The estancias are ranches in which the main residence, generally mansions built last century, have been converted to receive guests. They are laid out in large tracts of land where the cattle graze freely and the sown fields take advantage of the land's exceptional conditions. In some cases, the ranch consists of a mansion, a small palace, or an English or French style mansion, luxuriously furnished, and the amenities of a first class hotel. Others maintain the attraction of the colonial style, with an austere and refined elegance.
Estancias can be found in the Pampa, Patagonia, or in other regions, though they all, besides offering comfortable lodging, give the visitor the chance of taking part in the typical Argentinian field activities.
The guests can go horse riding, take part in sports, go on excursions to observe the fauna and flora, and share in the daily chores of the Gauchos working in the fields.
The usual tasks are driving the cattle, sheep shearing, and branding the animals and the cattle. It is also normal to witness a taming or a show of horsemanship, a "Payada" - a competition of improvised verses sung to guitar music - amongst other activities related to the field and local folklore.
Staying in an Estancia, one can enjoy an exquisite gastronomy based on the excellent meats and famous Argentinian wines. Think of the Estancia as the production centre where the meat that has achieved an excellent worldwide reputation comes from. Therefore an "asado de tira" (crosscut ribs), the "Achuras", or an Argentinian style "Bife" will be made of the best you can find.
The arrival of the Estancias brought about the transformation of the large empty spaces that made up rural Argentina converting it into a rational area of production, placing the country amongst the foremost meat and grain producers in the world.
This conversion had a remarkable influence on the life of the Gaucho who, normally a roving and rebel inhabitant of these plains, became a worker, foreman, and a basic element in the life of these establishments.
Another central figure in the life of these Estancias is the "Estanciero or Hacendado" (rancher), the owner of the land and cattle. In better times, when the mansions that today serve as lodging for the visitor were built, it was common practice for the Estancieros to spend a lot of time, autumn or winter, in Paris or London, and return in spring and summer to take care of their possessions in Argentina.
The modern technologies that have been implemented in the agricultural establishments, and the needs of the international market, made the Hacendados realise that they needed to devote more time to agricultural exploitation. They understood that the exceptional land and weather conditions were not enough to ensure profitability, that a rational administration was also necessary.
Today, all these establishments have agriculturists and administrators, and the Hacendados spend their time between their land and the city.
In other words, the mansions and little palaces of European style and elegance, vestiges of the colonial times with a creole ambience, built by the pioneers in the framework of a prodigious nature, make up the suggestive and touristic proposal of the Argentinian Estancias. Many Tour Operators who organize excursions to Argentina include tours to the Estancias, offering their clients the possibility of staying in such a place and enjoying a very special type of holiday, or simply knowing a different place that is typical in Argentina.
Once the trip has been decided, certain aspects relevant to staying in an Estancia must be considered.
In the Estancia, as opposed to a hotel, the visitor receives a more personalized service which makes him feel more like a special guest of the house rather than being in a hotel.
One of the main purposes of this type of tourism is to come into contact with a unique environment, living the customs and traditions of the Argentinian countryside and participating in a wide range of sports and leisure activities.
The Estancias give the visitor the possibility of sharing moments in the daily life of the Gaucho, working their long days in the saddle.
The horses, brought by the Spanish Conquistadors in 1536, started to play a more important role after the first attempt to found Buenos Aires failed. From then on, their numbers grew at a vertiginous rate on the immense plains of the Pampa. Their easy adaptation to this new habitat gave birth to a new breed of creole horses.
Noble and loyal by instinct, docile, agile and highly resistant to long distances, they ended up befriending man. Indigenous peoples used them to travel and to carry out surprise attacks on villages on the border separating civilization from the wild desert. The regular army and the rebels used them in guerrilla warfare and the wars of liberation. In peacetime they became the vehicle of progress. It was however the Gaucho -who participated in all of them- galloping across the vast plains who forged the legendary image of the untamable Centaur of the Argentinian Pampa.
The descendants of those Gauchos, today's creole countrymen, and of those horses, still carry on their task in the fields. They can still be seen in the Argentinian Estancias, carrying on an the traditions of their forefathers.
In this way, what may seem audacious is just experience and ability that have accumulated throughout time. To understand it one only needs to observe the colts being broken in, witness the rodeo of hundreds of cattle being driven to their destination, the thrilling spectacle of the cattle branding, and the skill and mastery the countrymen show when handling their horses, as though it were a game or a contest to prove who is the best.
The Estancias are agricultural establishments with a unique way of life where old traditions are still maintained and respected. It is understandable that certain behavior and etiquette are expected of the visitor.
Unless expected, it would not be prudent to arrive at night or during the siesta; hardly anyone except the dogs would come out to greet the visitor.
A firm handshake when mentioning one's name would be similar to registering in a hotel. Even though it is normal practice to encourage the visitor to take part in all types of activities, it is not considered correct for an outsider to interfere in the preparation of the roast by stirring the fire or handling the meat. This task is reserved for the expert who generally considers it to be exclusively his.
However, and only if asked, he will gladly give a detailed description of all the "secrets" and different ways of preparing a typical Creole roast.
The mate is another custom. It implies a ritual in which certain rules of courtesy must be observed. Taking part in a "rueda de mate" takes one closer to the local people and brings down all barriers between the guest and the host, or between the peon and the foreman or the Hacendado.
This is why one should always accept the invitation if it includes a "rueda de mate". The first mate is for the one who serves it, for him to spit it on the floor as a ritual or simply because it is cold or bitter.
Thanks should only be given when one does not want to drink any more. Giving thanks after the first mate would be considered as a sign of disdain. Under no circumstances must one clean, move, or blow, instead of drawing, through the "bombilla" (the tube used to sip the mate). It is the custom to sip the liquid until it is finished, return the mate to the server, and await one's turn after everyone has had it.
The Estancias are an integral part of the history of Argentina and, even today, play an active part in the country's economy. Since the end of the last century, many Estancias have been built throughout the territory, from the northern Valle de Lerma, in the province of Salta, to the southernmost region, in Tierra del Fuego.
They provide the visitor with a unique opportunity to discover and enjoy the changing scenery and dominant characteristics of the northwestern regions, the Pampa, Patagonia, the South, or Argentinian Mesopotamia, to discover the comfortable mansions, the typical uses and customs in the countryside, nature in its purest state, generous and prodigious, and simple, open and friendly people.