Ride Zimbabwe (Varden Safaris) riding holiday in Zimbabwe - Far and Ride
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Ride Zimbabwe (Varden Safaris), Zimbabwe


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.


Travel Advice

Please ensure you read the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice before you travel.

Ride Description

Join James and Janine Varden, seasoned riding safari operators, for an adventure in the Matabeleland region of Zimbabwe. From their new base, the Vardens are offering rides into the beautiful Hwange National Park and the game-rich Cawston Wildlife Conservancy Area in the Nyamandhlovu 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 Victoria Falls or Bulawayo (depending on itinerary) from where it's just a short drive to Hwange park or Cawston, ready to begin your adventure! There are many great add-ons possible in this region too, including a visit to world-famous Falls or perhaps a walking, canoe or jeep safari with a chance to see some more of the Big Five - please contact us for suggestions.

See Programmes.


Food & Accommodation

When on safari in the Cawston Wildlife Conservancy and Hwange National Park guests are accommodated in traditional safari-style tented camps.

In Hwange, you will stay 5 nights in simple, mobile safari camps and 2 nights in the luxurious Somalisa Expeditions fixed tent camp. The fixed camp feature spacious walk-in tents with en-suite facilities. There is solar electricity for providing light and charging batteries. The camp is situated in the heart of the plain, below a small ridge beneath beautiful indigenous trees - these bring welcome shade and offer respite from the famously hot African sun. There is a wildlife viewing area allowing you to sit out and quietly observe any visitors passing by.

In Cawston, the tented camp again offers spacious and luxurious safari-style A-frame tents with attached bathrooms. The tents have mains electricity supply and a daily laundry service is also available. Each tent has a private viewing veranda from which you can enjoy watching the native birds flit amongst the trees or the local wildlife heading down to the waterhole. The swimming pool, main viewing deck and dining area all overlook the busy waterhole as well.

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

Your destination airport will in which safari itinerary you have chosen.

For rides in Hwange park, the closest airport is Victoria Falls, with a 2 hour transfer time. Bulawayo is the next closest with a transfer time of 3 hours and 30 minutes.

For rides based in Cawston, then Bulawayo is your closest option at 1 hour and 30 minutes transfer time.

Airport: Victoria Falls

Alternative Airport: Bulawayo



Hwange Big Five

This new ride is set within Hwange national park, deep in the Kalahari. The terrain is perfect for the barefoot horses and the landscape is predominantly flat with no mountains or kopjes in sight, making for excellent riding and unimpeded views. Numerous animals roam the wonderful woodlands and grasslands near the pans, particularly elephant and giraffe. You should also see zebra, impala, kudu, warthog, eland, buffalo etc, and if you are lucky lion, cheetah, leopard and wild dog.

Day One:

You will be transferred from Victoria Falls International Airport at 2.30pm to Hwange Main Camp where you'll meet your guide. After paying park fees (bring USD in small denominations) you are taken on a game drive to the riding camp. There's time for afternoon tea before your first introductory ride, where you can get to know your horse and ensure you're comfortable with your tack. Back in camp in time for sundowners and your first delicious three course meal in the bush.

Day Two:

You'll be woken early so that you can get the best game viewing experiences at dawn. A light breakfast is offered around the campfire and then it's time to mount up to explore the area around Caterpillar Pan. There are no set routes or paths you have to follow so you can explore an area seldom marked by hoofprints, and take the best route according to the weather and wildlife movements. Every day is an exploration! You'll ride for 3-4 hours following elephant trails that wind through the bush linking each pan and your guide will explain how each blade of grass, leaf, root and tree plays its part in the circle of life.

Arrive back in camp in time for a refreshing lunch and siesta - compulsory in the bush with the early starts! After a reviving cup of tea or coffee with cake you'll ride for another c. 2 hours before sunset. Hot showers and cold drinks await your return to camp before dinner around the campfire.

Day Three:

Each morning follows the same rhythm - a gentle knock at your tent followed by hot water in your basin and a light breakfast around the fire. Today you'll ride out for the day with a packed lunch so you explore further field and your camp staff can relocate your tents to a new site. Again the route is not set but will depend on game movements, with riding in the morning and afternoon. 

In the late afternoon you'll arrive at the new camp in time for sundowners as the sun dips below the horizon. Another sumptuous dinner under the stars listening to the sounds of the bush.

Day Four:

Today you'll be riding in the Umkawazaan part of the Somalisa concession where you can explore numerous waterhole areas and the more extensive acacia woodlands in search of wildlife. 

Day Five:

You may have two rides or one long days ride today exploring the Kennedy Pan area where it is not uncommon to see large herds of elephant and buffalo taking a refreshing drink.

Day Six:

A long morning ride as you journey to Somalisa Expeditions camp - your guides favourite bush camp. You'll arrive in time for high tea. There may be time for a short nature walk around camp or you can chill out by the pool - keep your eye out for elephants as they like to pop by for a drink! You'll have two nights at this authentic camp.

