Africa is truly a unique continent. Not everybody has the chance (or bravery) to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a place so exotic. Its wildlife is one of the biggest causes of tourism, but there’s far more to see than just safaris.
One way to see Africa’s wilderness – a way that not many people consider – is on horseback. It almost sounds too extraordinary to be true, but it’s absolutely a possible trip to undertake with the right planning.
It’s not just about horse riding as a sport; imagine galloping alongside the great wildebeest migration in the Serengeti or quietly approaching a herd of elephants in the Okavango Delta. This experience can transcend the typical experience of Africa as a tourist, which is already magical.
Why Horseback Riding in Africa is Special
The charm of horseback riding in Africa is all about bringing you closer to the land and its inhabitants; it’s about making you feel a part of the wildlife, and not just an observer from a distance.
Unlike the confines of a safari jeep, being on horseback allows for a more intimate and less intrusive interaction with wildlife. There’s less noise than a diesel Jeep for a start, but it’s also a familiar animal. The rhythm of the horse’s gait matches the pulse of the African savanna, creating a harmonious experience with the natural world.
Riders often get the chance to observe wildlife more closely as many animals perceive horses as part of the landscape rather than a threat. This mode of travel also allows access to remote areas unreachable by vehicles too, meaning that it opens up more unspoiled beauty spots. The same goes for culture and meeting people, as it will become easier to stumble across smaller communities and interact than if you were in a jeep.
Top Destinations for Horseback Riding
Africa is dotted with exceptional destinations for horseback riding and it shouldn’t be underestimated just how diverse Africa is, with there being many different experiences depending on where you go.
The Okavango Delta, Botswana
Botswana is known for its lush waterways and rich wildlife. The Okavango Delta is a paradise for riders due to all of these channels and lagoons. Navigating through its channels on horseback, you can witness a variety of animals from antelopes to hippos, all while enjoying the serenity of this UNESCO World Heritage site.
Maasai Mara, Kenya
Riding through the Maasai Mara offers a front-row seat to the Great Migration, a spectacular event where millions of wildebeest and zebras traverse the plains. This alone is worth the flight over, as it’s an exhilarating experience to ride amidst this wildlife spectacle, feeling the ground vibrate with the movement of these animals. It’s also a chance to spot the Big Five.
In Tanzania, the Serengeti’s vast plains offer an unforgettable riding experience. Its landscape is home to a rich variety of wildlife, making it ideal for those looking to explore the African bush on horseback. The Serengeti also provides opportunities to witness the Migration, particularly when the herds move northward.
Preparing for Your Adventure
Before going on your wild horseback riding journey in Africa, preparation is of course important. This isn’t a matter of being sheltered in a bubble, so make sure you’re comfortable with basic riding skills and that you build familiarity with horses, otherwise the experience will be stressful and unnerving (for both you and the horse).
You’ll need to pack the right gear, which includes a sturdy helmet, comfortable riding boots, and long trousers to protect against brush and the sun. Lightweight, breathable clothing is advisable, considering Africa’s climate, so perhaps a UV hoodie will do to protect your skin and face.
Don’t forget essentials like sunscreen, insect repellent, and a good camera for capturing those unforgettable moments. Research a reputable tour operator who prioritizes ethical animal treatment and safety, otherwise this trip could pose a risk. A good operator will also provide insight into local customs and environmental conservation efforts.
Practical Tips and Travel Advice
Timing is everything when planning a horseback safari in Africa. The dry season, typically from June to October, offers the best wildlife viewing opportunities, as animals congregate around water sources. However, consider regional variations, such as the Great Migration in the Maasai Mara, which occurs between July and October. Prices vary significantly depending on the location and level of luxury, so this may play a part in your destination. Always assume it will cost more than you plan as there will be park entry fees, tips, and travel insurance.
Visas and vaccinations are vital. Check the entry requirements for your chosen destination well in advance. Things like a Tanzania visa can be obtained quite easily and cheaply, but others may require a visit to the consulate. Ensure you’re up-to-date with vaccinations like Yellow Fever and take necessary precautions against malaria.
Horseback riding in Africa is one of the most visceral and real ways to explore Africa’s nature. It’s not to just observe some local cultures and wildlife but to throw yourself into them and be a part of them.