During the colonial era and well into the nineteenth century, Rio Grande do Sul’s southern and western frontiers were ill-defined, with Portugal and Spain, and then independent Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, maintaining garrisons to assert their claims to the region. Frontier clashes were frequent, with central government presence weak or nonexistent. If anyone could maintain some measure of control over these border territories it was the gaúchos, the fabled horsemen of southern South America. The product of miscegenation between Spanish, Portuguese, Indians and escaped slaves, the gaúchos wandered the region on horseback, either individually or in small bands, making a living by hunting wild cattle for their hides. Alliances were formed in support of local caudilhos (chiefs), who fought for control of the territory on behalf of the flag of one or other competing power. With a reputation for being tough and fearless, the gaúcho was also said to be supremely callous – displaying the same indifference in slitting a human or a bullock’s throat.

As the nineteenth century ended, so too did the gaúcho’s traditional way of life. International boundaries were accepted, and landowners were better able to exert control over their properties. Finally, as fencing was introduced and rail lines arrived, cattle turned into an industry, with the animals raised rather than hunted. Gradually gaúchos were made redundant, reduced to the status of mere peões or cattle hands.

Still, more in Rio Grande do Sul than in Argentina, some gaúcho traditions persist, though for a visitor to get much of a picture of the present-day way of life is difficult. In general, the cities and towns of the state’s interior are fairly characterless, though travelling between towns still brings echoes of former times, especially if you get off the beaten track. Here, in the small villages, horses are not only a tool used to herd cattle, but remain an essential means of transport. While women are no differently dressed than in the rest of Brazil, men appear in much the same way as their gaúcho predecessors: in bombachas (baggy trousers), linen shirt, kerchief, poncho and felt-rimmed hat, shod in pleated boots and fancy spurs. Also associated with the interior of Rio Grande do Sul is chimarrão (sugarless maté tea), which is sipped through a bomba (a silver straw) from a cuia (a gourd). In the towns themselves, cattlemen are always to be seen, purchasing supplies or hanging out in bars. But undoubtedly your best chance of getting a feel of the interior is to attend a rodeio, held regularly in towns and villages throughout gaúcho country. Branches of the state tourist office, CRTur, will have information about when and where rodeios are due to take place.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Brazil features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

A guide to visiting Brazil's Pantanal

A guide to visiting Brazil's Pantanal

Stretching across the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul (also spilling into Bolivia and Paraguay) the Pantanal is the world's largest in…

13 Jul 2018 • Madelaine Triebe insert_drive_file Article
The best aerial views in the world

The best aerial views in the world

Got a head for heights? If you're craving a new perspective on your travels, the best thing to do is get up high. From mountain-top panoramas to cityscapes, her…

17 Oct 2017 • Olivia Rawes camera_alt Gallery
Amazing new aerial images show uncontacted tribe in Brazil

Amazing new aerial images show uncontacted tribe in Brazil

Incredible aerial images of one of the Amazon rainforest's uncontacted tribes have been released by Survival International. The pictures, taken by photographer …

18 Nov 2016 • Lottie Gross insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs