Trekking, horseback riding and nature photography in one of Uruguay’s most outstanding protected areas, Valle del Lunarejo with some of Uruguay’s best guides. With El Gavilán, you experience northern Uruguay nature, culture and cuisine. Exciting trekking in Uruguay in a microclimate to waterfalls, natural pools and canyons and horseback riding adventures.
Nowadays Valle del Lunarejo, the Lunarejo valley, is a protected nature reserve close to the Uruguay-Brazil border and a well-kept secret, even here in Uruguay. Rolling flattened-top hills blanketed in vibrant green. Dense woodland where wildlife roams free. Rivers and waterfalls. Covering over 6,000 hectares, it’s a sanctuary for a diverse range of plant and animal species including over 200 bird species and 50 species of mammals, a number unique to the region. But what most people don’t realise is that Valle del Lunarejo is private land. Private land owned by a handful of local ranchers.
What’s on offer at El Gavilán – Valle del Lunarejo
Trekking in Uruguay
Entry into Lunarejo is with guide only. Treks are available every day of the week. The team is specialised in flora and fauna discovery and sightings.
- Choose from nine different treks.
- The shortest is 3.6 km to some lovely waterfalls.
- The longest takes place over four days (57 km). You’ll never eat or sleep so well. Arrive at the end of the day ready for a fire-cooked meal before retiring to your tent which has already been pitched for you.
- Night time trekking at full moon.
- Treks start from 500 pesos per person.
Horseback riding in Uruguay
- Riding with gauchos (half day “Campereando”) Join Milton for half a day riding and learn how gauchos work. Ride hills and valleys and through rivers, herding cattle from the valley to the corral. An unforgettable experience.
- Adventure horse ride involves 6 to 7 hours on horseback over adventurous terrain. You cover 30 km and includes lunch.
- Wine & beef trail ride (5 day) Five-day “vino and asado” horse-trek. This is for horse lovers who also love their wine and fire-cooking. It’s a five day trek starting at one of Uruguay‘s best wineries, Cerro Chapeu, and ending in the hills. This is the high-end offering with accommodation each evening in charming posadas and estancias. Costs 1250 US dollars per person and includes all the beef and wine you can eat en route. This trip can be for just one or two people. Your guide is César.
What you should know
Guides speak English, Spanish and Portuguese Two guides at El Gavilán currently speak English.
The Gavilán team are locals They love sharing their local traditions. Expect to find yourself around the campfire at least once with a guitar. There’s a lot of Uruguayan history in them there hills, much of it conveyed in song.
Caring for the environment This is the reason for being of El Gavilán. School children in Uruguay currently study protected nature reserves as part of the national curriculum so you may run into fourth and fifth graders.
Basic hostel accommodation El Gavilán also runs a hostel and campground and offer meals made with local produce (think wild boar chops!). There are no private rooms or bathrooms. César can recommend more comfortable accommodation close by, like our Guru’Guay Top Pick Villa Pancha Lunarejo (you can book El Gavilán tours from their website too).
What’s close by
So who’s behind El Gavilán?
When I travelled to north Uruguay, all the locals insisted I meet a young trekking guide, César “El Gavilán” Viera. He’s a bit of a legend in these parts, despite being in his mid-twenties. Because the fact that today we can visit the nature reserve is pretty much down to him.
In 2014, César was a teenager studying and working part time at a gas station at the entrance of Lunarejo. Thanks to a blog called “Uruguay Ignorado”, word got out amongst Uruguayan walkers that Lunarejo was an area of stunning natural beauty. Trekkers appeared at the gas station asking for directions and César found himself time and time again delivering the bad news that the valley was off limits to the public. Despite his young age, he realised something needed to be done.
César’s father, Milton, was one of the rancher-owners. It took some convincing, but eventually Milton agreed to allow hikers on condition they paid a token entrance fee which would go towards César’s studies. With that green light, César created the first trail in Lunarejo—to the Gavilán waterfall. He started reading up on the history of Lunarejo and studying the plants and fauna. It wasn’t too long before neighbouring ranchers offered access to their land which allowed César to create new trails.
Nowadays Lunarejo is one of Uruguay’s best kept secrets internationally and César Viera (pictured in the red beret) one of Uruguay’s most well-known beloved tour guide leaders nationally.
Photos: El Gavilán – Valle del Lunarejo