8 Adventure-Packed Destinations for Your Next Horseback Riding Vacation
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“A man in passion rides a horse that runs away with him.” – Thomas Fuller
Unleash your inner cowboy, the Indiana Jones or Lawrence of Arabia deep within, and hop in the saddle for the trip of a lifetime!
Some may say that the best way to experience a new country is to go on a road trip. Others swear by motorcycle tours, while backpackers will tell you that traveling on your own two legs at a slow pace, mingling with the locals, getting to know their customs and tasting their food is by far the best way. Equestrians will beg to differ. A horseback riding trip offers all of these and more!
You don’t have to be an advanced rider to enjoy your time in the saddle in these postcard-perfect and adventure-packed horseback riding destinations:
1. Hovsgol Province, Mongolia
The ancient Mongols were renowned horse breeders and horseback fighters, perhaps the best in their era. Horsemanship still runs through their veins today.
South of the Siberian Taiga, the wild steppes of Mongolia are best explored by horseback. Here, the pace of life has not changed that much since the Bronze Age, and when the seasons change, nomads cover vast terrains with their herds, succumbing to the elements and living in perfect harmony with nature.
Photo credit: jimmynelson.com
In northern Mongolia, Hovsgol is the country’s largest freshwater lake, also known as “Mongolia’s dark blue pearl.” Despite its remoteness, there are families that call this distant corner of the planet their home. These are the Tsaatan, a nomadic tribe of reindeer herders that live west of Lake Hovsgol. There are only 30-40 families left, living in tepees and constantly on the move, moving camp between five to ten times a year.
Ride Mongolian horses to this isolated region and meet the last remaining reindeer herders and one of the last nomadic tribes in the world yourself. You will camp in complete wilderness and pass by fields of wildflowers, valleys, rivers, and mountains, discovering northern Mongolia as a nomad on a multi-day horse trekking tour.
Due to its climate – short summers and harsh, cold winters – horseback riding in Mongolia is recommended between June and September. Needless to say, you should have some experience riding horses and a good fitness level, as the rough terrain and long hours in the saddle do pose quite a challenge.
2. The Andes, Peru
Horseback riding holidays are gaining popularity in the Andean countries, particularly in Peru. Widely considered the most picturesque part of the Peruvian Andes, the Sacred Valley of the Inca stretches from Cusco to Machu Picchu. Explore this remote corner of the world from a different standpoint – in the saddle on Peruvian Paso horses.
Cross terraced fields and eucalyptus forests, ride seemingly endless trails on ancient Inca roads, and stop on your way to enjoy delicious Peruvian cuisine.
Horse riding tours take visitors to famous Inca temples like Chuspiyoc, Lanlacuyoc, and the Temple of the Moon. Riders will pass by remote Andean communities and Inca ruins like Tambomachay, Sacsayhuaman, Qenko, and Puca Pucara. You will see the caves that the Quechua community of Pichingoto once called home, and visit the Inti Punku (the Sun Gate) archaeological site before topping it all off with a visit to Machu Picchu.
3. Cappadocia, Turkey
Known as the “Land of Beautiful Horses,” there’s simply no better way to explore Cappadocia’s emblematic fairy chimneys, those mushroom and anthill shaped towers that make the place so easy to recognize, than on a horse riding tour.
Horses have always had a place of honor in the history of these lands, and visitors have been traveling through Cappadocia on Anatolian and Arabian horses for centuries. Today, horseback riding remains one of the best ways to go village hopping through this awe-inspiring lunar landscape, visiting cave dwellings and mysterious underground cities
Cappadocia, in central Turkey, is famous for its intricately shaped rock formations, and is nothing short of a geological oddity. The site has been continuously inhabited since the Bronze Age, when locals started carving Byzantine churches, monasteries, villages and cities into the red sandstone.
On a horseback riding tour in Cappadocia, you will ride past orchards, arid plateaus, and intriguing moonscapes. You’ll experience the traditional Turkish lifestyle, as you will meet locals who still live in houses carved into the sandstone formations. In fact, you can even spend the night in some of these dwellings. Alternatively, you can camp out under the stars. Whatever you choose, finger-licking Turkish cuisine and refreshing Turkish tea will be plentiful.
Tours vary from a few hours to a few days. For the full experience, be prepared for long hours in the saddle.
4. The Maasai Mara, Kenya
Gallop or trot alongside zebras, giraffes, elephants, and thrilling wildlife on a horseback safari in the Maasai Mara. Ride far from those dusty roads filled with 4X4s and tourists, and go deep into the vast savanna for a pure bush experience.
Photo credit: masaimara-kenya.com
On the back of polo ponies, you will cover more ground than you would walking, all the while leaving a smaller impact on the wildlife and ecosystem. You will take in the serene landscape of the uninterrupted savanna with no boundaries or disturbance, nothing breaking the silence safe for the horses galloping.
