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São Joaquim Adventure Trail

10 DAYS / 9 NIGHTS

Riding with the Gauchos through the High Sierras of Southern Brazil

Gait: All / Difficulty: from middle to sometime strenuous, riders should have a firm seat

São Joaquim Adventure Trail

Experience the true Brazil with all its rich customs and hospitality. We offer superb riding, at all paces, at 3.000 to 5.500 ft elevations, surrounded by outstanding, ever-changing scenery. We have horses to accommodate all levels of ability and experience. All of our horses are obedient and patient, but some are more forward going than others and, when asked to do so by their riders, can go very fast. For less experienced riders we have quiet, gentle horses.

The impressive mountain panorama of the Southern Brazilian High Sierra, with 1 National and 2 State Parks offers a variety of superb natural attractions, such as wide open and hilly grass, bush and woodland, lush patches of magnificent South American Araucária pine forest, a great number of clear rivers and rapids, lovely green valleys and the canyons of the Serra Geral mountain range. Animal and plant live of this part of the tropical highlands is well preserved, in particular birds blue-crowned trogon, siriemas, buff-necked ibis, Southern lapwings, quails, a great diversity of hawks, falcons, eagles, saffron finches, shiny cowbirds, owls and many others. The area is also habitat of Puma, and you may be lucky to discover its trail, while he is far ahead or... behind you. Other animals of the region are ocelot, pampas deer, armadillo, coati, otter and capibara.

The region is sparsely populated by small dairy farms and cattle ranches that seem almost lost in the vastness of the land. This is the home of the mountain gaúchos and horsemen. They have preserved their traditions through the generations and proudly show them off. On weekends, folk gather in the rustic galpões, the barn and animal shelters of the farmhouse, and dance and sing while a lavish churrasco BBQ is prepared on an open fire. Beautiful horses and superb horsemanship are on display at the frequent rodeos, where, dressed in their traditional outfits, people dance to the chamamê, xote or vanerão, to the sound of live Brazilian country music. Whenever this can be fit in with our programme, our guests will visit these traditional events and enjoy great hospitality.

Program / Itinerary

Day 1 - Florianópolis – Urubici – Santa Barbara Farm

Our São Joaquim Adventure Trail starts with pick-up at Florianopolis airport. Our regular transfer to Urubici is set between 10am and noon. A three hours scenic drive from sea level takes you to the high sierra of Santa Catarina and the village of Urubici. The village of Urubici is a community of farmers and ranchers with an important pro¬duction of meat, vegetables and fruits that is being exported all over the country. The region produces also apples (Gala and Fuji), plums and is the state biggest producer of vegetables. Mountain rainbow trout and mate tea are other products still, for which Urubici is known. There are no polluting industrial activities of any kind in the whole region! From November to May, on nearly every weekend, the region hosts regional, national and international rodeos and rope throwing competitions. These are very colourful events where visitors will see beautiful horses, top riders, displays of fine leather handicraft, local products, typical food and drinks, and after all, since we are in Brazil: plenty of good music and dances. To put it simple: Urubici is rural Brazil at its best.

After arrival, our clients usually like to visit a farm supply and handicraft shop, where they can buy at very reasonable prices anything related to cattle, farming, the horse and riding. We recommend water¬proof leather boots with rubber sole, beautiful gaucho ponchos and hats, horsewhips and lassos from raw hide and much more... Depending on the month/day/hour of arrival however we might drive over to the Gaucho Cultural Traditions Centre, to watch a regional rodeo instead.

We will now proceed to our trail basis, the Fazenda Santa Barbara Farm, which takes another 40 minutes’ drive, partly on bumpy dirt road. The Fazenda Santa Barbara is part of the Jararaca community, named after a snake Bothrops jararaca, a venomous pit viper that is quite common in Brazil. No reason to worry, however. The snakes did not survive the transformation of the region into cattle country. The Fazenda is surrounded by magnificent Araucaria angustifolha also known as Paraná Pine forest. The tree, an endangered species, is characteristic for the Southern part of Brazil. The warm welcome of our hosts Rosie and Elvio, her husband and our guide, includes a generously set coffee table, here called Café Colonial. Now, you will be ushered to your rooms where you can relax from the long journey to get here. The group will meet again for dinner and overnight.

Day 2 - Santa Barbara Farm – Morro da Taipinha – Santa Barbara Farm

The hearty farmer breakfast includes a hot Camargo coffee, a local specialty, served in the barn, where it is prepared with the fresh milk right out of the udder. In the meantime, horses are saddled and we depart to discover the greater area around the Fazenda. The ride will take us up to the Morro da Taipinha Mountain at about 1700m above sea level. To get there however we will have to tackle dense forest, swamps, and steep hills, safely negotiated by our sturdy mounts under the skilled lead of our guide Zorro Elvio.

