World's great horse treks
Horse riding with local people is an adventurous, eco-friendly way to discover pristine locations that are not always featured in guidebooks. The diversity of destinations you can explore on horseback means riding is often the best way to experience our world’s varied terrain, especially in far-flung locations.
So saddle up on a journey through the lava fields of Iceland, Ireland’s dramatic beaches, Turkey’s ancient villages, America’s national parks and beyond. Here are 15 of the best global horse riding destinations you’ll want to consider adding to your bucket list.
1. Cappadocia, Turkey
Cappadocia's lunar-like landscapes are a sublimely exotic place to explore on horseback. Trek back in time from village to village, meandering amid otherworldly fairy chimneys -- the bizarre rock formations for which the region is famous -- past Byzantine churches, centuries-old monasteries and underground cities.
You can meet Turks still living a traditional lifestyle in old villages carved out of the area’s soft rock. You can camp out under the stars or stay in family-run pensions and cool cave hotels, feasting on tasty local cuisine and strong Turkish tea.
Rates: Half-day to 13-day tours range from €35-1,220 (US$46-1,625) per person.
Kirkit Voyage, Amiral Tafdil Sokak 12 Sultanahmet, 34400 Istanbul Turkey; +90 212 518 22 82; www.kirkit.com
2. Ring of Kerry, Ireland
Most visitors tour the Ring of Kerry in a car or tour bus, but why not immerse yourself in it? Ride horses by tranquil lakes and mountains and along dramatic beaches, steering clear of the lonely hawthorn trees that stand beside old cottages. Locals say these are a sacred meeting place for fairies.
The O’Sullivan family, who are well versed in local lore, have been leading riders here since 1968. Don’t be surprised if Mr. O’Sullivan greets you at the end of the ride with a well-deserved dram of whiskey to ease your sore muscles.
Rates: 1 hour for €35 (US$46) and six nights/five days for €1,295 (US$1,724) per person.
Killarney Riding Stables, Ballydowney, Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland; +353 64 66 31686; www.kerrytrailride.com
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3. Okavango Delta, Botswana
Watch out for crocodiles as you splash through winding canals while darting from island to island to track zebra, giraffe, elephant, leopard and hippo through the lagoons of the Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world.
Flying in from the cool safari town of Maun, you’ll understand why horse safaris are such a good way to unobtrusively observe the abundant wildlife here. Nights are spent at Macatoo Camp on a private game reserve.
After riding, relax with sundowners, candlelit dinners and snooze in unique tree house or luxury tent accommodations.
Rates: Starting at £360 (US$559) per person, per night.
African Horseback Safaris, P.O. Box 20671 Maun, Botswana; +267 686 1523; www.africanhorseback.com
4. Golden Circle, Iceland
Glide through lava fields on Iceland's distinctive small horses. Their unique way of moving, called the tölt, allowed Icelanders to use horses as the sole mode of transportation for centuries.
You'll combine riding with visiting Iceland’s top sights, including the mighty Gullfoss waterfalls and hot springs, and get to spend nights on local farms soaking in hot pools under the stars.
When in Iceland, do not refer to the horses as ponies. This is a cultural blunder. Icelandic horses are small, but these strong Viking horses are said by Icelanders to be so tough that they can’t possibly be called ponies.
Rates: One-hour trek €49 (US$65). The Golden Circle eight-day tour costs €1,598 (US$2,128) per person.
Ishestar, Sörlaskeið 26, 220 Hafnarfjörður, Iceland; +354 555 7000; www.ishestar.is
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5. Wadi Rum, Jordan
Conquer the panoramic landscapes of Wadi Rum -- The Valley of the Moon -- and learn about desert survival with nomadic Bedouin tribesmen on their strong Arabian horses.
The Bedouin are thought to have been some of the original breeders of Arabian horses. Wadi Rum's epic landscapes featured extensively in the Oscar-winning film "Lawrence of Arabia."
Here you can see 2,500-year-old petroglyphs, stunning sandstone formations and surprising wildlife. Combination tours take travelers to Petra and the Dead Sea.
Rates: 10 days/nine nights starting at US$2,280.