Day Seven:

Variety is the spice of life, so today you will take a game drive to cover some different ground in search of Hwange's famous wildlife. Your horses can take a well earned rest whilst you venture out on four wheels. Start the day with an early morning drive and return to camp for brunch and a siesta. Then it's back out again for more viewing as there is so much to see and experience. 

Camp routine is very similar to the mobile camp except at Somalisa you have the chance to recharge your electrical gadgets!

Day Eight:

All good things must come to an end, and after a leisurely breakfast it's time to say goodbye. If time allows there be a short ride along the Masomamalisha Vlei to meet the horse truck and transfer vehicle in the bush. Then it's off to the airport for your flight home, or why not extend your stay to visit the stunning Victoria Falls?

Accommodation: Five nights mobile camp with stretcher beds and two nights Somalisa Expeditions camp. There is no electricity at the mobile camp, but there are bucket showers. Once at Somalisa you can re-charge your batteries.
Minimum group size: 2
Maximum group size: 8
Ability description: You must be an experienced rider who is comfortable in all paces and riding fit. This is a Big Five area and there is potentially dangerous game.
Type of ride: Safari
Total riding time: 7 nights / 5.5 days riding
Departure dates: 2020:
4-11 January, 7-14 March, 4-11 April, 9-16 May, 6-13 June, 18-25 July, 8-15 August, 12-19 September, 3-10 October, 7-14 November, 5-12 December.
Pricing: 2020:

4836 per person sharing
Single supplement 1237 if not willing to share

Price includes 5 nights mobile safari and 2 nights Somalisa Expeditions Camp, all activities, meals, drinks, return transfers from Victoria Falls airport to Hwange national park ($185pp), transfers from Somalisa to Hwange ($66pp), Somalisa conservation charge ($40pp).

Conservation fees for Hwange ($50pp) and camping fees at Hwange ($115pp) must be paid directly in cash at Hwange gate - please bring small denomination US Dollar notes for this ($165 in total).

Note: All programmes and itineraries are weather dependent; in the face of adverse, or unexpected, weather conditions reasonable attempts will be made to provide equivalent riding.

All programmes are accurate at the time of writing. However, the team may adapt or modify details, whilst aiming to provide a similar experience.

Plains Game Safari (4 nights)

This new riding safari is a four night plains game discovery in the Matabeleland region of Zimbabwe. Based on the intimate Cawston Wildlife Estate, 70 km north of Bulawayo. James and Janine Varden will take you on an adventure through this 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 Cawston Wildlife Estate - a journey of c. 1.5 hours. You may get your first glimpse of the wildlife on your journey and should arrive in time for afternoon tea. Once settled into your accommodations, you will take an introductory ride around the estate. 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 around the camp fire before heading to your tent for the night.

Day 2: An early start this morning with a 5-5.30am wake-up call with hot tea/coffee and a light breakfast. Set off riding through the various landscapes and habitats, learning interesting anecdotes about the vegetation or game from your knowledgable guides. The vegetation of the ranch is dominated by thorn scrub woodlands, grassland drainage lines and Mopane woodland. The Umguzi river forms the northern boundary with some beautiful acacia and searsia woodland. 

The beauty of the sights you may see are sure to overwhelm you if you are a first time visitor to Africa. After a few hours in the saddle you'll have worked up an appetite for a mid-morning brunch on return to camp, before the heat of the midday sun means an afternoon siesta is on order for everyone. Afternoon tea at c. 3pm heralds the afternoon ride of c. 2-3 hours before heading back to camp for drinks around the fire and another delicious dinner.

Day 3: Today will be similar to yesterday, although you never know what will await you on the rides. The pace will be determined by the general riding experience of the group and what sort of wildlife you are observing. 

The afternoon ride has the option of ending with sundowners or spotlighting for some of the nocturnal wildlife on your way back to camp.

Day 4: Another day searching for game in the wilderness as before. This afternoons ride will end at a sundowner site offering a night drive back to camp for another chance to look for the nocturnal wildlife - maybe you will be luck enough to spot aardvark or even leopard!

This is your last night in Cawston and so a great time to reflect on your safari experience over dinner.

Day 5: A final morning to ride through the bush before breakfast and say goodbye to your horse. Then transfer back to the airport for your flight home.


  • 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. 

Accommodation: Tented safari camp on Cawston Wildlife reserve.
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 aged 12 and above can ride if competent and able to confidently control a horse at walk, trot and canter (there is no dangerous game in this area).
Type of ride: Safari
Total riding time: Flexible according to local conditions and group wishes.
Departure dates: 2020:
18-22 January, 15-19 February, 21-25 March, 18-22 April, 16-20 May, 20-24 June, 18-22 July, 15-19 August, 19-23 September, 17-21 October, 21-25 November, 19-23 December.
Pricing: 2020:

1526 per person, sharing

Road transfers are 361 per person return

Price includes 4 nights of accommodation, meals, drinks (standard local Zimbabwean beverages), riding, non-riding activities at Cawston, laundry services.

Note: All programmes and itineraries are weather dependent; in the face of adverse, or unexpected, weather conditions reasonable attempts will be made to provide equivalent riding.

All programmes are accurate at the time of writing. However, the team may adapt or modify details, whilst aiming to provide a similar experience.