A steep uphill ride, during which several breaks are recommended, the group arrives at the high fields that are characteristic for the region. Here we may see, but hopefully not hear the trumpeted cry of the siriema bird, Cariama cristata, as it advises bad weather ahead. They are also otherwise useful animals, since their preferred diet is snakes! The Quero-Quero, Vanellus chilensis will watch us all the way and scare us off from their hidden nest, raising hell if we get too close. Another typical southern Brazilian bird is the Gralha Azul or Azure jay, Cyanocorax caeruleus, which plays a significant role in preventing the Paraná pine Araucaria angustifolha from extinction. More difficult to watch is the highly endangered red-tail Amazon Amazona pretrei.

We will be back at Santa Barbara late afternoon. Time free until dinner, when a delicious Entrevero, a local specialty, will be served.

Total riding time today mounts from 6 to 6½hrs.

Day 3 - Santa Barbara Farm – São Joaquim National Park – Vacas Gordas

After a solid breakfast the riders get on their horses for a long days ride that will take them into the São Joaquim National Park. On the way we will pass the village of Vacas Gordas which most significantly means: fat cows. Here, we pause briefly for a chat and refreshments with our hosts for tonight before we continue all the way uphill now into the National Park. Ever changing terrain requires up- and downhill riding. On their way, the riders may eventually encounter a man or two collecting Herba Mate leafs Ilex paraguaiensis, a bush that grows here naturally between Araucaria and other Forest. According to the legend, Jesuit Missionaries left the region between Paraguay/Argentina/ Brazil, when the order was abolished in 1773, seeking safety and new activities on the highlands of Santa Catarina and introduced thus the Ilex paraguaiensis to the region.

We pause at an old, wind worn cemetery. Stories will be making the round in the evenings about people who have been buried at this old cemetery after they got lost and died, during harsh winters in the mountains

The trail continues over several high mountain ridges, and on top of the Morro Careca or Bald Mountain, at 1700meters above sea level, the riders enjoy magnificent views of 360º. Here, the terrain offers great canters on rolling hills. Further down and in sharp contrast with the high fields, we ride through dense jungle of Dicksonia, giant ferns, here called Xaxim, and Bracatinga, Mimosa scabrella trees.

As we arrive on top of the elevations the flat sections not only provide magnificent views but also invites for canters and gallops. Here, aside a soft flushing creek and beneath shadowy trees, we unsaddle and prepare our saddle bag lunch, which is normally a decent chunk of meat grilled over the open fire. There, also our brave horses find their share of delicacies. The siesta may not take too long as more riding is on the menu for the afternoon.

We estimate to reach our destination for the day sometime late afternoon, when will take care of the horses and let them graze on lush pastures. Both, riders and horses, feel to have done a great job today. Meanwhile our back-up car has arrived to bring us on a bumpy mountain road back to the village of Vacas Gordas. Unfortunately, our hut we used for overnight in the mountains burned out recently, leaving us without overnight option inside the National Park, instead we will overnight at a guest house, owned by our long-time friends Sebastião and Marilia. After showers and a caipirinha the Brazilian National drink, will are ready for the dinner of sumptuous local delicacies cooked on the old iron stove. With some energy left, we may sit down around the fireplace for some storytelling, before we hit the sheets for a good night sleep in this cosy country house.

The total riding time is about 7 hrs.

Day 4 - Vacas Gordas – São Joaquim National Park – Cayambora Canyons - Vacas Gordas

The day begins early with the back-up car taking us up again to the high fields. We collect the horses we left behind last night, saddle them and off we are with destination Cayamborá Canyons. Heading first for the Chapada da Marcela, a region named after the herbal plant, used in therapeutic teas and recommended as treatment for viral complications of the respiratory system but also for gastritis, stomach and other related diseases. In autumn, when the plant is in flower, the high fields are covered with a carpet of bright yellow. Between February and April raspberries, blackberries and delicious wild guavas can be picked on route. The region is also home of the mountain lion or puma, Felis concolor. Further ahead, the riders cross a creek, what would become some 250kms to the west, the great Rio Uruguay. Proceeding to the Cayamborá Canyon we pass the Fazenda Salgado, the former home of our host Zorro Elvio. The Park Authorities bought the Fazenda founded by Elvios Grandfather. It is now completely in ruins, an eyesore in an otherwise overwhelming environment of natural beauty.

