11 of the world’s most luxurious horseback escapes
Seeing the world on horseback is a luxury and at these equestrian vacation destinations, horses and riders are treated like royalty as they discover diverse cultures, captivating traditions and posh accommodations in settings from Botswana to California.
You don’t have to be an expert equestrian to saddle up at stunning equestrian-friendly locations around the world. Many welcome beginners, children and more experienced riders to mount up and explore.
From an estancia in Uruguay offering polo lessons by the beach to an Irish castle where cross-country jumps challenge even the most well-heeled horse lover, check out these luxury destinations where you can enjoy horseback riding… if you can bring yourself to leave the comfort of your room.
Estancia Vik, Uruguay
Romance meets rustic at Estancia Vik in Uruguay, set among 4,000 acres in the rolling hills of José Ignacio, outside Punta del Este. This is where the elite of Argentina and Brazil come to play, as well as A-listers ranging from Leonardo DiCaprio to Mark Zuckerberg.
Travelers enjoy both beaches and countryside, galloping through the pampas along challenging horse trails on Criollo horses, a hardy South American breed that’s synonymous with gauchos, South America’s iconic cowboys.
Always wanted to try the Sport of Kings? Polo lessons are on offer here on professional polo fields with views of a tranquil lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean.
Nights are spent in the stylish, eco-friendly Spanish colonial style estancia, where murals from local artists evoke a true sense of place. Travelers can hop over to Jose Ignacio or Punta del Este to dine with chic locals or choose to stay super local and feast on gourmet fare amid the comfort of the ranch.
Estancia Vik, Camino Eugenio Saiz Martinez, 20402 Departamento de Maldonado, Uruguay; +598 94 605 212
The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, California
Located in charming and quirky Solvang, known for its Danish architecture and dozens of surrounding vineyards, The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort combines upscale Western and California flair with Hollywood history.
This 10,000-acre working cattle ranch mixes cowboys and country club amenities, offering couples and families lessons in horseback riding, along with golf, fishing, archery, hiking and tennis.
Wranglers showcase rodeo styles of riding and invite adults to try their hand at cattle work. Kids, too, can learn to ride, including lessons on communicating with horses.
Sunrises and sunsets at Alisal are hard to beat, with light streaming between the branches of Alisal’s old sycamores and Santa Ynez mountain views. It’s this serene setting that attracted special guests throughout history, including “the King of Hollywood,” Clark Gable, who married Lady Silvia here, and Hollywood’s golden girl, Doris Day. Today, families and groups cozy up in suites with vintage artwork, wood burning fireplaces and authentic American charm.
Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, 1054 Alisal Rd, Solvang, CA 93463, United States; +1 805 693 4208
Mountain Lodges of Peru
A once-in-a-lifetime horse riding adventure to Machu Picchu takes in stays at luxury, sustainable, mountain lodges in ultra-remote locations. Riders can soak in a hot tub with views of snow-capped peaks or enjoy a massage after a day on the trails.
Mountain Lodges of Peru’s owner is passionate about horses and nature, going as far as using helicopters to bring in the appropriate materials to construct each individual lodge where travelers spend nights during their horse trekking adventure to the Inca citadel.
An equestrian himself, he also takes care of his hardy Quarter Horse type mounts, which are outfitted with comfortable Uruguayan and American endurance saddles. The horses are well adapted to the high altitudes on this difficult mountain trek, meaning riders have the opportunity to explore places that are lesser trod.
Though each lodge is secluded, marvelous amenities have not been forgotten. Travelers sleep on 400-threat count linens, soak in outdoor hot tubs and dine on Andean cuisine and organic coffees.
Days spent riding with views of the Mt. Salkantay, Soraypampa Valley and Mt. Humantay are worth the trip.
Travelers end their journey at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, a luxury hotel at the entrance to Machu Picchu.
Mountain Lodges of Peru, +1 877 491 5261
C Lazy U Ranch, Colorado
This five-star dude ranch is a popular, family friendly luxury riding vacation and has been for over 100 years.
Located in Granby, Colorado, C Lazy U has collected numerous awards and accolades, but it’s the clientele who return year after year that really speak volumes for this Colorado guest ranch.
While on their current ranch vacation, families sign up for next year, many returning to form bonds with the same families again and again. This bonding time amid everyone’s hectic lives is a true statement of luxury these days.
From horseback riding to hatchet throwing, there are lots of activities on offer, but almost everyone is there to saddle up at least once, whether young or old.
An active kids’ program teaches young longhorns the basics, while adults can enjoy trail rides together, before heading to the C Lazy U spa. Situated in a series of large tents over a flowing stream, the spa’s atmosphere is serene and boutique Western, with large copper soaking tubs for bubble baths and personal or couples massage tents.
