The Guardian covers Mexico Horseback Riding Holidays at Top50
Vicky Baker of The Guardian, UK visits two of Top50's Premier Mexico Horseback Riding Holidays
Riding with the cowboys on a Mexico ranch, Rancho Los Banos
A stay at a ranch 50 miles south of the US border in Mexico offers an exciting and active holiday, at a lot less than the cost of an American dude ranch
There is a certain look people give you when you say you are taking a trip just south of the US/Mexico border. The word "border" triggers reflex panic. Eyebrows rise and eyes dart apprehensively. Even when I assure people I won't be backpacking into the notorious Ciudad Juárez and will instead be staying at an isolated family-run ranch in the middle of the Sonora desert, the look of unease doesn't fade.
Mexico is as big as western Europe, yet it dominates international news for one reason only. There's no point pretending the country doesn't have very serious problems and that some areas certainly need to be avoided; however, not everywhere on or within a few hours' drive of the 2,000-mile border deserves to be blacklisted.
My home for a week is Rancho Los Baños (so called because of the abundance of natural springs in the area and nothing to do with lavatories). In 2008, its owners – the Valenzuela family – decided to defy the bad press and open their doors to tourists.
"I was a lawyer, a bored lawyer," says thirtysomething Manuel, when I ask what made him ask his father if he could start bringing tourists to stay on the working cattle ranch. "We didn't even offer riding at first. We didn't know how the horses – or even the cowboys – would react."
Read More: Rancho Los Banos in The Guardian
• The trip was provided by Rancho Los Baños, (tierrachamahuaecoadventures.com) and Top50 Ranches (top50ranches.com), which offers a five-night, six-day package from £514pp, including accommodation, meals, activities and transfers from Tuscon. Delta Air Lines (0871 221 1222, delta.com) has returns to Tuscon from Heathrow via Atlanta from £626
Ranch out: an escape from Mexico City
I visited another ranch during my stay in Mexico. Rancho Las Cascadas – 90 minutes' drive north of Mexico City – is a well-kept secret among the pilots and aircrew who come here to escape the hectic capital and get some exercise after a long flight.
My spirits lifted the moment I arrived at the hacienda-style property set amid sprawling ejidos (community-owned farms), mainly because it bombards you with colour, from hand-painted tiles on the walls to bright ceramics in the central cactus garden.
It's billed as a luxury ranch, but I found the atmosphere pleasantly homely, thanks to the motherly Swiss owner, Ushci. Her staff – a mix of Mexicans, Canadians and Brits – seem like adopted family, all almost falling over one other to keep us guests happy.
There are 35 horses on site, and the riding is tailored to individuals' ability. Excursions range from 10-hour cross-country treks to short sunset rides ending at a local hole-in-the-wall bar. There are also plenty of day trip possibilities, including the ancient Teotihuacan pyramids and the artsy colonial town of San Miguel de Allende.
The all-inclusive programme is good value, because it includes riding, sunrise yoga, all meals (including four-course dinners) and an open bar. The best moment though, for me, came after a long ride when, margarita in hand, I slipped into the infinity pool, which is situated right next to the waterfalls that give the ranch its name.
Read More: Rancho Las Cascadas in The Guardian
• Rancho Las Cascadas (+52 155 1801 0101, ranchomex.com, all-inclusive from $225pppn) can also be found on top50ranches.com