Horse riding in El Rocio, Spain’s most famous wild west village

In the heart of Andalusia, in the triangle between Cadiz, Huelva and Seville, lies the small and sacred village El Rocío in southern Spain.  Bordered by one of Europe’s biggest natural parks, this unique little town is a paradise for horse and nature lovers. Doñana National Park, adjacent to the town, is a protected area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It holds a remarkable biodiversity and is populated by a wide range of fauna and flora. It is home to many endangered species, including the Iberian lynx.

Riders encounter a herd of sheep in the Doñana National Park on their way to El Rocio

El Rocio, filled with history and culture, is a unique place where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims travel from all over Spain each year, to honor and celebrate the Virgin of El Rocio. The “Romeria of El Rocio”, the festival of the Virgin of El Rocio, takes place each year in late May or early June, and is indeed the largest pilgrimage in Spain.

El Rocio on horseback

In this town that reminds us of a different era, an enchanting and yet surprising combination of the Wild West décor and the Spanish architecture and culture, horses are the protagonists. Indeed, everything is designed and thought out to put horses at the forefront and accommodate equestrians. From the sandy roads to the wooden rails and parking reserved for horses, the inhabitants enjoy their day to day from the back of a horse!

 

horses and riders, carriages on the sandy street of El Rocío, Spain

Riding through the streets of El Rocio, Spain

While it may prove challenging to visit El Rocio during the sacred week of the annual pilgrimage, most of the weekends during the year offer their fair share of atmosphere and fun. The Spaniards sure know how to have a good time and the festivities are not without a good amount of singing, dancing, guitar playing, and alcohol… on horseback!

holding beer while horse riding in El Rocío

Enjoying a beer on horseback in Spain

And not any kind of horses, may I add. These incredibly beautiful Andalusian horses are the stars of the show and are prepared, pampered, and braided by their proud “caballeros.” Their intelligence, nobility and patience make them the perfect companions for such festive and celebratory events.

colorful flamenco dresses represent the clothes in El Rocío, Spain.

Flamenco dresses on display in the streets of El Rocio

Horseback riding in Andalusia, Spain

I often think of this little town as the hidden gem of Andalusia. While this place attracts thousands of tourists each year, most of them are individuals traveling from neighboring towns and other parts of Spain. I have very seldom met tourists from other countries in Europe or around the world. The culture and traditions are so strongly held that it often takes getting to know someone locally to experience the customs and take part in the celebrations. Luckily, some riding facilities offer the opportunity to get a taste of this unique lifestyle.

equestrians on horseback by El Rocio church, Spain

Noche El Rocío. Pilgrims gather in front of the church of El Rocío in the evening.

Donana Horse Adventure

In my opinion, Doñana Horse Adventure offers by far the best horse riding El Rocío for intermediate and advanced riders. As a heads up, this is not your standard trail ride. The focus is on the equestrian and ensuring an enjoyable, private and tailored experience, with plenty of options depending on how adventurous you are feeling: from galloping, to jumping logs and river crossing, this will guarantee your adrenaline pumping by the time you reach the village.

 

Their 5-stars reviews across TripAdvisor, Facebook and Google are a testament to their incredible attention and focus on their clients’ needs and comfort level. Their horses are very well trained, fit, and sure footed. While most of them are mixed breeds, they also have some Spanish and Arabian horses available depending on riders’ capabilities and weight.

Two horse riders on sandy Raya Real toward El Rocio, Spain

Riders following the sandy road “Raya Real” on their way to El Rocio

Horseback riding in Donana National Park

The trails leading to El Rocio are incredible. You will gallop through the forests of the National Park, and through a wide variety of different terrains, which make for some challenging and exciting horseback rides. You will walk in the footsteps (or should I say, hoofprints) of the pilgrims as you go through the “Raya Real,” one of the most important routes taken by these travelers on their way to and from El Rocio.

 

Trail rides at Doñana Horse Adventure are a minimum of 2 hours for a ride in the National Park and up to 4 hours for the ride that goes all the way to El Rocio and back. You also have the option of booking a 2-day Premium ride, which includes a 2 hour dynamic trail ride through the Doñana National Park on the morning of the first day, followed by 2 hours 30 minutes of horse riding on the beach in the afternoon. On the second day, you will head to the town of El Rocio, visit the town on horseback and enjoy a refreshing drink and tapas at one of the local bars (while on the back of your horse, if you wish).

Need to know:

  • Doñana Horse Adventure is located between the town of El Rocio and Almonte. If you do not have a car, I would recommend taking a bus from Sevilla to Almonte, and then a taxi to the farm. For trail ride options and price list, please check directly on the website.

 

  • Helmets and chaps are available free of charge for the duration of the ride.

 

  • Accommodation is not available at Doñana Horse Adventure, however, there is the possibility of booking a room in a nearby guest house, Casa Hacon, which is a 5min drive from the property. Alternatively, you could enjoy your stay in El Rocio (in which case, booking in advance is recommended as some weekends can get very crowded).

 

Inside Tip:

It is important to note that Doñana Horse Adventure can only accommodate intermediate to advanced riders, as the routes taken require a certain level of riding and equestrian confidence. A short test will be conducted prior to the trail ride to assess individuals’ levels. If you are traveling with a non-equestrian or beginner, a separate lesson can be arranged for the accompanying party in a nearby stable.

young woman wearing flamendo dress stops to offer her horse water on the way to El Rocio celebration in Spain.

Rider wearing flamenco dress stops by a water well during the annual pilgrimage

If You Go: 

Doñana Horse Adventure

Ojillo-Palmosa, 21750

El Rocio, Huelva, Spain

Phone: +34 626 78 46 28

This is a post by Mathilde Gregoire of was a guest of Donana Horse Adventure, however all opinions are her own. This post on Horse Riding in El Rocio, Spain and all photos provided by Mathilde Gregoire. For more reviews follow Instagram account @worldonhorseback and equestrian travel blog worldonhorseback.com