While riding on top of the ridges the views into the canyons are breathtaking and on clear days it is possible to see the 200km distant Santa Catarina coastline. Not far from here is the famous Morro da Igreja, with 1822 meters the highest peak in Santa Catarina. At the a freshwater creek we break for lunch. It will be an authentic churrasco, the Brazilian BBQ lunch out of the saddlebag and coffee from the Polaca, our more than exotic coffee pot. After the feast, shadowy Araucarias invite for a nap.

With renewed energy we go on the horses to take a different trail to meet up with the back-up car. We unsaddle the horses and load them on a truck. We all meet again at Sebastians place, where horses are let free to feed on the nearby pasture, while we prepare for caiprinhas, showers, dinner and overnight.

Today, our time in the saddle will be 7-8 hrs.

Day 5 - Vacas Gordas - Santa Barbara Farm

The trail back to Santa Barbara Farm takes us through a variety beautiful scenery. It is more up than down hill riding, passing narrow, stony forest trails, scattered farms on open fields and pasture, Araukaria pine forest and apple orchards.

We estimate to arrive at Fazenda Santa Barbara in the early evening hours. As we have not changed horses for the last 4 days, demanding all of the strength and energy they could muster, they will be are tired now and have earned the best possible care, which is what they will get. The riders are offered an invigorating chimarrão tea and hot showers, which should prepare them to enjoy one of these dinners only Rosie puts on the table, which is a rather big one... Later on, when the flames blaze in the fireplace, Zorro Elvio will tell us how and why he loses new born calves and pigs frequently to the puma. As usually one story leads to another, intercultural encounters, knowledge and understanding spreads among the group, which is one of the declared aims on our rides.

This was another long riding day, with estimated 7-8 hrs in the saddle. Overnight.

Day 6 - Santa Barbara Farm – Cadet / Fazenda da Mena

After breakfast we mount on fresh horses to a region, called Cadet, which is today´s destination. Differently from the previous days we will be riding through sceneries only with little elevations. On mostly open hilly terrain we observe agricultural activities, like vineyards, apple orchards and cattle farming. During the ride we will have opportunities again to take our mounts to enjoyable canters and gallops. Before we arrive at Fazenda da Mena we have to cross the river Uruguay, provided the water level and currents will be adequate for safe passage. We estimate to arrive at Fazenda da Mena in late afternoon. Relax, refreshments, shower, Dinner. This Fazenda is another property that belongs to the large family of our host Rosie, who was actually born here. The charming old wooden building is framed by enormous Araucaria trees and a lake, where frogs concert in the warm evening hours and at night. It is nearly 100% Years old and one of the first cattle farms of that region.

The group will have spent 6 -7 hrs in the saddle today.

Day 7 - Cadet/Fazenda da Mena – Santa Barbara Farm

Like on the ride to the Cayambora Canyons we have a support car carrying provisions and personal belongings. While Elvio saddles the horses we give Rosie a hand to load luggage and the other stuff onto the 4x4. For the way back from Fazenda da Mena back to Fazenda Santa Barbara we ride on another trail which offers nice and easy riding. On route we break for a visit to the Salto do Rio Lavatudo waterfall. The Lavatudo river joins with the Pelotas river further ahead to form the Rio Uruguay. Here, right at the falls, we will have a scenic lunch. Arriving at Jararaca horses are unsaddled and left to graze on the rich pastures of our trail leader and host Elvio's property. Those who wish to change activities for a moment and relax their minds can go fishing in the pond right behind the main house, or take a walk around the property, playing with the dogs and cats, watching pigs and chickens, until Rosie calls in for dinner. Most probably the entrée will be some crispy grilled fish...

Today's estimate is about 6-7 hrs in the saddle.

Day 8 - Santa Barbara Farm – Monte Cará – Santa Barbara Farm

As riding is our aim these days, we take on another great destination over 1600mts above sea level, which is the Mount Cará. After having passed some nearby properties the group passes open fields and dense forest and will hardly meet any living soul in this area. Wild flowers and splendid orchids like the lovely red Sofronites and bromeliads grow from December-January on branches draped with moss. For our siesta, we have chosen a beautiful panoramic spot at the top of the mountain with great views of 360º and as far as to the village of Urubici down below. Here a spring surfaces right out from between the stones with the purest mineral water, beating Perrier, Evian and other sophisticated brands hands down. We picnic sandwiches, cheese, fruits, cookies out of the saddle bag, washed down with a fresh boiled coffee or tea prepared cowboy style, on the open fireplace.