Terhaal Travel and Tourism, P.O. Box 911558 , Amman 11191, Jordan; +962 6 581 3061; www.terhaal.com
6. Bryce Canyon, Utah, United States
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the world's most striking places to ride horses. Descend into the canyon on horseback among a sea of pink and red hoodoos, bizarre rock spires that over time have been eroded by the elements into peculiar formations.
Called “The Legend People” by the Paiute Native Americans, who thought the hoodoos were people who had been turned to stone as a punishment for bad deeds, hoodoos have been a source of curiosity for thousands of years.
Cowboy guides recount the history and distinctive geology of this spectacular national park, as you ride among bristle cone pine trees, one of the oldest living organisms on the planet. Spring, when there’s still snow atop the rusty red hoodoos, is a particularly beautiful time to conquer the canyon.
Rates: Two-hour tour US$50.
Canyon Trail Rides, P.O. Box 128 Tropic, Utah 84776, United States; +1 435 679 8665; www.canyonrides.com
7. Tian-Shan Mountains, Kyrgyzstan
The native horses of Central Asia are the perfect companions for a tour along Silk Road routes next to the giant Tian-Shan and Pamir-Alai Mountains bordering China and Tadjikistan and on the shores of the world’s second largest alpine lake.
Ishen, Gulmira and Rash, the owners and operators of Shepherd's Way Trekking, have been guiding horse rides in to the Tian-Shan range for more than 17 years and grant an authentic view of Kyrgyzstan's nomadic, herding culture.
Ride from their base at Barskoon village (350 kilometers east of Bishkek) to take in eagles, ibex, mountain goats, petroglyphs and if you dare, sip fermented mare’s milk, kymyz, in a yurt.
Rates: From €80-95 (US$106-126) per person per day.
Shepherd's Way Trekking, 720000 Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic; +996 772 51 83 15; www.kyrgyztrek.com
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8. Central Pacific Coast, Costa Rica
If horseback riding on the beach is a dream, Costa Rica is a good spot to gallop. Combine beach riding with rain forest adventures to view howler monkeys, colorful macaws and red-eyed tree frogs.
Party people can take part in a wild festival called the Cabalgata, a huge block party on horseback, and traverse local plantations while more sedate folk can ride through private farmland below the famously furious Arenal Volcano. Smoke billows out from atop and bright red lava creates a spectacle at sunset.
Rates: Starting at US$120 per person for one day.
Centaura, Apdo 51-4400 San Carlos, Costa Rica; +506 2475 52 26; www.centauracostarica.com
9. Haleakala National Park, Maui, United States
You can be inside the crater of a volcano one day and riding through a lush rain forest the next in Haleakala National Park.
The crater ride is for fit riders only, as you descend more than 600 meters from the rim to the crater floor, absorbing rapidly changing conditions and colors as your horse’s hooves crunch on volcanic cinders.
For travelers up to this all-sensory challenge, various vantage points along the trail reveal large cinder cones at the crater floor and dark rivers of lava flows.
To get to the remote Kipahulu section of Maui for the rain forest portion of Haleakala, visitors must first brave the Road to Hana, a winding scenic highway of more than 600 bends that runs along the stunning Northeastern coast.
Off the road in the rain forest, rocky trails climb past ferns, bamboo, mango trees and lush vegetation. Near the end of the ride, stop at Waimoku Falls, which at 120 meters is the tallest waterfall on Maui.
Rates: Maui Stables US$150 for a four-hour ride. Pony Express crater ride US$182 for a four-hour ride.
Maui Stables, HCR Box 163 Hana, HI 96713; +1 808 248 7799; www.mauistables.com
Pony Express, P.O. Box 535 Kula HI 96790; +1 808 667 2200; www.ponyexpresstours.com
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10. Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
With no vehicles allowed, walking or riding horses are your best bets to experience the beauty of the Rocky Mountains in Canada’s oldest national park.
Beginning or experienced riders can pack into Banff, where trails through dense woods are juxtaposed with openings that reveal striking snow-capped peaks, rushing rivers and turquoise-colored, glacier-fed mountain lakes.
If mountain scenery and the chance to spot wildlife, like black bears, elk, and deer appeal, this riding adventure is a good pick. Nights are spent in the cool mountain air in tented camps or historic lodges.