Meals are a special occasion, with world-class wines on offer and hearty, yet gourmet main fare. The holidays are a special time to visit this ranch, which offers riding through the snow, as well as romantic sleigh rides.
Guests stay in distinctive rooms or private cabins, complete with cozy fireplaces and large porches with rocking chairs. Families can easily stay together and play together or choose time apart at this Colorado ranch.
C Lazy U Ranch, 3640 Colorado Hwy 125, Granby, CO 80446, United States; +1 970 887 3344
Want to feel like you own a piece of paradise in Mexico? At Cuixmala’s Pacific Coast retreat in Jalisco, travelers can ride on wild beaches, through tropical jungles and a wildlife sanctuary that’s home to zebras and eland.
With 30,000 acres abutting three private beaches, equestrians have lots of room to roam, including exotic trails within a wildlife sanctuary. The stables were designed by renowned French architect, Robert Couturier, and are home to a range of horses to fit riders of varying abilities.
Bungalows, private villas with full staff, casitas, and suites in the opulent main home are individually decorated and invite guests to lounge in tranquil open air spaces. Organic cuisine and products, including soaps, honey, mango and cheese, are produced from the on-site farm, helping guests to enjoy a truly local experience.
The backdrop of the beaches allows guests to swim, snorkel, kayak, fish, visit sea turtle nesting grounds or just take in beautiful sunsets. A bamboo yoga center overlooks the oceanfront, where equestrians can saddle up for dreamy beach rides or ride with cowboys on nearby trails.
Cuixmala, Carretera Melaque, Puerto Vallarta – Manzanillo Km. 46, 48983 Jal., Mexico; +52 315 351 6050
The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch, Wyoming
Wild western luxury is on offer at The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch at the foot of The Big Horn Mountains just an hour east of Cody and two hours from Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
Those seeking a truly quality equestrian experience will love this guest ranch, which is all about horses, horsemanship and working cattle. With less than thirty guests each week and more than one hundred horses, guests are spoiled by horse choices and small groups for riding.
Guests can saddle up on a stylish Quarter Horses, a Paint or Mustang to ride through great landscapes that seem straight out of an old cowboy movie.
They can have their photo snapped surrounded by the grandeur of rusty clay hills at Devil’s Leap or flower-covered alpine meadows in The Big Horn National Forest. They can also take a ride to view wild mustangs and learn how these animals have adapted to a sometimes harsh environment.
Those not wanting to ride are not left out with other sporting pursuits being part of the adventure, including fly fishing, trapshooting and archery. Nights are spent in the comfortable main lodge, log cabins or larger log homes, complete with designer kitchens, private decks, outdoor fire pits and expansive views.
The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch, 3170 County Rd 40 1/2, Shell, WY 82441, United States; +1 307 765 2080
Ride Botswana, Makgadikadi Pans
Highlights here include riding on what looks like the surface of the moon in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert and enjoying some of the world’s best stargazing on Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans, one of the Earth’s largest salt pans.
Home to the second largest zebra migration in Africa, between the winter and spring, tens of thousands of zebra and wildebeest make their way through this unforgiving terrain.
Riders with some skill level can gallop with the herds, enjoying unforgettable experience. If you’ve ever visited a zoo, you might not be able to do so again after viewing the truly wild animals that live here, one of the most untamed and special places on the planet.
Another magical adventure is riding to one of Botswana’s baobabs. Anyone who believes in the power of nature’s energy will likely feel it at these storied trees, which missionaries and early explorers used as markers during their own quests in Africa.
While large animals abound in this hauntingly beautiful environment, small life does, too. Charming meerkats peep out of their dens in the grasses of the pans, welcoming travelers to get up close and learn about the habits of these peculiar creatures, as well as snap incredible photos.
While guests may stay in classic safari camps, which take comfort to a new level, the desert’s most iconic accommodation to experience is Jack’s Camp, complete with a pool and museum. Here you’ll also find one of the most intricate collections of ancient artifacts in Botswana, curated by the Bousfield family over decades. Expansive, Bedouin style tents house a dining area, lounge, suites and private verandas.
When not in Jack’s Camp, guests can choose a night out on the pans, where a roaring campfire, fully stocked outside bar and myriad of shooting stars will keep you warm and cozy and bring deeper thoughts about the world at large.
Ride Botswana; +267 7248 4354
Salamander Resort & Spa, Virginia
Travelers seeking a destination with a rich equestrian history in a modern setting may want to head to Middleburg, Virginia, the capital of Virginia Hunt Country, where Jackie Kennedy frequently saddled up and top competitors today keep their horses and show in local competitions.
This is old money Virginia, where the aristocracy of the past resided and where modern travelers can get in on the romance and cynicism at Salamander Resort & Spa. Here, horses graze outside of immaculate stables on verdant lawns amid the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Washington, DC.