After an appropriate relax for horses and riders, the trail goes on through highland forest covered mainly with shadowy Paraná pines and the ever present Vassourinha bushes, which are used for firewood, broom, brushes, but also produces pollen for a delicious honey, that is even exported to Europe.

We are planning to arrive home around 5pm totalling some 6 hours in the saddle.

Day 9 - Santa Barbara Farm – Monte Alegre – Santa Barbara Farm

The last full day of riding fun will take us to the Monte Alegre mountain, claimed to be even higher than the Morro da Igreja, which is 1822m above sea level. To get to the Monte Alegre and back, the riders will face again dense forest, swamps, steep and rocky ascents and high camps with grassy hills, accessible on hidden trails that only a trained scout as Elvio can identify as such. Our saddle bag lunch today include most probably a decent chunk of beef masterly grilled on the open fireplace, homemade cheese and rolls, cookies and apples, coffee and tea. After all that we recommend to take our sheep skins off the saddle as they guarantee a comfortable snooze.

A long days ride, but it is worthwhile the effort, mainly because of great adventure riding and an overwhelming mix of outstanding landscapes and views. Back at the Fazenda, Rosie has prepared some decent caipirinhas for aperitif and a fare well dinner for the last evening, with delicacies from the local cuisine. For the rest of this last evening among our hosts we have invited friends with their gaita and violão. So there will be dancing and great music from the Gaucho lands, like the hot and swinging chama-me, venerão, xote, milonga, chimarrita.

Today´s estimate is 6½ hrs riding time.

Day 10 - Santa Barbara Farm – Urubici - Florianopolis

Packing gear and getting ready for departure to Florianópolis. Depending on the flight details there might be the chance to go for some early riding in the morning. There is always enough time however to pay a visit to the mysterious pre-historic stone wall carvings, unexplored and unexplained to this day. If not done so already on the arrival day, leather handicraft from saddle to boots, ponchos and hats, reins and other riding accessories can be purchased for reasonable prices in the local stores. We recommend booking of a late after-noon flight out of Florianópolis.

Our itineraries are subject to changes and may be altered in accordance with conditions during the stay and the ride. The decisions taken by the local team must be adhered to.

Gallery

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Farm Stays in São Joaquim

The Santa Barbara ranch is located some 30 kms distant from the town of Urubici. Our long-time partner "Zorro" Elvio and his wife Rosie, manage this working ranch of about 500 ha land, where some 400 cattle of mixed breed graze happily throughout the year. Pigs, sheep, chickens, dogs and cats also are part of the family. The Santa Barbara is, as all the other ranches in the region, a small ranch by Central Brazil standards like in the Pantanal. It is family run and non-touristy. Guests are treated like friends and have the rare opportunity to participate in the day to day live of a traditional southern Brazilian mountain ranch.

  • Fazenda 'Santa Barbara', São Joaquim Brazil

Nearby the Santa Barbara ranch is the Canoas River. Its creeks and rapids do invite for trout fishing. Host Elvio knows not only all the secrets of ranching, but is also a skilled fisherman, while his wife Anna Rose takes care of the kitchen, where the trouts end up for dinner "Belle Meuniere" style. Talking about food: it consists of enormous portions of delicious, regional food (also vegetarian, if required), mostly homegrown and homemade. Our guests will further relish on authentic churrascos from the fogo do chão and the stimulating mate tea from the chimarrão, a gourd with a silver spoon. An early morning camargo straight from the udder, makes you forget the delicious capucchino of your favoured Italian restaurant. Another traditional delicacy for the highlands gaúchos is passoca, grinded lamp meat with pinhão, Paraná pine nuts. At this point we would like to mention that at Santa Barbara, and elsewhere we emphasize and cultivate between visitors and host a relationship that is strictly based on friendship and common respect.

The region is sparsely populated by small dairy farms and cattle ranches that seem almost lost in the vastness of the land. This is the home of the mountain gaúchos and horsemen. They have preserved their traditions through the generations and proudly show them off. On weekends, folk gather in the rustic galpões, the barn and animal shelters of the farmhouse, and dance and sing while a lavish churrasco BBQ is prepared on an open fire. Beautiful horses and superb horsemanship are on display at the frequent rodeos, where, dressed in their traditional outfits, people dance to the chamamê, xote or vanerão, to the sound of live Brazilian country music. Whenever this can be fit in with our programme, our guests will visit these traditional events and enjoy great hospitality.

