Varden Safaris riding holiday in Zimbabwe - Far and Ride
Home  >  Riding Holidays  >  Zimbabwe  >  Varden Safaris

Varden Safaris, Zimbabwe


• Plains Game Discovery Ride



Type of horses:

A variety of breeds including Boerperd, Shire X, TB X and Percheron X.

Nature of horses:

Sure-footed, experienced, fit and well-schooled.

Height of horses:

15 - 16.3hh.

Weight limit:

15 st / 210lbs / 95kg but they will accept up to 100kg for experienced riders.

Tack type:

A range of saddles to fit different horses and cater for guest preferences - English leather GP saddles, Leon Liversage Trailmasters and Australian stock saddles. Most horses are ridden in snaffle bits.




Ride Description

Join James and Janine Varden, seasoned riding safari operators, for an adventure in the Matabeleland region of Zimbabwe. Their beautiful farm homestead lies 23km outside of Bulawayo on the picturesque Umguza River - built in the 1950s, this is a working dairy farm and the ideal base from which to launch rides in the World Heritage Site of Matobo National Park and the game-rich Cawston Wildlife Conservancy Area.

This is an owner-operated safari with James and Janine on every trip. Their team of seasoned safari horses are well-schooled and equipped with quality tack to suit your preferences, allowing for a comfortable but exhilarating ride as you explore the wilderness, observing game in an area not currently operated on by any other safari companies. A Professional Guide since 1993, James Varden is renowned for his incredible knowledge of southern Africa and its wildlife, whilst also having a particular love of birds. The Vardens are also known for their conservation ethos and this is reflected in their safaris - they employ local staff, source local produce and keep a low environmental footprint. The fresh food they serve is found nearby.

Transfers are available from and to Bulawayo from where it's just a short drive to the farm, ready to begin your adventure!

See Programmes.


Food & Accommodation

Guests will spend the first night in Umguza Cottage on the farm - this is a beautiful Cape Dutch style cottage situated in the garden. This sleeps four in one double room and one twin room with a shared bathroom or in the Loft, a room with twin beds and an outdoor shower overlooking the farm.

When on safari in the Cawston Wildlife Conservancy guests are accommodated in traditional safari-style tented camps. These feature spacious walk-in tents with en-suite facilities. The camp has mains electricity for charging of devices. The camp is situated on a small ridge unearth beautiful indigenous trees - these bring welcome shade and offer respite from the famously hot African sun. The camp overlooks a small watering hole and has a wildlife viewing area which is floodlit at night, allowing you to sit out and quietly observe any nocturnal visitors.

During this safari you will be served fresh, farm-style meals using produce which has primarily been locally-sourced. Lunches may be a hearty cooked brunch in camp or potentially eaten out in the bush.

Drinks are included and are standard local Zimbabwean beverages (both alcoholic and soft drinks). Should you request specific premium or imported drinks then these will be charged as an extra cost.



Bird-watching, game drives, night drives, guided walks.


Further Details

Languages: English.

Health requirements: Good health and fitness recommended.

Age limit: 12+ unless by prior arrangement. Participants must be competent riders.

Tuition: No.

Included: Accommodation, meals, drinks (inc. local alcoholic beverages), laundry, guided horse riding and safari activities mentioned in itinerary.

Not included: Flights, airport transfers, travel insurance, tips and souvenirs.


Travel Information

The farm is 23km outside of Bulawayo - guests should arrive into Bulawayo airport, likely around midday on the SAA flight, and will then be transferred to the farm for a relaxed lunch.

Airport transfers will eventually be at additional cost but are currently offered free as an introductory special offer.

Airport: Bulawayo



Plains Game Discovery Ride

This new riding safari is a five night plains game discovery in the Matabeleland region of Zimbabwe. James and Janine Varden will take you on an adventure in a 32,000 acre wildlife-rich ranch on which no other safari companies operate. It is a private reserve with the scope for various activities aside from riding, including bush walks, game drives, night drives, hide-sits and birding. You will be away from the regular tourist routes and areas with full access to James' exceptional knowledge of the surrounding flora and fauna.

There is no dangerous game in this area and so families are welcome - family members as young as 12 can be accepted but they must be competent riders, able to canter confidently in open country and ride long days. Younger children may be accepted as part of a private group (please enquire). 

Some of the many mammals that it's possible to see include Southern Giraffe, Sable, Blue Wildebeest, Plains Zebra, Greater Kudu, Southern Impala, Tsessebe, Common Eland, Bushbuck, Common Duiker, Steenbok, Sharpe's Grysbok, Warthog, Bushpig, Chacma Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Scrub Hare, Aardvark, Temminck's Ground Pangolin, Black-Backed Jackal, Porcupine, Large and Small-Spotted Genets, Civet, Brown Hyena and Leopard. 

Sample Itinerary (subject to change in accordance with guests' interests, weather conditions and the current wildlife):

Day 1: Guests arrive into Bulawayo airport at midday on the South African Airways flight and are transferred to the 1950s homestead at Umguza with time for a relaxed lunch. Once settled into your accommodations, you will take an introductory ride around the farm. This gives you a chance to get to know your horse, the tack and to make any adjustments. You will also be given a safety briefing and advice regarding how to ride in the area and how best to act when encountering wildlife. 

Sundowners at the end of the ride allow the group to get to know each other. This is followed by a delicious three course dinner back at the farmhouse - Frances will prepare a meal using as much local produce as possible and this will be served outside in the herb garden if the weather is good. 

Day 2: This morning can be a relaxed start for those who would like to catch up on some sleep, otherwise you can head out birding early. The horses will be trucked from the farm into Cawston Wildlife Conservancy, a journey of 53km, whilst you enjoy a tasty breakfast and pack your bags ready for your own road transfer. 

On arrival into your safari camp you will have time to settle in before lunch on the viewing deck under the trees. The afternoon will be your first ride into the bush to view wildlife from horseback. Rides during this safari will be adjusted each day in accordance with weather conditions, what wildlife is around, the conditions of the veld and also preferences and interests of the guests - there is no set route or itinerary, this is a real exploratory adventure!

Your afternoon's ride ends with time for you to share a drink by the fire in camp before dinner, perhaps sharing some stories from your first ride in the bush. Dinner and overnight in camp. 

Days 3, 4 and 5: These days will start with early rising whilst its still dark (depending on the time of year) so as to get an early start on the horses. You will meet at the fireplace for tea, good plunger coffee, fresh fruit and a light breakfast of cereals, muffins and toast with homemade jams and preserves. 

Mounting early allows you to make the most of your day and the wildlife - the riding days can be anything from four to six hours, depending on the route you take and what game you encounter. The pace will be determined by the general riding experience of the group and what sort of wildlife you are observing. 

Each morning ride will end back at camp again for a hearty brunch and a siesta, a chance to refresh for the afternoon's ride. This ride will be shorter, maximum two hours, ending back at the campfire for a drink with new friends. 

NB. These days will have added walks, sundowner game-drives or perhaps lunch out in the bush sometimes. 

Day 6: Depending on your onward travel arrangements, there may be time for a short ride or walk before packing, breakfast in camp and a fond farewell. Transfer times depend on flight times but it is roughly a one and a half hour drive from Cawston to Bulawayo airport. 


  • Activities are dictated by the guests' interests, weather conditions and the wildlife.
  • There are some excellent photographic opportunities as there are various viewing hides, some located at waterholes.
  • Birding will be a feature of the safaris, along with discussion on habitats, geology and the human history of the area. 

Minimum group size: 2
Maximum group size: 8
Ability description: Intermediate to experienced riders, happy to ride at all paces in open country and to manage long days in the saddle. Families are welcome and children 8 and above can ride if competent and able to confidently control a horse (there is no dangerous game in this area).
Type of ride: Primarily a based stay, although your first ride is at the farm before the horses and yourselves are transported into Cawston.
Total riding time: Riding available everyday, although possibility to ride on arrival and departure day depends on timings. Hours can be somewhat flexibility in accordance with your wishes.
Departure dates: 2017: Dates to suit for a minimum of 2 riders but please enquire if you are a single traveller.
Pricing: 2017:

£1359 per person.

Price includes 5 nights of accommodation, meals, drinks (standard local Zimbabwean beverages), riding, game drives, guided walks, hide sits, laundry services and transfer between the farm to Cawston Wildlife Conservancy.

INTRODUCTORY SPECIAL: Free transfers from and to Bulawayo airport.