Adults and children are welcome to ride at this pet-friendly resort, where trails wind through rolling grasslands and down wooded lanes and guests can learn about the basics of horsemanship and horse care.
Sunset happy hours are enjoyed al fresco with small dogs in tow and organic and local cuisine sourced from the resort’s private gardens. Up and coming Virginia wines are available, in addition to cooking classes with Michelin star chefs. Deluxe rooms feature stone balconies and terraces, ideal for enjoying room service breakfast or a glass of wine at dusk.
Salamander Resort & Spa, 500 N Pendleton St, Middleburg, VA 20117, United States; +1 540 751 3160
The Resort at Paws Up, Montana
The Resort at Paws Up sits in Lewis and Clark cowboy country, in an area twice the size of Manhattan. Visitors can ride Montana’s sweeping grasslands, lush forests and across the snow-fed Blackfoot River, and gain confidence in the saddle during cattle drives.
With the largest indoor equestrian center in the state of Montana, guests can ride year-round and learn new skills through activities like team penning.
American Quarter Horses, a popular breed for Western riders, allow beginners or advanced riders to meander or gallop. Those who want to experience horses without riding may also opt to learn the art of horse whispering, communing with horses in an introspective environment.
Horseback riding and other sports go hand in hand here, including world class fly fishing on the Blackfoot, Bitterroot, Missouri and Clark Fork Rivers.
While the food and wine is upscale at this modern ranch resort, the vibe is relaxed. Guests and staff don cowboy boots and jeans at two on-site restaurants, one of which was named a 100 best wine restaurant by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
After an over-the-top outdoor barbeque, guests retreat to private vacation homes, complete with outdoor hot tubs, or safari-style tents. Families often call upon Paws Up’s S’moreologists for fireside fun post meals, a welcome treat after days spent enjoying Montana’s fresh air and freedom.
The Resort at Paws Up, 40060 Paws Up Rd, Greenough, MT 59823, United States; +1 866 915 5122
Tsylos Park Lodge, British Columbia
Equestrians in the know travel to Tsylos Park Lodge, a family run adventure lodge surrounded by a million acres of untouched wilderness on glacier-fed Chilko Lake in British Columbia.
The horses, trails and scenery are top-notch for equestrian pursuits and much of the luxury at this lodge lies in its remote location. Run by the second generation of the McLean Family, true stewards of the local land, Tylos helps travelers to disconnect from technology and reconnect with abundant and breathtaking wildlife and nature.
Located in a remote area of BC, 180 air miles north of Vancouver, most travelers reach Tsylos by charter airplane, passing over ancient forests and alpine meadows. Tsylos limits its capacity to just 14 guests, meaning personal attention is paramount.
Karen McLean makes the setting grandly intimate, working to ensure guest’s vacation dreams are catered for in every capacity.
Fly fishing adventures, wildlife viewing, photography workshops and pack trips are a great way to become immersed in nature and enjoy new experiences. Black bear and bald eagles are often spotted amid the rugged snow-capped mountains, as travelers trot or canter on flashy Appaloosa and Paint horses along mountainside and forested trails.
Those who decide to try one night or more on a pack trip, will ride horses to an even more natural and remote setting to camp out and enjoy campfire meals, including hearty and hot Canadian breakfasts that are meant to be savored. Back at the lodge, stargazing is the preferred nighttime entertainment, from the lodge’s large porch or outdoor hot tub.
Tsylos Park Lodge, Cariboo J, BC, Canada; +1 250 483 4368
Castle Leslie, Ireland
Downton Abbey fantasies can be lived out at a castle in Ireland where authenticity is a hallmark of good taste. Castle Leslie is located an hour and a half north of Dublin, just south of the border of Northern Ireland and is a true equestrian lover’s estate.
Cross country jumps and wooded trails compliment the indoor arena, where guests can learn to ride or brush up on their dressage or cross-country skills.
Sought out over the years by royalty and celebrities, the castle hosted Paul McCartney and Heather Mills’ wedding in the St Salvator’s Church. Throughout history, the likes of Irish poet WB Yeats, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones and Bono of U2 have also lodged here.
While wandering the 1870’s limestone castle, it’s not uncommon to meet members of the Leslie family, cousins of Winston Churchill who have called this castle estate home since the 1700s.
After riding wooded trails blanketed with wild garlic, alongside the estate’s three lakes, guests can cozy up in their room’s clawfoot tub or spend some time enjoying traditional organic treatments in the Victorian spa.
This upscale vacation is surprisingly kid-friendly, with pony care lessons and daily hacks for a variety of age groups.
Castle Leslie, Glaslough, Co. Monaghan, Ireland; +353 47 88100
— Darley Newman is the Emmy Award-nominated host and producer of “Travels with Darley” and “Equitrekking,” and has spent over a decade exploring the world on horseback.