The Central Valley is the birthplace and heartland of Chilean rodeo, whose season kicks off on Independence Day, September 18. Over the following six months, regional competitions eliminate all but the finest horses and huasos in the country, who go on to take part in the national championships in Rancagua (Chile’s rodeo capital) on the first weekend in April. Rodeos are performed in medialunas (“half moons”), circular arenas divided by a curved wall, forming a crescent-shaped stadium and a smaller oval pen called an apiñadero. In Rancagua it is on the northern edge of town (on the corner of Av España and Germán Ibarra). The participants are huasos – cowboys, or horsemen – who cut a dashing figure with their bright, finely woven ponchos, broad-rimmed hats, carved wooden stirrups and shining silver spurs. The mounts they ride in the rodeo are specially bred and trained corraleros that are far too valuable for day-to-day work.

A rodeo begins with an inspection of the horses and their riders by judges, who award points for appearance. This is followed by individual displays of horsemanship that make ordinary dressage look tame. In the main part of a rodeo, pairs of huasos have to drive a young cow, or novillo, around the edge of the arena and pin it up against a padded section of the wall. Rodeos are as much about eating and drinking as anything else, and the canteen and foodstalls by a medialuna are a good place to sample regional food, gourmet wine and the sweet fruity alcohol known as chicha. Rodeo events are spread over the course of a weekend and end with music and dancing. This is where you can see the cueca being danced at its flirtatious best. For the dates of official rodeos, contact the Federación del Rodeo Chileno in Santiago (2 481 0990) or visit caballoyrodeo.cl.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Chile features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

In pictures: exploring the otherworldly landscapes beyond Santiago

In pictures: exploring the otherworldly landscapes beyond Santiago

Santiago has transformed itself over the past decade, with a burgeoning food scene and thriving nightlife to boot. But the city's real drawcard remains its oth…

15 Sep 2017 • Nori Jemil insert_drive_file Article
24 breaks for bookworms

24 breaks for bookworms

1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas In 1971, fuelled by a cornucopia of drugs, Hunter S. Thompson set off for Las Vegas on his “savage journey to the heart of …

02 Mar 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge camera_alt Gallery
15 things everyone learns backpacking South America

15 things everyone learns backpacking South America

South America has become a favoured destination for the intrepid backpacker, and while it’s impressive in the astounding diversity of its nations, there are a…

02 Mar 2016 • Steph Dyson insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook