Horseback Riding Vacations - Horseback safaris

James Varden, is one of Zimbabwe’s top Professional Guides. He has many interests especially in terms of birding, botany, insects, mammals, photography and active, adventurous styles of safaris such as horse-riding, canoeing, walking, hiking and scuba diving. He has climbed Kilimanjaro and the Rwenzori Mountains, been to the great plains of the Serengeti, experienced wildlife in close-up throughout Zimbabwe.


Due to the ruggedness and remoteness of the Mavuradonhas, there is only one road into the Wilderness, which terminates at Kopje Tops Lodge - the only way to get around is on horse back or foot. With no electricity, phones and throbbing generators to disturb the peace, you will feel you are truly away from it all and may never want to return.  


Primarily focusing on horse riding safaris there are a multitude of safari options to take depending on your riding ability.


All safaris are lead by fully licensed professional guides with many years experience in the area your guide will help you make the most of the safari.


The horses are all ex-Polo ponies, Arabs, Quarter horse-cross and Thoroughbreds. All are sure footed, experienced and very well schooled. The horses are all conditioned to seeing wildlife. They are between 14 and 16 hands.


Tack: mostly English style leather and Wintecs, some stock/ McClellan saddles.


Each safari is accompanied by a professional guide, and an experienced groom. The groom tends to the horses during the day and at night, as well as tacking on any shoes that should be come off.


Novice riders are welcomed, for the Tingwa Valley safaris, but only experienced riders are accepted on the Explorer itineraries. For non riders, both the Tingwa Valley and Explorer safaris can be done on foot.




Siya Lima House

This is an incredible house built with an imagination for the very unusual. Built by Mike McGrath, a one time farmer, the house is an eclectic mix of various Mediterranean styles with a definite Zimbabwe twist to it! Varden Safaris use the house and it’s splendid stables as their base and also invite guests to come and stay. At present, there is accommodation for 3 couples. It is also ideal for faster rides, walking and birding, and spending time at the local primary school.


Kopje Tops Lodge

A magnificent stone and thatch structure sitting high amongst the trees. This 3 level lodge is where riders meet for meals and drinks. Level one has the dining room and bar, level 2 is the library and level 3 is a flat viewing platform to give you the first views of this amazing area. Accommodation is in 6 stone and thatch chalets en suite chalets, scattered at the base of Kopje Tops Lodge, sleeping up to 12 guests.


Bat Caves Camp

A more rustic yet very comfortable bush camp situated a day’s ride from Kopje Tops Lodge. After a long day in the saddle you will appreciate the hot bucket showers, comfy beds and wholesome, freshly prepared meals. Set above the Tingwa River, Bat Caves is as remote camp deep into the Wilderness and all the supplies are brought in via porter or packhorse as there are no roads.  In the evening you usually get to watch the flight of the giant Egyptian Fruit Bats who’s numbers have been estimated at up to 20,000 and are the largest known colony south of the equator. For the more adventurous your guide may take you deep into the caves to explore the bats habitat. The Camp accommodates a maximum of 8 guests.


Additional activities


Varden Safaris also offers fully guided botanical and birding safaris, and with over 300 species in the area it’s a birders paradise. Walks and rides out of the wilderness into the adjacent communal lands to learn about rural African farming techniques and experience the local culture can also be arranged.


The famous Tengenenge Sculpture community is only a 40-minute drive away from Kopje Tops Lodge and is home to over 200 sculptures including several internationally famous artists.


There is also the chance of exploring the many rock cave paintings sites that surround Kopje Tops, combined with refreshing swims in the nearby waterfalls, returning to Kopje Tops to experience the wonderful food produced by experienced chefs – enough to keep any non rider busy for days!


The Horseshoe and Guruve area adjacent to the Wilderness Area has several talented stone sculptors living nearby. You can get to meet these artists and see them at work in their rural homes. This is an opportunity to experience natural Shona culture and the amazing abilities of these talented people. It is possible also to buy sculptures on site. A stay at Siya Lima House is advised, which allows for easy access to the different artists.




The Mavuradonha Wilderness is part of Zimbabwe’s successful CAMPFIRE project set up to ensure that the local community derive direct benefit from tourism in their area and therefore recognise the value of wildlife. Annual lease payments are made directly to rural councils and these funds are used local projects. Varden Safaris also employs locally. By only using horses and foot, there is no need to make roads or tracks that may damage the area, thus making for minimal environmental impact. Firewood used in the boilers is from dead fall trees that have mostly been pushed over by elephant herds passing through the area.

No pollutants go into the rivers and therefore all water in the springs and rivers are absolutely pure and need no filtration before drinking. There is also a small anti-poaching team who patrol the area and there is work with some local schools to create a better understanding of wildlife and resource conservation with the children.