

Gaucho day trips are a-peso-a-dozen near Buenos Aires, but I wanted to head out to an estancia (ranch) with a bona fide member of Argentina’s cowboy club, so when I met Andre – a gaucho guide from toursbylocals.com – I jumped at the chance to visit his ranch in the Paraná Delta.

It’s an hour’s drive through Buenos Aires’ shanty-town-packed suburbs to reach the delta, where Andre awaits me. Back in the bohemian neighbourhood of San Telmo he had looked uncomfortable in his city suit, but here he is in his element.

Short and wiry, he wears the pancake-sized traditional boina beret and baggy bombacha trousers revealing bandy legs – the hallmark of any true gaucho.

Gauchos i stado krów na tle wulkan Lanin, Patagonia, Argentina © sunsinger/Shutterstock

The beautiful grassland landscapes of Argentina © Shutterstock

Discovering the Paraná delta

Before leaving for the ranch, he takes me on a short tour of the Paraná Delta’s tiny capital. “It’s called Tigre because of the jaguars – known as tigres – that once roamed here”, he tells me. We visit antique shops, a crafts fair, a museum packed with the work of Argentine artists and even take a tour of the mate museum before hopping into a shallow-keeled motor boat and taking to the water.

Covering some 5,405 square miles, the Paraná Delta is Argentina’s answer to Venice. A vast, watery wasteland dotted with islands, it flows into the Río de la Plata, which separates Argentina from Uruguay. Churning the chocolate water into worry furrows, we chug past rambling, colonial-style properties.

“Many important people have lived here – a few years ago when she was playing Evita, Madonna even came here with her kids”, Andre explains.

Gaucho sheep, Argentina © Shutterstock

Cattle being gathered by a gaucho, Argentina © Shutterstock

With its rich grazing land, the Delta has been home to gauchos for centuries. “My great grandfather bought this ranch”, Andre tells me as we leap from his boat onto the narrow jetty next to his sprawling property.

Gauchos are a potent symbol for Argentinians. The 1940s film La Guerra Gaucha about the gaucho struggle for freedom in Spanish-occupied Argentina is a well-loved classic. José Hernández’s epic poem Martin Fierro is taught in many schools.

According to Andre, this is because Martin Fierro is a symbolic gaucho: he represents the force of good against bad.

In a hummocky field behind the timber-framed ranch house I have my first gaucho lesson. Andre shows me how to sling the boleadoras, those three lumpy, leather-bound rocks tied together with straps that are used to catch wild horses and runaway cattle.

It looks easy when Andre swings the weights around his head then slings them in a windmill flurry, neatly capturing the gatepost. When it’s my turn, however, I mistime the moment to let go and capture my own shins, bruising them black-and-blue.

Learning Argentine gaucho horse riding

When Andre’s gaucho employee, Jose, brings out two sturdy-boned native Criollo horses, I’m happy to move onto the next class. Donning a pair of bombacha trousers and a woollen boina I swing clumsily into the saddle, then canter off behind Jose and his hairy, wary-eyed dog to round up a few of those big-horned, docile Criolla cattle that Argentina is famed for.

Jose lassos a young calf, expertly binding its feet then slinging it over the high pommel of his saddle, then he teaches me to lasso a tree stump. Soon I can catch that darn old stump without difficulty, but when I try out my skills on an ornery herd of galloping Criolla cows, I can’t catch a single horn.

Tasting traditional gaucho food and drink

Back at the ranch the yerba mate calabash, made out of a varnished gourd, is doing the rounds. When it’s handed to me I poke the metal bombilla straw through the murky hash of floating leaves on top and take a deep sip as if I’ve been doing it all my life.

Made from the leaves of a species of holly, Argentina’s national beverage is so acrid it makes me want to vomit. Snorting with laughter, Andre takes the calabash and shoves a glass of Argentinean Malbec into my hand. “It’s an acquired taste”, he says.


Guacho culture in Argentina © Shutterstock

I sip the Malbec, allowing the wine’s soothing flavours to comfort my yerba-mate-assaulted palate, while Andre shows me how to prepare the asado. Using the same technique that gauchos have employed for centuries, he fills a deep pit with charcoal and lights it.

He then straps hunks of morcilla (black pudding), chunks of mollejas (sweetbread) and slabs of asado de tira (ribs) onto the parilla – a large metal grill, which he fixes almost vertically above the lit fire.

An hour later, I bite into my first crisp, slightly charred chunk of morcilla, take a long sip of Malbec and face up to the fact that I’ll never be much of a gaucho.

Andre hands me hunks of asado de tira dripping with parsley-and-garlic Chimichurri sauce. Dropping my fork, I pick up the ribs with my bare hands and tear off strips of tender meat with my teeth. “You might not be much of a gaucho, but you certainly eat like one,” Andre laughs.

Tailor-made trips in Argentina

Dreaming of going on an adventure like Heidi's? Our tailor-made trip service makes it easy to plan and book your trip to Argentina without any effort or hassle. Our trips are fully customisable and use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

  • For those who want to see all of Argentina: Our Unforgettable Argentina trip features days in bustling city centres as well as time spent seeing unforgettable natural sites.
  • For wine lovers: our South American Wines Trail takes you through key vineyards in Argentina and Chile. Taste the world-renowned South American wines and piscos directly from the places where they are made.
  • For the budget conscious: our City Escape to Buenos Aires trip will show you some of the best sites that Buenos Aires has to offer. Experience Argentine culture without the hassle of planning.

For travel tips, don't miss the Rough Guide to Argentina. Read more about the best things to do in Argentina. If travelling further into South America don't miss the Rough Guide to South America on a Budget.

If you are planning your trip now, find accommodation to fit your budget in Buenos Aires and more.

We may earn a commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Top image: A gaucho, Argentina © Shutterstock

Heidi Fuller-Love

written by
Heidi Fuller-Love

updated 16.02.2024

Planning your own trip? Prepare for your trip

Use Rough Guides' trusted partners for great rates

Ready to travel and discover

Get support from our local experts for
stress-free planning & worry-free travels

Plan my trip ⤍