The Maasai Mara is famous for its Great Migration (July to September), when 1.5 million wildebeest and 300,000 zebras embark on a long journey from Tanzania’s Serengeti plains to Kenya’s Maasai Mara. Nothing beats an equine adventure in the Mara during this time of year!
5. Patagonia, Chile
Home to the world’s third largest glaciers (after Antarctica and Greenland), huge blocks of ice that drop straight into the water below are emblematic to Patagonia. The breathtaking Torres del Paine National Park, with its granite mastodons that rise almost vertically from sea level to 10,000 ft (3,000 meters), is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and is widely acclaimed as South America’s finest national park.
An equestrian adventure in Patagonia means long gallops on Criollo horses, crossing glacial valleys, virgin beech forests, and stunning meadows, passing by emerald rivers and lakes, glaciers and tall granite spires in Torres del Paine. You will stay at estancias, traditional Patagonian ranches that focus on livestock farming, or camp under the Chilean night sky.
Multi-day adventures cover quite a lot of ground. Therefore, prior experience is highly recommended and you need to be in tip-top shape to be able to ride for up to seven hours a day.
6. Wadi Rum, Jordan
The striking landscape of Wadi Rum, also known as the “Valley of the Moon,” owes its popularity to the Oscar-winning classic Lawrence of Arabia. Retrace the footsteps of Alexander the Great riding strong Arabian horses and exploring vast spans of desert on a horseback tour in Jordan.
Travel on horseback from Petra to Wadi Rum through one of the most mesmerizing desert landscapes in the world. Known as the “rose red city,” Petra is an open-air museum, an ancient city carved into the cliffs of a remote narrow gorge, its stunning facades carved around 400BC by the Nabataeans. From here, you will ride alongside local Beduin tribesmen through the colorful desert of Wadi Rum, with its impressive rock formations, sandy valleys, and narrow canyons.
Camp in the middle of the desert surrounded by granite monoliths and sands. Enjoy Arabic dishes and ride local horses – Pure Arabs, Bedouin Arabs, and Anglo Arabs. They may not be very tall, but they are tougher than they look and can withstand the harsh conditions in the desert. A horseback riding tour in Wadi Rum is best suited for confident riders ready to spend long hours in the saddle.
7. Tian Shan Mountains, Kyrgyzstan
Follow the footsteps of ancient Silk Road traders through the Tian Shan Mountains in the heart of the Pamir-Alai mountain range. Ride Kyrgyz horses through unspoiled scenery, passing by remote villages as you go deeper into the wilderness.
Enjoy horseback rides on the shores of Issyk-Kul, the world’s second-largest alpine lake, referred to as “the pearl of Kyrgyzstan.” Ride along Song Kol Lake, set at 3,016 meters (8,895 ft), for a close look at the Kyrgyz nomadic culture, focused on horse breeding and horsemanship.
Cross high mountain pastures, glaciers, and pine forests against the backdrop of Lenin Peak, the second tallest in Kyrgyzstan, and Khan Tengri, the tallest in the Tian Shan Mountains. Camp in the wild or stay in a yurt with the nomad families you encounter on the trail, and be treated to traditional food, like homemade hot bread and fermented mare’s milk, spicy soup and tea.
Summer is the best time to enjoy a horseback riding trip in Kyrgyzstan, as winters can get bitterly cold, especially up in the mountains. Intermediate riding skills are required, as well as a sense of adventure.
8. Golden Circle, Iceland
Discover the land of ice and fire, of the midnight sun and Northern Lights on a horse riding tour in Iceland. Visit glaciers, waterfalls, geysers, hot springs, volcanoes, and lava deserts. One of the most popular tours in southern Iceland is the Golden Circle. While most people prefer a road trip to cover the many sights the itinerary has to offer, why not do it differently and avoid the crowds?
Ride during the day, soak in hot springs in the evening, and spend the night at local farms. Popular horse riding tours of the Golden Circle start at the outskirts of Reykjavik and take you to the Geysir Geothermal Area with its famous geysers and hot springs. While the one that gave the area its name – Geysir – has not been active these past years, Strokkur does erupt every five to ten minutes. Highlights include the Gullfoss Waterfall and Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the place where the world’s first parliament was founded in 930AD.
Icelandic horses will be your trusty companions. A word of warning: do not call these horses ponies. Although small, these are strong Viking horses, renowned for their endurance and their unique fifth gait, known as tölt.
Typical Golden Circle Tours take around six days to complete and are recommended for intermediate riders. Shorter tours are available too.
Unleash your wild spirit, discover unspoiled nature, and become one with the elements on a mountain horseback riding vacation!