Rates: Three-day Wilderness Tent Trips start CA$675 (US$643).
Warner Guiding & Outfitting, Box 2280, Banff, AB T1L 1C1, Canada; +1 403 762 4551; www.horseback.com
11. South Queensland, Australia
Australia’s bush or beach? Take both. Canter along the popular Sunshine Coast through tropical rain forest trails and into the bush to round up cattle with your guide, Olympian Alex Watson, on his agile Australian Stock Horses.
Look out for wallabies, koalas, kangaroos and colorful parrots and visit historic gold rush towns on this unusual trek, suitable for beginners and advanced riders.
Rates: 1.5-hour beach ride AU$90 (US$86.70); seven-day trips per person AU$2,800 (US$2,696).
Equathon, Beach Road, Noosa North Shore, QLD, Australia 4565; +61 (0) 7 5474 2665; www.equathon.com
12. Avenue of the Volcanoes, Ecuador
Just one hour south of Quito, stay in genuine haciendas and on working organic farms on the lower slopes of Corazon Volcano in the heart of the "Avenue of the Volcanoes," a spectacular valley dividing the eastern and western ranges of the Andes Mountains.
Learn about the lives of the chagras, pure Ecuadorian cowboys who depend on horses for their livelihood, as you ride their hardy Criollo horses through farmland, alpine terrain and cloud forests and to four of the 11 volcanoes in the area.
Rates: US$180 for one day and night; 10 days on the Volcanoes and Haciendas Ride for US$2,400.
Hacienda de Alegria, Manuel Barreto N32-147 y Coruna; +593 9980 2526; www.haciendalaalegria.com
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13. Doñana National Park, Spain
Located on the coast of Southern Spain, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Guadalquivir River Delta, Doñana is one of the largest parks in Europe.
Take your ride through thick forests of pine and rolling Mediterranean scrublands, breathing in rosemary, red lavender and thyme. Be on the lookout for endangered species, such as the Spanish imperial eagle and the rare Iberian lynx, as well as myriad birds that stop to rest at this strategic location between Northern Europe and Africa.
If horse riding on the beach is a dream of yours, Doñana’s wide, sandy stretches will not disappoint.
Rates: Epona’s Training and Trail Riding vacation six nights €1,370 (US$1,824).
Epona, Hacienda Los Nietos, Autovia N-IV, km 519. PO BOX 86. 41410 Carmona (Sevilla, Spain); +34 954 14 82 93; www.eponaspain.com
14. Torres del Paine Nationakl Park, Patagonia, Chile
The jagged peaks of the Andes Mountains are of stark contrast to the wild pampas, Chile’s soft grasslands, in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia.
Rides here go from estancia to estancia on an eco tour through ancient forests, past emerald rivers and glacial carved valleys. At the end of the day riders can retire to a working estancia, where a hot bath and a pisco sour by a roaring fire await.
You’ll be covering some ground on these multi-day adventures with distances varying between 20 and 40 kilometers, so you’ll want to be experienced and in shape for these Chilean treks.
Rates: Four-day estancia ride starts at US$1,750.
Blue Green Adventures, 1200 M. Bulnes, Puerto Natales, Chile; +56 61 410009; www.bluegreenadventures.com
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15. Hovsgol Province, Mongolia
On the steppes of Mongolia, life is dictated by the elements, much as it has been since the Bronze Age. Horse-riding nomads still travel the vast grasslands, mountains and river valleys with the changing seasons, moving their homes and caring for their herds.
Ride legendary Mongolian horses along the shores of Lake Hovsgol, an alpine lake known as Mongolia's "dark blue pearl,” located in Northern Mongolia. The shores are sparsely inhabited, remaining untouched in a truly pristine state.
You can visit locals who choose to remain in this isolated region, like the Tsaatan families who herd domesticated reindeer. Riders should be prepared for extreme terrain in far-flung locations and the rare chance to experience one of the last remaining nomadic horse cultures on the planet.
Rates: Hidden Trails of Lake Hovsgol trip starts at US$3,995 for 15 days.
Nomadic Expeditions, 1095 Cranbury-South River Road, Suite 20A, Monroe Twp, NJ 08831, United States; +1 609 860 9008; www.nomadicexpeditions.com