Mule Riding

One thing that will become very obvious to our guests is the Brazilian love of mules. They are thought to inherit the best features of both their donkey fathers and their horse mothers. They are taller than donkeys, less stubborn and more comfortable to ride; and they are stronger, more sure-footed and easier to care for than horses. They were used as pack animals in Brazil long after most other countries had switched to carts and wagons, and are now the riding animals of choice by the majority of Brazilian cattle farmers. They have also found a new role in the show arena. The large native Brazilian donkey, the Pega, is used primarily to sire mules; when mated with the Brazilian national horse, the Mangalarga, which is famous for its running walk, the result is an extraordinarily elegant and valuable mule. Our host for our two-night stay in Vacas Gordas is a mule aficionado and trainer, on whose wonderful mule specimens we might be able to try a ride.

  • I always saw mules as the lowest rung of the equine hierarchy, nothing more than work animals with funny ears. But the mules we met at Vacas Gordas were wonderful – beautiful to look at, soft-natured, and very friendly. I started to wonder if my next horse might be a mule…
    Lynne, Feb 2020
Mule Riding
Best Value

Prices, Dates and Travel Details

10 days / 9 nights
São Joaquim Adventure Trail
8 full riding days

Prices

US$ (American Dollars)
4 Riders 1500 p.person
3 Riders 1650 p.person
2 Riders 1800 p.person
Add-on Christmas ride 280 p.person

Travel dates

2021
January, 03 to January, 12
January, 16 to January, 25
January, 30 to February, 08
February, 20 to March, 01
March, 13 to March, 22
November, 20 to November, 29
December, 04 to December, 13
December, 18 to December, 27 *Christmas Ride

Rates Include

  • Private Transfer Florianopolis Airport/ Urubici/ Airport
  • Full board and overnight in double rooms
  • Single room, where available
  • Riding gear, including long rain capes and helmets
  • 3 sets of horses
  • English speaking guide
  • Refreshments
  • WI-fi connections at most of the overnight places

Not Include

  • Alcoholic beverage

Horses, Handling and Tack

Because of the partially difficult terrain and the length of the ride, there are several sets of horses at disposal. Our clients may chose, from Crioulo breeds, Quarter Horses and Crioulo and Quarter Horses cross breeds. All the horses are forward going, sure - footed and 100% trustworthy on any ground. For novice riders we provide horses matching with their abilities and experiences.

We also recommend a ride on our fantastic and much loved Pega mules. The large native Brazilian donkey, the Pega, is used primarily to sire mules. When mated with the Brazilian national horse, the Mangalarga, which is famous for its running walk, the result is an extraordinarily elegant and valuable mule.

Handling and tack of the horses is similar to the Western Style. The horses are sensitive to the bit and are grateful for soft handling of the reins. Crioulo saddles are lighter than Western saddles and covered by 2-3 colourful sheepskin layers for comfort on long working days.

Group size and trail management

To ensure maximum comfort, experience and fun, our group size is never more than 4 riders. Special groups and families with members up to 6 riders can also accepted. The owner of the Fazenda will normally ride the trails with you. In addition, you will be accompanied by a a local horse man and a multilingual interpreter and guide, who will provide you with information about the history of the region, its economy and ecology, its politics and religion, and – of course – the role of the horse. He can do so in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian, as required. He also takes care of the organisation of the trip and makes sure everything runs well.

Accommodations and meals

Accommodation is generally in double or single rooms. Hot showers, either en suite or shared, are always available. We generally stay at Fazendas (the Portuguese word for working farms or ranches), which may be simple but are always clean and cosy.

Food consists of a great variety of regional delicacies - and comes in gigantic portions! We also cater for vegetarians on demand. All meals are highlighted by local cuisine, some of the most delicious meat you have ever tasted, home-made breads, beignets and rolls, exotic fruits and vegetables, home-made cheeses, compotes, and cane fudge and caramel sauces. During your trip you will be treated to many other delicacies, local to the country and the region.

When is the best time to visit the São Joaquim National Park?

The High Sierras of Santa Catarina are the coldest regions of Brazil. During April - October temperatures may go down as much as -5°Cel., feeling much lower because of thermal sensation caused by subtropical humidity. The best time to visit the High Sierras of Santa Catarina is in the summer, from Nov ember through March, when temperatures are very pleasant although they may reach +30°Cel in January.

Extensions

Check out our available extensions for this ride:

+55 (22) 2340 1336 | +55 (22) 99992 3575 | peter@ridingbrazil.com

Peter.Rohmer

Rua Joaquim de Deus, 55, Praia dos Anjos, Cep 28930-000

Arraial do Cabo - Rio de Janeiro - Brazil